We are all Barcelona

Barcelona’s promotional campaigns, from the 1980s.

The American writer Raymond Carver has a short story entitled “What We Talk About When We Talk about Love”. In this new issue of Barcelona Metròpolis we pose a similar question: what do we talk about when we talk about Barcelona? And to answer it we have decided to reflect on the Barcelona brand, a concept that has become part of public discourse and one which encourages us to revise and update our vision of the city we want.

Barcelona now has a worldwide standing like never before. The admiration it triggers can be found in extreme situations, be it a Woody Allen film or a child in a refugee camp wearing a Messi jersey. Yet the Barcelona brand cannot just rest on Catalan Modernist postcards or Barça’s footballing achievements. We are much more than that.

Generally speaking, Barcelona is not primarily seen as a city for doing business, although it is viewed as a good place to live. It is a city immersed in creativity, with a superb range of educational facilities and emerging potential as an innovation hub. Nonetheless, it needs to put together and make visible a new city and brand story: it must be seen as a city that inspires and this inspiration can impact on almost any area.

We have strategic sectors we need to protect and tie to the brand: design and creativity, architecture and town planning, biomedical research, fashion, culture, mobile technology, cuisine, and not forgetting our universities, which make Barcelona one of the most attractive campuses in Europe. Then there is also the city’s port, which is not only a leader for cruise stopovers, but also has the potential to become the logistics capital of southern Europe.


Barcelona’s promotional campaigns, from the 1980s.

Marketing campaigns are not enough to build a brand. Firstly, we have to be aware of and believe in what we are, and the vision of what we want to be (and how we want others to see us) needs to be largely shared by all. The brand is the part of what we are that we sell. Secondly, we do not like everything that we are and not everything fas­cinating about the city comes solely from ourselves. There is a part of the Barcelona brand that is already beyond our control because it is in the hands – or rather the heads – of everyone who has visited the city or knows something about it or has heard of it: a sum of perceptions that is superimposed on the image of itself that the city strives to project. Thus Barcelona does not have a single image around the world, and this means we need to act decisively with today’s ubiquitous marketing and communication tools, which are finely honed and used so well by the cities in the world’s top division in which we play.

There are myriad aspects to handling city branding. And there are lots of us, including government, private citizens, corporations, civic associations and businesses at all levels, who actively or passively contribute to spreading and managing it. Nonetheless, the tools and the drive to lead it rest mainly with the public authorities as the trustees of citizen representation. Future generations will judge us all, as today we judge the leaders who in the 19th century built the Eixample or created Catalan Modernism, or those who designed the Gòtic quarter or the post-dictatorial and post-Olympic city, because out of their genius came the seed of the much admired “Barcelona brand”, which those of us who are the city’s residents benefit from today.

Marc Puig i Guàrdia

Director of Communications and Citizen Service

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