“Tell your friends it’s awful here” – this is now Bowen’s official slogan, so get used to it.
The tongue-in-cheek catchphrase is complemented by the island’s official mascot: a hand-drawn deer character. It’s all part of Bowen’s new branding which was unveiled – and unanimously endorsed by council – Monday at municipal hall.
The fact Bowen’s new identity was not crafted by outsiders, but rather community members who approached the project “with a passion,” was celebrated at the meeting.
“This is a Bowen Island project by Bowen Islanders for Bowen Islanders,” said Gordon Ganong, economic development committee chairman. “The last thing anyone wanted was a traditional marketing campaign.”
The road to finding Bowen’s new rallying cry started two years ago when the volunteer-run EDC undertook the branding initiative.
Extensive research with community members and visitors – conducted by Bowen residents Edward Wachtman and Sheree Johnson, founders of StoryTellings Consulting, an international pre-branding consulting firm – drove the branding process.
Five key themes emerged from engaging Bowen stakeholders, including a strong sense of community and a connection with nature.
With this information in hand, the EDC began searching for the right candidate to brand Bowen.
The committee received 35 professional submissions from branding experts across North America and was given estimates that were upwards of $100,000 to develop a brand.
In the end the EDC went with homegrown talent in Bowen resident Chris Staples, founder of the award-winning, national advertising agency Rethink – which, along with StoryTellings, provided their services on a pro bono basis.
In fact, Bowen’s new identity was developed with minimal expense to the municipality, as the EDC solicited $150,000 in professional expertise and cash donations from businesses and individuals.
Reflecting on Bowen’s branding journey, Staples, who helped create campaigns for companies such as Coast Capital Savings, Science World, Molson Canadian, Shaw Communications and A&W Restaurants, said this is the one project that he poured the most amount of research into.
This process, said Staples, has allowed him to uncover what is “real and true” about Bowen.
Staples opened his presentation to council by explaining how on his walk to town hall Monday he noticed a mishmash of municipal branding. A logo on a BIM truck depicted three mountains, while a fire and rescue vehicle displayed a different logo and then when Staples arrived he spotted a heron on the sign outside the hall.
“It means I don’t recognize Bowen,” said Staples. “If Bowen was a person, that person would be getting their wardrobe in the dark … and changing it every day.”
Inspiration for Bowen’s new brand came from Portland’s grassroots “Keep Portland Weird” campaign, explained Staples.
“If Bowen was a city, I think it might be something like Portland,” he added. “It’s quirky, it’s a little granola, very artistic and has a lot of our shared values.”
The branding team started with 200 taglines. Other contenders for Bowen’s new slogan included: Just off the coast of ordinary, Bowen Island, B.C.; Welcome to Bowen Island, now get lost; and Bowen Island, this is my happy place.
As for the cheeky catchphrase that prevailed, Staples said there’s a proud defiance about it – meant to reflect Bowen’s “quirky and eccentric” character – but outsiders will still know “of course, it’s not awful here.”
“Anyone who lives here has a love-hate relationship with visitors,” said Staples. “We love to show off our island, but we don’t want it to be overrun with tourists. We want visitors, but only if they really get what makes Bowen special.”
If nothing else, Staples said he wanted the branding to “pass the bumper sticker test.”
A supporting cast of hand-drawn characters – an eagle, a seal and slug – representing other inhabitants of the island will be featured in marketing materials alongside the lead deer mascot.
“We all know the deer really own this island and we’re just guests,” said Staples.
The mascots will be used on postcards and in online videos and social media. You can see the video prototypes by visiting the BIM channel on YouTube.
Bowen’s brand identity includes three distinct “voices,” each aimed at different audiences, including the municipality, visitors and residents.
“Don’t worry – you won’t see ‘Tell your friends it’s awful here’ on your next tax assessment. It will only be used where appropriate,” said Mayor Murray Skeels, who called the new branding “fantastic.”
Skeels said he loves the idea of having mascots popping up on Bowen’s social media channels and being ambassadors for the community.
“That really gives you the humour and the story and you identify with these characters and you like them,” said Skeels.
Coun. Sue Ellen Fast was pleasantly surprised by the presentation, saying she wasn’t expecting to be presented with a vehicle or a medium to do community outreach and conversation starting.
Coun. Michael Kaile said the EDC “set the bar really, really high” and left nothing undone with this campaign.
“So, if we’re to capitalize on this work, we just need a really great team to move this on, because this cannot remain static,” said Kaile, adding it’s up to the community to nurture this new brand and make sure it sticks and doesn’t get derailed.
Coun. Melanie Mason said she was curious how the EDC was going to incorporate all the voices on the island, including the younger ones.
“Having those characters there, I can just see it spilling into the playground and just everybody being able to identify with one of those voices,” said Mason.
The unveiling of Bowen’s new brand elicited laughs, especially when the tagline was revealed, and thunderous applause by council-watchers and council members, many of whom were already sporting “Tell your friends it’s awful here” T-shirts as they left town hall.