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When discussion on the branding for Cape Town was resurrected in 2008, CapeInfo spoke to Mel Miller, veteran communicator, to gauge his thoughts. He came up with a concept that we felt captured the essence of the city.


"It takes a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious" – Alfred N. Whitehead (1861 - 1947)

"The only limits are those of vision" – James R. Broughton

“You can’t build a strong corporation with a lot of committees and a board that has to be consulted at every turn” – Rupert Murdoch

“If we are to survive, we must have ideas, vision and courage. These things are rarely produced by committees.” – Arthur M. Schlesinger (Jnr)

Great ideas are a problem

In fact, there are two problems - firstly, how to find great ideas and secondly, how to make sure when you do find just one, it doesn't drown in oceans of mediocrity.

Great ideas rarely come from committees. Democratic, inclusive processes usually mean too many cooks and mediocrity. The more talk, the less chance a great idea will emerge. And textbook processes usually end in the similar results. Great ideas are an inspiration!

In 1985, after five years of committees and no progress, a small group of Waterfront enthusiasts – without approval or permission – took the initiative. A month later they had undertakings from two cabinet ministers to get the ball rolling for the Waterfront's development.

Cape Town Tourism's branding think tanks covered the same ground as a previous branding exercise in 2003. CapeInfo was unimpressed by the outcome.

I bounced the branding issue off Mel Miller, who came up with the inspired idea of "Iconic Cape Town". I think Mel's concept is a great one – it says it all; it unifies a fragmented industry.

But we both knew that any great idea would face an uphill battle because politicians and bureaucrats think they must own everything, and the widespread fallacy on committees that they are branding experts.

Then I remembered something Charles Eames (a design icon of the 20th century) always did. Eames knew the importance of properly documenting good ideas in case they were dropped or diminished... and published them, usually as movies!

And that's why CapeInfo is running with Mel's concept and worked it through to give it meaning.

Like the 1985 Pierhead Festival demonstrated what a great place the Waterfront could be – and got the ball rolling – CapeInfo presents "ICONIC CAPE TOWN" in our Introduction to Cape Town" page as a snapshot of how Cape Town can be presented.

In both cases, it's public opinion that counts.

... now if only someone would get Robben Island's management to live up to it's iconic status.

Carl Momberg | CapeInfo
September 8, 2008

Vote | Comment

And we hope that everyone with an opinion will vote and leave a comment - click here to leave yours. Now that's how democratic inclusiveness should always work!

















Branding & positioning for Cape Town
The challenge to find a single, uniting identity has bedevilled Cape Town's tourism marketing for decades. Division and argument over cultural icons, political ownership of responsibility & regions, and indeed debate over Table Mountain itself, has caused millions of marketing Rands to be squandered and valuable opportunities to be lost. Many of those involved have had little understanding of what a brand is and needs to do.

In attempting to do justice to everything and everyone, the industry has been fragmented and disjointed - it has shown far too many 'faces' - logos, authorities, personalities and pictures to the market - causing confusion to the customer (our visitor).

The lack of a cohesive branding strategy and single, focused 'brand message' has been the stumbling block of the industry for far too long - it has been the demise of countless well-intended tourism initiatives and genuine efforts to promote the region.

Cape Town is the brand. What Cape Town represents - what it has to offer and what it is known for - needs to be communicated instantly and effectively. The brand message needs to do that.

We have so many memorable, recognisable and revered icons, it makes complete sense to capitalise on them. As a collective then, we can make one crisp, concise promise –


The issue is not about logos, slogans or complex strategies. It's about simplicity of communication – "iconic" being the language and experience of our customers. (Operators at the rock face of tourism confirm this to be true. It's the conversation they have with visitors daily.)

The brand message not only focuses your marketing efforts but it must also be the promise that guides you.

What is an icon?

An image; a representation.

An important and enduring symbol: "Table Mountain is one of the world's global icons."

One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol.

Landmark moments in time, eg, iconic moments – public and personal: "Nelson Mandela's release from prison and his first speech from City Hall; the world's first heart transplant at Groote Schuur hospital; experiencing poverty and genuine friendship in a squatter camp."

One is touched & moved by an icon.

Most internationally recognised cities have their own unique and recognisable icon - Paris the Eiffel Tower, New York the Statue of Liberty, Sydney the Opera House, Rio the Statue of Christ on Sugar Loaf mountain, and China the Great Wall (now usurped by Beijing's "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium?). It is no coincidence that most of these are the city's most favoured visitor attractions too.

An icon represents what we would ideally have people picture our city and region to be. An icon symbolises and identifies us in a unique and distinctive way. It is the way visitors (should) come to know, see, and recognize us.

Cape Town - as a city and visitor destination - has long enjoyed iconic status due to its most imposing and internationally recognised landmark, Table Mountain. It has come to identify the entire Western Cape region around it - and many will say that it represents the southern part of Africa in the same way that Egypt and the Pyramids represent the North.

But there is more to Cape Town and the region that just Table Mountain.

New York grabbed the world with this logo and took ownership of the word "love", almost usurping Paris' description as 'the city of love'. Anybody that uses it now is seen as a copycat.
Success demands a unique attribute which you can claim or make your own.

The region is blessed with more iconic attractions than most - some natural, others created; some obvious, some still virtually unknown. It has long been argued that the richness of our natural attractions, the depth of our creative talent, the appeal of our discoveries and the charm of our diverse cultures, are far too numerous to be categorised by one symbol.

ICONIC CAPE TOWN captures all that we are, and all that we will come to stand for if we truly embrace this concept and make it our own.

It positions Cape Town for what it is, should be, and can be.

ICONIC CAPE TOWN must be indelibly entrenched and consistently communicated to our target consumers. This is our promise to the visitor - it's what they can reasonably expect, and what they will experience, when they visit us.

Indeed, to give us purpose and to make this promise meaningful, this phrase should become the central idea that inspires, drives, directs and galvanises all initiatives in every sphere of our city and community - from its leadership, our tourism marketing initiatives, its business strategies, our design criteria, through to its very vision for the future.

By positioning Cape Town as the 'representative of the region', we focus on our recognised iconic status - one that has already been achieved, acknowledged and endorsed internationally.

But, I must stress, it is not about Table Mountain or the City, per se.

They are merely our 'gateway of entry' or 'point of departure' for the region - It is the start of our 'conversation with the consumer' - a familiar story that builds engagement, heightens awareness, stimulates new interest and ultimately results in visitation.

Importantly, ICONIC CAPE TOWN is a bold new step-up into a position of marketing ascendancy. With consistent communication and time, it could play out as the intended end-goal:

Cape Town - Icon of the Continent (today).
One of the great iconic Cities of the World (tomorrow).

Mel Miller
September 7, 2008

Also on CapeInfo  » Mel Miller interview (2005)