In praise of Cowtown

A Los Angeles firm hired to replace “Heart of the New West” as Calgary’s slogan has produced what it calls a “brand positioning statement” identifying Calgary as “Canada’s most dynamic city.” How boring.  How generic. If tedious is what they wanted, why didn’t these American branding experts go with “Canada’s most entrepreneurial city” or “Canada’s most can-do city” or one of those other clichéd rah-rah phrases that  local mayoralty candidates include in their campaign platforms as if they actually believe them? How do you quantify such generalized claims? They are nothing more than examples of marketing-speak at its most banal.

I will admit I’ve never been a big fan of the “Heart of the New West” slogan.  It does have a nice hip, modern ring to it, but it’s fundamentally meaningless. What exactly is the New West? How does it differ from the Old West? Where are the boundaries? Is British Columbia included? Do you have to wear cowboy boots to qualify for admission? Does anyone, aside from the people at Tourism Calgary and Calgary Economic Development, actually put the phrase on letterheads. The Telus Convention Centre people flatly refuse to use it in their marketing materials, preferring to go with “Yes, it’s Calgary!” This unintelligible “Heart of the New West” slogan definitely had to go. We needed something better.

The American firm, Gensler, was paid something like US$200,000 to come up with a new slogan. For that kind of  money, surely it could have produced something more imaginative than “Canada’s most dynamic city.”

Let me offer, at absolutely no charge, the following as an alternative:

“Canada’s original Cowtown”

Yes, I know it’s a throwback to the 1950s. Our look-to-the-future civic dignitaries will undoubtedly cringe and reject this cowboy-hatted stereotype as corny and dated. They seem to be faintly embarrassed by the fact that we actually have a western heritage in this town. Yet they still hand out white cowboy hats to every visiting potentate and former American president. Because, let’s face it, this is what defines us and separates us from all the other major cities in Canada. This is what establishes our cultural identity. Ask anyone in Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver where Cowtown is, and they know immediately what city you’re talking about. Ask them where the “Heart of the New West” is and they scratch their heads.

We have tried the ‘Heart of the New West” slogan for nine years. It was the chosen replacement for “Home of the 1988 Winter Olympics” and it simply hasn’t worked. The stylized cowboy-hat logo does offer a clue to what Calgary is all about, so it could be retained. But let’s replace “Heart of the New West” with a slogan that actually means something; one that salutes our frontier past. Yes, we could also recognize the fact that Calgary is the capital of the oil industry in Canada, or perhaps the head-office capital of Canada. But first and foremost we are the once and future Cowtown. Every Canadian knows that. Everyone who comes to the Stampede knows that. Everyone who writes headlines for The Globe and Mail knows that. Let’s celebrate that fact, embrace our western roots, crack open another can of Grasshopper, and throw another steak on the backyard barbecue.