'Has some legs': Heavy lifting for Calgary's Blue Sky City rebranding has only begun, expert says

Buy-in from the private sector and other organizations, like Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. and Suncor, will be elemental if the city wants its new slogan to stick, said a marketing professor at Mount Royal University

Article content

As Calgary swaps its cowboy and energy imagery for a reference to its sunny skies, a marketing expert says the city’s new slogan will require a monumental effort to get it to stick — but early signals show it could be a success.

A new tag line for Calgary — the Blue Sky City — was unveiled Wednesday by Calgary Economic Development, Calgary Tourism and a slew of city organizations in tech, the arts and culture.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

The city will ditch its current slogan, Be Part of the Energy, which was introduced in the early 2010s.

“The fact that they got to the race and they got the bib on and are running is huge — but that doesn’t get (them) to the finish line,” said David Finch, a marketing professor at Mount Royal University who’s held several executive marketing positions at companies including Rogers and Bell.

“If it’s just one person running it, you’re dead.”

The announcement comes after several years of “extensive” research and focus groups, said Cindy Ady, CEO of Tourism Calgary. A logo will come in due time, said Brad Parry, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development.

“This is not meant to be a ‘flip the switch and everything changes,’ ” Parry said.

Calgary community partners at the city's Blue Sky City rebrand
Calgary’s community partners have come together at Calgary Economic Development’s 2024 Report to the Community to share “Blue Sky City” as the city’s new brand in Calgary on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

A direct nod to Calgary’s perhaps lesser-known reputation as the sunniest city in Canada, the slogan was crafted as a symbol of “unexpected possibilities, where ambitions are as big as the blue skies we converge under,” Parry said. It serves as a catch-all, he said, for the city’s diversity and expanding mix of economic sectors.

Parry said the slogan isn’t a deliberate shift away from Calgary’s long-standing reputation as a city dominated by the energy industry and Calgary Stampede. “I think, if anything, it embraces our heritage,” he said.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Partners needed to help slogan succeed: expert

While the heavy lifting has only begun, the initial slogan “has some legs,” Finch said.

“You can start owning a lot when you’re starting to lean into something like the Blue Sky City. I could see how blue — which would contradict and challenge the official red of the city — could be used very effectively,” he said.

But that will all be for naught if CED and the city don’t get buy-in from companies and groups such as Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. (CSEC), who can advocate for the brand and help it become part of the city’s identity.

“You need partners like (CSEC) and others who are prepared to lean in and start owning the Blue Sky City as part of their brand, because they see it as they are contributing,” Finch said. “The essence of the Blue Sky City is the Calgary Flames, the Stampeders, Theatre Calgary and Suncor.”

Calgary Tower in front of cloudy blue sky
The Calgary Tower is seen in front of a cloudy blue sky in Calgary on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Calgary seeking to improve reputation

The switch comes after two studies found Calgary’s reputation is relatively poor among Canadians who live outside Alberta.

One of those studies, authored and published in June 2022 by Finch and two researchers for the Canada West Foundation, found 44 per cent of respondents from Vancouver and Toronto said they’d never move to Calgary. Just 33 per cent of those respondents also viewed Alberta as having a diverse population despite Calgary being the third-most diverse city in Canada.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Meanwhile, a 2021 poll from Maru Public Opinion found half of Canadians wouldn’t feel comfortable living in Alberta. It also found there’s a perception that life in the province runs counter to the common goals of Canadians. On the heels of that report, Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Deborah Yedlin called for the city to rebrand and change its reputation.

Recommended from Editorial

The move is Calgary’s third slogan swap in less than a quarter-century.

Calgary’s current tag line on welcome signs on the edge of the city read “Be Part of the Energy,” a slogan that was adopted in 2011 to attract business and workers. “Heart of the New West” preceded that tag line for 15 years, after being adopted at the turn of the millennium.

‘No experience is shared more broadly than our beautiful blue sky’

Several key players have already endorsed the new slogan: Joel Cowley, CEO of Calgary Stampede, who was among the group of city leaders at Wednesday’s announcement, said it’s fitting because the Stampede most often happens “under Calgary’s blue sky.”

Advertisement 5

Article content

“When you stop and think about it, there is no experience that is shared more broadly than our beautiful blue sky,” Cowley said.

Joel Cowley at Calgary's Blue Sky City rebrand
Joel Cowley, CEO, Calgary Stampede is seen as Calgary’s community partners have come together at Calgary Economic Development’s 2024 Report to the Community to share “Blue Sky City” as the city’s new brand in Calgary on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

If the city fails to bring partners and the private sector on board, Finch said, it could go the way of Alberta’s ill-fated $25 million “Freedom to create, Spirit to achieve” campaign, which was cooked up in 2009 under former premier Ed Stelmach and sent to the dustbin two years later by then-premier Alison Redford.

Leaders from the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Arts Commons, the Centre for Newcomers, Calgary Hotel Association, Platform Calgary, Ask Auntie Consulting, Calgary Arts Development and Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association were all in attendance at Wednesday’s announcement.

Parry said the next pieces of the rebranding will be an “organic process” over the coming months.

[email protected]
X: @mattscace67

Article content