Full disclosure: I am a branding specialist. I’ve spent a good part of my adult career in communications, creating, managing and enforcing branding portfolios for various local governments and other public- and private-sector organizations.
With that said, i’ll add that my frustration with the Town of Osoyoos’ new welcome signage is likely more acute than that experienced by the average bear. I will more quickly recognize nuances (and shortcomings) and have a more pronounced reaction.
I’ve written already about the selection process for the new signage and later about my concerns for the initial presentation. Now I’m compelled to share frustration with what is more and more looking like the final product.
In a nutshell, the signs contravene the Town of Osoyoos’ Brand Identity Guidelines — which are, in fact, standards that include the expressed direction the brand must not be “altered, adapted or changed in any way whatsoever and must retain their original colours and proportions.”
Those Guidelines also speak to typefaces, sizing of logos and wordmarks and provide specific instruction on how to use both horizontal and vertical applications — including background combinations.
The colours, by the way, represent the local elements that when combined uniquely define Osoyoos: sun, sagebrush, lake and mountain.
The Guidelines go back to February 2008, when Osoyoos branded itself with the “Canada’s Warmest Welcome” moniker — which the Town later trademarked — and followed “a great deal of input from local residents and business people.”
Mayor Sue McKortoff, when asked last fall why the Osoyoos community wasn’t more actively engaged in selecting the new signage, pointed to that 2007-08 process, saying the community had already had a significant say in how Osoyoos would be branded.
When a Town partner requests a copy of the Brand Guidelines document — yes, a handbook exists — it is, to quote CAO Barry Romanko, “not usually issued without a signed agreement pertaining to [the brand guidelines] use.”
When I asked for a copy of the Guidelines, I received instruction to use them only for “information purposes.”
That would suggest the Town takes its branding very seriously.
So why is it allowing that branding to be fudged with one of its largest, more visible applications?
Its welcome signage.
The winning signage design — approved by a four-member committee in November 2017 — called for the Town’s branding to be imposed on a dark blue background that is not one of the approved Osoyoos brand or complementary colours.
That, perhaps is where the problem began. The design looked good on paper. It did not translate well to production.
The placed signage employed the brand standard cyan colour — although probably not the proper colour — for the background and tagline colouring. The colour change made parts of the messaging difficult to read, the “so” in Osoyoos fading into the cyan background.
CAO Romanko said the signs would be repaired and they were.
The proposed solution, it appears, was to spray-paint the sagebrush-coloured letters white to match the rest of the lower-case letters in “Osoyoos” and leave the capital “O” in the golden yellow.
A fine solution, perhaps, except that such an application is not included in the brand standards document.
The Guidelines allow for the full-colour wordmark to be placed on the cyan background or, in the alternative, an all-white lettered wordmark to be placed on the same background.
It does not speak to the combination of golden yellow and white currently in place on the signage.
Some might ask, what’s the big deal? The “O” stands out — much like our sun — and the rest of the lettering is almost brand-accurate.
Close enough, right?
Except that, if we can accept a minor change in the branding colours, why stop there? Would it not be OK to occasionally start using a more assertive Impact for our community font?
Or maybe a trendy Curlz?
Or how about we define ourselves as delivering Canada’s Balmiest, Sweatiest or Stickiest Welcome — all being adjectives that are synonymous with “Warmest?”
Where do we draw the line?
Consider as well that the Town spent more than $146,000 to have the signs designed and placed. Doesn’t our community deserve full value for the dollars paid and not something that’s “close enough?”
As I said previously, a community’s signage is a manifestation of its character and culture.
Signs are artifacts and symbols that express values, standards and ideology. They create a sense of solidarity — “I live here,” the signs announce as they enclose those who live within them.
“And I’m proud to live here.”
Similarly, brand standards define the Town’s image and identity, both tangible and intangible. They express values and philosophies that should be endorsed by the highest levels of the organization’s leadership.
Just as Financial Services director Jim Zakall would go to the mat to protect the integrity of the Town’s finances and Gina MacKay would stand firm against casual encroachments on existing zoning requirements, so should the organization stand up for its branding.
As much as it would be a considerable frustration for the contractor tasked with designing and delivering the signage (after most likely receiving a copy of the brand standards and signing an agreement to ensure its proper use), the current signs should come down, be properly constituted to reflect accurately the Osoyoos branding and then go back up.