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City With Something to Say

April 07, 2002

Advertising agencies are paid to create smartly turned slogans to influence what we eat, drink and wear. It's not surprising that, in this advertising age, Santa Ana is unveiling a new motto designed to polish the image of the county's most populous city.

Santa Ana for years has proclaimed itself as the "Education First" city. That slogan will be replaced next year by "Santa Ana: The Spirit of Change," a slogan crafted by DGWB, an advertising agency that operates from the old Santa Ana City Hall on North Main Street. The agency, which moved to Santa Ana from Irvine, creates advertising for the likes of Wienerschnitzel, KFC and South Coast Plaza.

DGWB clearly wants to do right by its adopted home. But it's difficult for a few words to capture the essence of a hot dog chain or a bucket of chicken. How can a slogan that's supposed to fit on a city sign do justice to Santa Ana, the seat of Orange County government, home to many of the region's oldest buildings and, despite its reputation, one of the safest cities of its size in the country?

Santa Ana undoubtedly could shout that it is "new and improved!" What works for detergents and breakfast cereals, though, is simplistic in a municipality. Civic branding campaigns must pass muster with elected officials who, by their nature, view their hometown through rose-colored glasses. Slogans must resonate with old-timers who know the city's warts, yet be attractive enough to lure newcomers. By emphasizing adventure and change, Santa Ana's new slogan is designed to highlight its redevelopment efforts and celebrate its diversity.

Slogans shouldn't be too narrow. Simi Valley last year rejected a proposed label as host city to the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum. Municipalities shouldn't bend the truth. A citizen's group in Costa Mesa recently suggested that the landlocked city enhance its geography by tacking "by-the-sea" to its name.

And no matter how powerful the slogan, cities don't have the funds needed to be heard in a society awash in radio jingles, television commercials and billboards.

Civic slogans do serve a purpose. Cities constantly court free-spending visitors and dangle tax incentives in front of companies looking for new homes. Misperceptions can cloud reality, so Santa Ana understandably wants to use every tool available to tell its story.

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