By Sabrina Caserta
(With special contribution by Dr. Hume Johnson)
One month after the tragic Boston marathon bombing of April 15, 2013, where three people were killed and 264 injured, the city of Boston is picking up the proverbial pieces and Bostonians are moving on with their lives.
The great city of Boston, birthplace of the American Revolution, home to some of the world’s finest educational institutions, headquarters of world-renowned sports teams, a pivotal cornerstone in American politics and a major metropolis of commerce has been stained by blood, death and tragedy.
Prior to April 15, an Internet search on Boston would have revealed beautiful landscapes, the famous Fenway Park and numerous places of interest. Today, the same search populates the page with photos of chaos and mayhem brought on by terrorists. Indeed, any mention of Boston in conversation invites a discussion on extremism, disaster and tragedy. According to brand expert Dr. Hume Johnson, “This is the new Boston. Terror is now a part of the city’s story. Although the marathon attack has not changed the physical landscape of Boston per se, as the September 11 attacks did to New York City, it most certainly altered what Boston means in the public’s memory.”
According to Dr. Johnson, “the perception of un-safety always lingers in the minds of the public when a violent and vicious attack such as this occurs. Boston, and all countries and cities plagued by terror, violence and instability should become alert to this perception.” Yet, it is how Boston acts in response to this attack that will communicate much of the city’s identity and brand image.
Branding Boston: ‘Boston Strong’
Moments after the pressure cooker bombs exploded at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, ordinary citizens broke down the marathon barriers and assisted the injured. Heroes emerged in the form of emergency personnel, bomb squad members, first responders and hospital staff. In the city’s darkest hour, Bostonians opened their homes to marathon runners, donating shoes and clothing. Boston Marathon participants, who had been running for hours, ran to the nearest hospital to donate blood immediately after the explosion.
Indeed, in the wake of the tragedy, a tagline emerged: ‘Boston Strong’. This boldly communicated the city’s key message and promoted its brand identity in the way Boston wanted the outside world to see it. From buses to hotels, businesses to t-shirts, the ‘Boston Strong’ sign is broadcast in every nook and cranny of the city. Boston Strong has become Boston’s American emblem.
Boston native Matt Regan commented, “It gives Bostonians a new way to connect and console each other over the tragic event that occurred. Seeing the signs everywhere, and people wearing t-shirts and sweatshirts with the insignia helps show how much pride we Bostonians have for our city.”
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, many businesses in the Boston metropolitan area were unable to open their doors. However, Boston Duck Tours, a Boston based trolley tour company, reports that they were up and running the day after the attack.
“We are ambassadors for the city. We can’t shut down, we have to keep spirits up,” said Bob Schwartz, director of marketing and sales for Boston Duck Tours. According to Schwartz, in the days following the bombings, Boston Duck Tours took remaining marathon runners on trolley tours. “The city has seen a lot and gone through a lot. Our history is so deeply rooted in staying strong, we’ve always been strong, we are strong and we will continue to be strong.”
Communicating Brand Boston
Beyond the T-shirts and signs strung around the city that read ‘Boston Strong,’ some brand specialists agree there is a core message that Boston must communicate to the world in order to be seen as a strong, resilient metropolis. Dr. Hume Johnson said, “In the immediate post bombing period, Boston showed evidence of a brand boost by immediately returning the city to the myriad commercial, political and social activities that have become core to the city’s personality and image. Bostonians have been out and about living their lives – shopping or relaxing at cafes; working, taking their kids to schools and parks – as they normally would. The ‘Boston strong’ atmosphere offered a powerful competing brand image against the mayhem and tragedy.”
But Boston’s brand has transcended the city’s borders. A survey of frequent travelers revealed that since the marathon bombing, support for Boston has mushroomed throughout the United States and across the world. “From restaurants and hotels in Denver, San Francisco, Phoenix, and New York City to 7-11s right off the of the highway, I’ve seen tip cups for One Fund Boston and places pledging their support,” said one businessman.
Has the Marathon Bombing Branded Boston as Unsafe?
Following the terror attack at the Boston Marathon, airlines and hotels faced numerous cancellations. Some offered to waive cancellation fees in order to allow travelers to cancel their trips to Boston without facing a penalty. Travel to Boston had suddenly become precarious. The possibility of a terror attack registers with travelers and often affect their decision when booking trips.
Nearly 12 years after 9/11, the United States and the rest of the world have become more accustomed to the notion that terrorism can occur in any place, at any time. Since 9/11, threat levels for major cities such as New York are high. Does the Boston marathon bombing mean Boston is a high threat city? Has the marathon bombing rendered the city of Boston unsafe?
Dr. Johnson remarked, “The Boston bombing, unfortunate as it was, was a one–off event. It would be a gross overstatement to now brand Boston as an unsafe city in as much as I would hesitate to brand New York an unsafe place. Before the unfortunate event, Boston has never suffered a terrorist attack in its history and the city has never truly been under any obvious threat. Of course, it’s enormously important for Boston and major cities around the world to stay alert to the threat of international terrorism, but they should be careful not to become so consumed with security threats that the personality and the positive brand image of the city become lost.”
The Boston Economy Post-Bombing
The economic impact of a terror attack on a metropolitan area comes at great cost, especially in a major city of commerce such as Boston. The city of Boston is said to boast a more productive economy when compared to European countries such as Ireland, Portugal and Greece. On any given day, Boston’s normal economic production amounts to $US1 billion. According to Jim Diffley at HIS Global Insight, shutting down Boston for one day costs the city nearly $333 million.
When Boston businesses resumed production following the marathon bombings, it generated momentum for the city to begin its healing process. According to Dr. Johnson, “After the tragic events, Boston also communicated that it is open for business. The city’s commercial center revved up again; its noted educational institutions reopened their doors; trolley tours crowded with tourists cruised through the city’s busy thoroughfares; The Boston harbor and other city landmarks were immediately accessible. Games resumed play at the city’s stadia. Boston is carrying on with what it does best – celebrating its history and culture. The immediate resumption of commercial activity is the economic oxygen of a city, and is often the most authoritative indicator of a resilient Boston brand.”
Boston’s Sports Brand
The annual Boston marathon is just one manifestation of Boston’s superb sports brand. In addition to being a city of commerce, music, arts, history and fine education, Boston has also built itself up as a domestic sports hub, and a genuine American sporting center. Home to the famous Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics sports teams, sports have always been an integral part of the Boston spirit and central to Boston’s brand.
Immediately after the marathon bombing, the Red Sox played their first game wearing sports jerseys that read ‘Boston’ instead of ‘Red Sox’. The Bruins wore local police caps during their pregame skate and the Celtics offered a “Boston Stands as One” T-shirt and are giving 100% of the proceeds to The One Fund in Boston.
The spirit of fellowship with Boston from sports clubs and fans that emerged throughout the city of Boston and throughout the nation and across the world was notable. In the days following the tragedy, marathons were run in England and Germany where runners wore black ribbons or armbands with the slogan “Run For Boston.”
Boston Moving Forward
After the most tragic event in its modern history, Boston is moving forward. Although tragedy tarnished her first marathon, student Melissa Pennington and her father are planning to run in the Boston 2014 Marathon. Every year, for as long as she could remember, Melissa had been waiting at the finish line for her father, who had run in 22 Boston Marathons. This year, warned about the bombings at the finish line, Melissa and her father ran through the back streets of Boston to avoid public areas in case of another attack. After sitting on the steps of strangers – cold, exhausted and without phone contact for hours – Melissa and her father finally got in touch with family.
“The city of Boston is full of heart. We have heart for our sports teams, our history, our neighbors, and that heart has just gotten bigger. The amount of support, and love that has come out of this tragedy, it’s unbelievable and makes me so proud to be from Boston.” Pennington said.
Shane Olesen, another Boston native said, “Boston has always been strong. We are the birthplace of America. This event has simply awoken all of Boston and has reignited the flame that drives us to keep moving forward and to fight another day.”
On Boston’s recovery, Dr. Hume Johnson said, “Boston has a famous, strong and enduring brand built on the city’s illustrious history, vibrant culture and the spirit and grit of the city’s inhabitants. It is this fighting spirit of the people of Boston and the city’s engagement in myriad activities and events that best communicates Brand Boston post bombing and which truly defines Boston going forward.” ω