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City Branding: Tackling Prolonged Negative Images

Time heals all wounds, so they say, yet some wounds take longer to heal than others.

Cities are growingly facing competition from one another on a regional, national and international level. To grow and prosper, cities are contesting across the board for their share of tourists, investors, businesses and a qualified workforce (Dragin-Jensen, Schnittka, & Arkil, 2016). In order to shape and influence what their target markets thinks of them, cities have discovered the advantages of creating and fostering a city brand. This also signifies that methods of analyzing and measuring the worth of a brand has become more sophisticated. Scientific research has made significant advancements on how to quantifiably measure the perceived image of a city, and mainstream newspapers and media outlets release annual indices on “the best places to live”, “best places to visit”, “best city in the world” and so forth. Yet these cities are usually the mega cities (the top of the pop, so to speak) which appear – New York City, London, Amsterdam, and so forth. Yet there is a distinct lack of research studies on smaller cities, who are also competing against one another. This appears to be even more the case for smaller cities trying to overcome a negative reputation.

This project will focus on the Danish city of Esbjerg, who has struggled with its image and reputation in previous decades, and has actively pursued their own city branding initiatives and strategies. By means of an historical research approach (Hassen & Giovanardi, 2018), as well as a qualitative approach of semi-structured interviews with key figures in the city branding initiatives for the city, this project will contribute to the field of city branding by identifying commonalities, alignments between place communication and place ‘offerings’ development, as well as lessons learned from unsuccessful initiatives. The project will aid city branders and marketers better understand the historical context of overcoming negative reputations, as well as receiving tools on how to work towards a successful image.


Avraham, E., & Ketter, E. (2013). Marketing Destinations with Prolonged Negative Images : Towards a Theoretical Model. Tourism Geographies, 15(1), 145–164.

Baker, B. (2019). Place Branding – for small cities, regions & downtowns. Independently Published.

Dragin-Jensen, C., Schnittka, O., & Arkil, C. (2016). More options do not always create perceived variety in life: Attracting new residents with quality- vs. quantity-oriented event portfolios. Cities, 56, 55–62.

Hassen, I., & Giovanardi, M. (2018). The difference of ‘being diverse’: City branding and multiculturalism in the ‘Leicester Model.’ Cities, 80, 45–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2017.06.019

Zenker, S., & Braun, E. (2017). Questioning a “one size fits all” city brand: Developing a branded house strategy for place brand management. Journal of Place Management and Development, 10(3), 270–287. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPMD-04-2016-0018

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