Cope with it (pun intended)

The following is an excerpt from my contribution to the report ‘Branding Our Cities’, which is out this month. I realize that it’s not exactly freshly squeezed. But it’s still relevant.

Wonderful Copenhagen isn’t just a phrase. It’s also the institution that promotes the capital of Denmark. This means ensuring that the city has a clear identity, and that this identity matches the experience of actually going there.

A central component in this task is the identity, COPENHAGEN – Open for You. This identity system was launched in 2009 when the open (no pun intended) design competition was won by an in-bred monkey in heat, poking his Wacom around the washroom. In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I should mention that this particular monkey is employed at Copenhagen-based PeopleGroup.

Let’s talk craftsmanship. Even if – and I say if – the idea was good, the execution would still qualify our monkey for a thorough thrashing. I’m not one to waste your time with the blatantly obvious. So actually, let’s not talk craftsmanship.


Perhaps not so open after all

Wonderful Copenhagen is proud to be pushing the envelope with an identity that’s open source. But it’s not. It’s a badge. It’s a badge that you can color and add a line of text to. But that’s about as close to open source as the competition my niece just won at her local supermarket.

Opening up the source of something means making the source code – the DNA – accessible to anyone, and letting them run with it. This creates new versions, extensions, mash-ups, and bastard children that you’d never recognize as belonging to the original.


Which is a good thing

The fact that it’s not really open source, however, is probably a stroke of luck for our monkey. Because nothing seems as ridiculously stupid as spending good money building a brand that you try to make open source.

The whole idea of having a brand for Copenhagen is telling a clear, attractive story. And having a clear identity is also about being proud of who you are. An open source identity is about as attractive as the girl who has no opinion herself, but constantly asks everyone around her what they’d like to do.


You are not your name

Another critical issue is basing the identity on your name as if it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Who you are has nothing to do with your name. Hitler wasn’t necessarily a hit, and people from Cuba aren’t necessarily into cubism.

Copenhagen has a rich history, a strong cultural heritage, and a load of damn good stories begging to be told. Building a strong identity is about making choices, but if no one has the guts to do this we end up with a watered out, irrelevant badge that tells us nothing but the obvious.

Instead of appealing to the imagination and opening up to new stories the identity becomes a bland construction under the monkey-eats-banana paradigm where the image shown is exactly what you expect to find. Environmental events become green with trees. Gay events get a rainbow. Sport events get a football, a tennis-racket, or a running shoe.

One could also question whether “open” is even fitting for Copenhagen. It’s not hard to see the irony in the examples of openness presented along with the brand manual. Open for living, Open for Shopping, and Open for alternatives seem like pretty sad pay-off coming from a city that has one of the highest costs-of-living on the planet, institute restrictions on retailer opening hours, and is closing the free city of Christiania (believe it or not, I wasn’t the one to bring Christiania into the discussion).

Of course, all these arguments should be seen in light of the fact that I’m not even sure if open is such a good trait at all. In my book open is people from Texas, 7-eleven, and wife swapping. I choose reserved over open any day of the week.


  1. Rasmus Frey wrote:

    Thank you for telling it like it is.

  2. elneff wrote:

    Thank you for commenting like you should.