Barcelona as a marketing brand

View of Gaudi's Barcelona

By Pol Marzo, Arnau Fernández, Alejandra Duelo

If we look at the data we can easily spot how Barcelona has proved itself to hold substantial value regarding publicity not of itself, but of brands willing to be linked to the city and take advantage of its distinctive features. It is a global city, one that has the capacity to generate knowledge and produce talent.

Therefore, Barcelona can be considered a platform for brands to be advertised while at the same time the city itself can be seen as a brand. There exists a relationship between brands and the city that comes out as favourable for both of them. On the one hand, the recognition of the enterprise has risen thanks to the mere fact of having their brand showing up in a city such as Barcelona, which possesses a power of attraction and certain popularity.

On the other hand, the city also gains something from them: eyes from outsiders are attracted to territories which contain important conferences, brands, festivals… consequently increasing tourism rates as well as foreign investment.

These two are important factors for a city to be able to grow further and to improve their situation as well as their status in the global scenario. To demonstrate how the city is able to achieve such a position globally, there are some factors that are key and will thus be explained in this article. 

Anna Casadellà, a manager of Barcelona Global, a private non-profit organization established with the objective of making the city of Barcelona relevant in the global scenario, mentions when discussing such a topic how a global city is one that competes with the top cities in the world: “if you do not play on the best league, then you play at a regional league, which makes you lose power”.

a market stall with ladies browsing

Ladies at the market in Barcelona [Unsplash: Jessica To’oto’o]

As one of the most progressive and chicest cities in Spain, while one of the most innovative ones in all of Europe, Barcelona can be compared to many cities depending on the field of analysis. Let’s take as an example one that is about 10 times bigger Barcelona; New York City. Both cities are culturally active, with endless possibilities, and they both are a destination for design enthusiasts and sports fans. However, other aspects such as the weather, the atmosphere, the lifestyle, the structure of the city or their prestige clearly vary.  

The noteworthy part here is, though, the way Barcelona manages to become as distinguished as New York City or any other creatively influential city like London, Berlin, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Portland or Manchester, to mention just a few examples. As it is widely known, Barcelona is not a huge city. Its area is 101.99km² which compared to the aforementioned cities is indeed one of the smallest with a dense population of 1.7 million inhabitants.

According to UN estimations, by the end of this century, 84% of people will live in cities. Since Barcelona is a city that is constantly thinking ahead, actively preparing itself for the future and its growth, it becomes a welcoming one. 

Nevertheless, it is not only about people living in cities, but also companies taking advantage of city branding of communities such as the Barcelonian one, that embraces and encourages diversity, ambition and creativity. As a city that has been ranked one of the world’s top “smart cities”, has long placed great importance on urban technological innovation, size stops being so significant. In other words, Barcelona has managed to exploit successfully its best traits and become a place of interest for brands, while balancing its small room in the map. 

Tourism gives the city an advantage, which is polyvalence when attracting visitors. 

Barcelona is a city which finds much of its importance based on tourism, and thus it is usually considered a destination for international travelling. During the year of 2017, the total number of overnight tourists in hotels got to almost 9 million (a number that does not even include people staying in alternative accommodation). It, of course, offers a similar type of experiences as other typical European destinations like outdoor markets, local shops, fantastic restaurants, frequented bars, along with museums or other places of cultural interest without forgetting about a beautiful beach.

cityscape of barcelona beach

Barcelona beach cityscape [Unsplash: Enes]

And although one of the many aspects in which Barcelona manages to be a pioneer is in culture — with the great influence of the acclaimed architect Antoni Gaudí – in 2010, National Geographic qualified Barcelona as the first on a top 10 list on “the world’s best beach cities”, which manifests its extraordinary combination of creative city and nature.4 *Picture of the beach of Barceloneta* 

Significant celebrations of international wide importance have taken place in Barcelona ever since the 19th century; the Universal Exhibition of 1888, the World Affair of 1929, the International Eucharistic Congress of 1952, the 1992 Olympic Games and the Universal Forum of Cultures of 2004. These events led to progress in the urban self-consciousness and in the exterior projection of Barcelona, which along with the recovery of Spain’s economy during the 1950s and 60s meant that Barcelona could go back to its reputation as an independent and thriving city.

After General Franco’s death in 1975, Barcelona was focused on presenting the world with a united, competent city,  devoid of the stereotypes of ‘siestas’ and bullfights that had foreigners assigned to Spain as a whole.5 With this motive, the 1992 Olympics presented the city as a productive, composed and well put-together global one.

In order to portray Spain as passionate and cultural, the city focused on artists that already had international recognition, such as Dalí or Picasso, and their styles were used decoratively throughout the city. Therefore, it can be said that the Olympics were used to transform the built environment and to project a new image of the city, creating a reputation for itself that far surpassed the previous conceptions the world had had about the urban area. 

How does a city become a brand, if it is not originally founded as one?  

Despite this international recognition in the realm of arts, creativity, productivity and culture, Barcelona must continue growing somehow. With the investment of worldwide companies, the city develops exponentially, transforming itself into a brand, just like ‘Nike’, ‘Apple’ or ‘Coca Cola’. However, one might notice some contrast between the concept of Barcelona and the concept of ‘Nike’, for example. One is a city, while the other is a multinational corporation, plus one has inhabitants, homes, streets and transport within, while the other gathers clothes, shoes, employees and a few managers.  

the sagrada familia with pink flowers

La Sagrada Familia [Unsplash: Isaac D]

What is a city composed of? One may say that the main elements of a city are historical monuments, transport, public facilities, museums, buildings, streets, people, shops, etc. But, although it is not as noticeable, there also exists a set of intangible factors that allow the city to stand where it does. With its enviable climate, excellent food culture and exceptional public transportation, foreign companies are becoming more and more interested in setting down roots in Barcelona.

There are about 5,000 of them in Catalonia, 90% of which are based in Barcelona. The capital continues to attract foreign business via hosting world-class conferences and expositions with “Fira de Barcelona”, the second largest trade fair and exhibition centre in Europe at its disposal. Sectors such as Life Sciences, Transportation or Chemicals had a leading position in investment attraction. In Barcelona, 270 foreign direct investments created 20,334 jobs and totalled $7,460 million.

The city ranked 6th in a number of projects, but 3rd in terms of capital invested. According to a survey, experts indicated that intangible factors such as quality of life and the image of Barcelona are the most important reasons for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Barcelona area. Its reputation as a pleasant place to live and its positive brand image are valuable intangible assets that explain why foreign investors are attracted towards a possible investment. As Ms Casadellà puts it: “the ecosystem makes businesses more interested in searching for the city’s talent radiates in Barcelona. 

If we take a quick look to the economic scale, both Catalonia and Barcelona are leading European regions as an attraction of foreign direct investment, reaching the highest level of FDI inflows in between the analysed period. FDI inflows hit a record high for two consecutive years, with €4,936 million in 2015, and €5,052 million in 2016.

The Top 5 investor countries in Catalonia and Barcelona consist of three European countries — Germany, France and the UK — and the US and Japan. Additionally, 15.9% of all projects were from Asian companies, which are the fastest-growing contributors to the world’s FDI and will be key to the near success of Barcelona. 

If we link both sectors, in tandem with the tourism, the international events and the foreign investment Barcelona receives, the role of architecture and urbanism of the city should also be highlighted. As it has been previously stated, Barcelona is known in the world as a city that emanates culture, creativity, art, music, trends and design; elements that combine and interact to draw the style of an international brand.

Barcelona is a city which finds much of its importance based on tourism”

In the last 25 years, the city has become one of the favourite operation bases of architects, designers, photographers, illustrators and creative professionals from all over the world, complementing the already existing talent and heritage of universal artists, like Gaudí, Miró, Tàpies or Brossa.6  

How did the opening of Barcelona to the world impact its entrance into a new era? 

Going back to the 1992 Summer Olympics, which provided the city with billions of euros for infrastructure investments, the quality of life and the attraction of the city for investment and tourism were improved. However, next to these two powerful departments were the urbanism and the architecture. Barcelona took advantage of such an opportunity to set up a previously elaborated ambitious urban plan.

The city opened to the sea with the construction of the Olympic Village and Olympic Port in Poblenou; new centres were created, modern sports facilities were built in the Olympic zones of MontjuïcDiagonal, and Vall d’Hebron, hotels were built or refurbished, etc. 10.000 apartments were built, the beaches were cleaned up, three new high ways were constructed and many green areas and parks were designed.

In many ways, the celebration of the Olympic Games in 1992 meant the beginning of a new era, of a new and more attractive city, and since then, new interesting, modern architecture has continued to come up in Barcelona. Today Barcelona offers an overwhelming amount of fascinating, modern buildings that have changed the urban landscape of Barcelona radically.  

Nevertheless, while up to now everything might have seemed very effective and beneficial for the city, this last year a decrease in the reputation risk of Barcelona has been perceived. This is certainly owing to various factors and events that have taken place recently in the city and in the Catalan society. The political instability of Catalonia has spurred a recess in investment and “premium” tourists.

men performing in the street in barcelona

Street performers in Barcelona [Unsplash: Richard Hewat]

This categorization makes reference to people from an upper class, which come here to spend large amounts of money, in search of a superior sightseeing experience as well as shopping.  It has also been accompanied by episodes of ‘turismofòbia’ triggered by overexploitation of tourism in the central parts of the city and several strikes (public officers, security and taxis/cabify).  

How can Barcelona visualize, empower and create new projects to keep up its reputation as an exclusive international brand? 

Possible solutions to such problems would include proper management of tourism based on a good distribution to fight agglomerations in the central areas like “Passeig de Gràcia”, the Gothic Quarter, El Born, El Raval, etc. This could be achieved by empowering other districts and for example enhancing ‘el Paral·lel’, which connects the port to the ‘Plaça Espanya’, and thus creating an attractive product to tourists. Alternative ways of governance and management could also solve some issues.

The current city council stopped any governance related to tourism, as they found a problematic situation; they lacked a new proposition as to how to manage the large inflow of people. For example through the promotion and good regulation of touristic apartments instead of prohibitions or actively regulating problems like ‘top manta’ or vandalism that trigger a bad image.

Also by creating new cultural proposals, with regard to the idea that the city cannot eternally live out of the Olympic Games, modernism and Gaudí. 

To conclude, we must not mistake a city with good. Cities are not sold. We must not understand a city as a company or a mere product as in the end a city is, in its deepest structure, the home of citizens who can ever feel as like their welfare or the essence of their Cities are sold. Nevertheless, as it has been shown throughout this article, a purpose must exist in order to remain continuously vibrant and appealing to a diverse audience in order to conquer the idea of becoming global. This is not an easy task, which indeed needs many factors to take place.

First and foremost, we have seen the extreme importance of strong governance and inner investment and protectionist policies to strengthen the growth of a city like Barcelona. The relationship with worldwide brands has also shown to be key in creating the sense of a “Barcelona brand” even though it is essential not to fall in excess. Barcelona is increasingly growing in all these sectors and now that it faces many obstacles we will see how it manages to deal with such aversions and continue to pursue the dream of becoming a creative global city. 


Featured image courtesy of kygp via Flickr