by Jim Bertram
What would come to mind to you if I were to write the words “Big Ben”, “Eiffel Tower”, or “Jewel on the Rideau”. I’m willing to bet that you spontaneously thought: London, Paris, and Merrickville in that order. In a sense, the words cited conjured up a perception which you have for various reasons built in your mind relative to the places mentioned.
In a way, those images are part of what marketers refer to as the “brand” of those places. Branding is defined in the dictionary sense as “… the activity of connecting a product with a particular name, symbol, …particular features or ideas…” in order to make people reflexively recognize and want to buy it. The concept has been extended beyond the domain of products to include, among other things, municipalities.
The brand, or image of a place is an important part of the overall reputation of a town or city. Much of what happens in a town goes toward making the brand. And the brand contributes to the range of things which might happen in a town. For example, would you rather set up a tourist shop in Joyceville or in Merrickville? I’m guessing you’d opt for the latter. I think we can instinctively understand this process of choice without having to analyse it to the ground.
Nonetheless, some people have studied the process of branding extensively. At the end of the day, they stress the informal tendency of people to classify places according to their own values and form an image or brand of their own. It is this independent and personal process that makes branding hard to control, no matter how hard a municipality or city tries. And once a brand is established, it’s very hard to change should one wish to do so.
Which brings me to Kemptville. What is Kemptville and North Grenville’s brand? Right now, maybe the College? The Ferguson Forest? Prescott Street from the bridge Southward? You will have your ideas. And visitors will have theirs. Whatever the brand, it has served to draw many people to this town and surrounding area as tourists or new residents.
But what will our future brand be? Hard as it may be to accomplish, a brand can be changed. What will the imposition of phase one of a provincial prison project on Kemptville do to the town’s image or brand? The perception of our town in the minds of others. Will the imposition of such a variously negative project on the town irrevocably change its brand from one of bucolic, small town freshness to something else? Something darker? Less desirable?
Readers: we were not consulted before this top-down, autocratic decision was made. And – make no mistake, it HAS been made. The question now is: Can we do something about it? Is anyone besides myself and a thus far small group of citizens interested in preserving the reality of Kemptville as a fresh, healthy, quintessential Ontario small town ready to work in that direction? Remember, the branding our town receives will essentially be rooted in the reality of our town. What do you want that reality to be? What do you want that brand to be?
Will “Jail on the Rideau” be the brand we must live with? Or something better? And what are you prepared to do about it? Since your Council seems ready to roll over before the provincial power, I and the group that is forming in opposition to phase one of this jail represent the only organised opposition. If you wish to fight with us for your town, contact me at: [email protected] I’ll be pleased to hear from you.