Los Angeles new tourism brand is the ultimate “back to 80s” sensation

Added on July 7, 2021 - Category: Branding, Marketing, News
Los Angeles tourism brand cover

So Los Angeles has a new tourism brand. Do not confuse it with a city brand guideline.

Instead, this is a new visual identity for the tourism side of Los Angeles city.

The interesting part of this is that they went the same road than McDonalds packaging rebrand and Burger King’s full rebranding. That is: it’s retro, baby!

In order to do so, the L.A. Tourism Department contacted renowned artist Shepard Fairey’s Number One design studio, as well as House Industries design firm.

The results were… well, vintage.

The logo itself is quite controversial, some people will love it and some people will hate it with a passion.

On the other hand, it’s a massive improvement when compared to the previous logo, which was just the word Los Angeles in a pretty mundane and boring cursive typography.

Here is a comparison of the old Logos and the new L.A. logo:

Los Angeles tourism original logo
The original logo for L.A. Tourism
Los Angeles tourism previous logo
Los Angeles tourism previous logo (the one being replaced)
Los Angeles tourism logo after rebranding
Los Angeles tourism logo after rebranding

It’s hard to tell if I like it or not. It feels really retro, like something out of an 80s movie about tourism in Los Angeles.

On the other hand, it looks pretty awesome on a t-shirt… But then again, I’m not exactly unbiased when it comes to this kind of thing.

The thing is, even though people will argue about what they think of this logo design, no one can deny that this is probably one of the best logos ever designed for Los Angeles – by far.

Let me see if I can sum up why people might love or hate this new visual identity for L.A.:

  1. If you’re into art as well as business and marketing (as we all are), you’ll enjoy seeing how designers go about creating icons like those used on movie posters or record covers, etc.
  2. If you’re into fashion design (like a lot of American teens these days)
  3. People who don’t give a crap about art or fashion but still appreciate cool graphic designs will like it too
  4. It has a very retro vibe
  5. The textured feel with the nice subtle colors
  6. Even though some people complain, that “it doesn’t look modern enough”
  7. And finally, unlike most similar rebranding projects, which usually focus on making the image of cities “hipper” by showing them enjoying trendy food/music/etc. show, they instead went for the full “retro” approach
  8. Most importantly, tourists visiting LA will definitely want to take photos with t-shirts with the same logo
  9. Therefore, anyone who likes to have cool memorabilia printed on their clothes will buy a lot of them

Here is a preview of the new poster for Venice, California. This is another example of the more modern “sketch style” approach that has been adopted by many cities around the world:

Los Angeles logo design application
Logo application is “iffy” to say the least

The rationale behind a new brand

Los Angeles, California, is a major tourist destination in the United States. There are many reasons why people want to visit this city: It’s an incredible mix of culture and entertainment, the weather is great most of the year (but especially in the summer), there are great beaches nearby, it has some of the best museums in America (like The Getty) and to top it off… you can take selfies with Marilyn Monroe! A group called Lonely Planet listed Los Angeles as one of their “10 Cities Every First Time Visitor Should See” in 2013. They also rated LA as the “most Instagrammable place” in America.

The fact that L.A.’s new tourism brand NOT focuses on attracting visitors via famous celebrities could actually be seen as a good thing, as overloading people with these types of attractions would likely distract them too much to actually enjoy their trip there… And lastly – even though there are many artists/designers working here now more than ever – not much has really changed since 1956 when my family moved here 🙂 When it comes down to it; do we need another reason for our locals and foreigners to visit LA?

That was the challenge for artist Shepard Fairey ‘s Studio Number One and design firm House Industries, when they were commissioned by Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board to work together to develop a new logo and brand identity for the city. It is a seemingly impossible task to not only embody the hopes, dreams, expectations and aspirations of the city’s residents and visitors, but to do so in a typeface. Their solution is an acid-washed wordmark that exudes SoCal’s sunny optimism with a touch of street-level cool.

Los Angeles new tourism brand is the ultimate "back to 80s" sensation 1
Los Angeles new logo used in a billboard

“You have the Hollywood Hills, which is only relevant to some people, and you have the palm trees, which are more than suggestive of a beach, but still very beachy, and other places can use that, and then the stars on Hollywood Boulevard or City Hall, which are also very specific,” says Fairey, who notes that he was also inspired by classic Art Deco, hand-painted signs and Mexican restaurant signage. “It was about making it interpretable to different people and differentiating it from what other cities do.”

People are surrounded by brands: Fashion brands, car brands, sports brands. But very rarely do we think about the “brands” of cities and regions. Cities from Chicago to Melbourne have unveiled logos designed to communicate their spirit, vibrancy and opportunity sufficiently to convince both tourists and businesses that they should spend their money here. But aside from Milton Glaser’s “I Love NY” and perhaps Martin and Woltz’s “Virginia Is for Lovers,” tourist slogans and brand identities are generally not very memorable, largely because these designs aim to appeal to literally the broadest possible cross-section of people.

That was the problem with L.A. Tourism’s previous branding, a Dodgers-like font that trademark attorneys deemed too generic to protect – resulting in it being poached for unlicensed souvenirs and other uses.

The new logo is the first rebranding for L.A. Tourism in a decade, and the organization hopes it will appeal to tourists as well as conference and meeting planners from around the world.

The logo design will be used on everything from letterhead and business cards to conference banners and TV ads. Part of the brief was to target Generation Z visitors and Millennials from key markets who have the means to travel – in other words, the Cool Kids With Money.

The project coincides with a new ad campaign called “Your Comeback Starts Here,” which speaks to both L.A.’s reputation as a city of dreams and a destination COVID -19.

in this video presentation we can see the new tourism brand’s icon

Don Skeoch, L.A. Tourism’s chief marketing officer, says the two biggest challenges were finding something that, first, straddles the line between appealing to tourists and business people and, second, doesn’t rely too much on the abbreviated L.A., which can be read as la- or “the” in Spanish and French. “The brand identity has to work for everyone, so internally we had representatives from all sectors,” Skeoch says. “There were so many stakeholders. We have airlines, hotels, restaurants, shopping, sports venues, so we ran our research through our marketing committee, which has representatives from all the major attractions and icons in L.A.”

Skeoch sees both the future of Los Angeles Tourism and the L.A. brand as extremely promising under Fairey & Co.’s leadership. “The fact that there are other cities doing this now is just incredible; I think every city should do something similar,” he says. “We have so many opportunities in L.A., but they’re only as good as our ability to tell the story.”

“The new logo is the first rebranding for L.A. Tourism in a decade, and the organization hopes it will appeal to tourists as well as conference and meeting planners from around the world,” Skeoch says. “It will be used on everything from letterhead and business cards to conference banners and TV ads.”

It’s not just about the Los Angeles new logo, though.

The new brand is part of a comprehensive plan to reinvent L.A.’s image and position it as a world-class city going forward. This includes more than 20 new campaigns across all areas of tourism marketing, from social media to advertising.

There will also be big changes at LAX – where Fairey has spent seven years working on numerous projects, including an interactive lighting installation and an arrivals area lighting system that became known as “the shaft.”

A month before the airport was awarded the $1 billion renovation by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), Studio Number One helped design the public art program. Cruz notes that while his studio has worked with cities around the world for more than 25 years, it has never had a project like this. “I have friends who work internationally who said we’re really proud of you guys,” he says. “It’s so much bigger than anything we’ve done before.”

In addition to a complete rebranding, the plan includes big changes at LAX. Cruz says he and his team are working on a new lighting system for the airport’s arrivals area, to be unveiled in September. “The previous ones were really retro,” he says. “We’re trying to make it more like an art installation.” The designs, which will include projections of photos taken from Los Angeles above, will rotate through different times of day and seasons, as well as different moods – think Instagram filters with real sky behind them, rather than just colors that change over time.

“It was really important to us that the logo had a sense of place and history, but also felt like it could be here for 100 years,” Cruz says. “You have your iconic buildings and streets in L.A. that are all very specific places – you can’t say ‘I’m doing this sign’ because no one has done it before.”

That’s why they chose typography that’s still relevant today, Times New Roman, a modern serif typeface with strong contrast between thick and thin strokes that was introduced by Monotype back in 1935. The new look will be unveiled July 1 at the launch of LA Brand Week , an annual marketing campaign created by the city’s Chamber of Commerce to attract tourists from around the world.

Los Angeles new tourism brand forgot about UI?

So now that we know the new tourism brand Los Angeles and the reasons behind it, one might ask: What about EVERYTHING ELSE? (and I mean EVERYTHING).

As with many rebranding strategies, they seem to have forgotten to work on the user interface of the online presence. They just slapped the logo on top and that’s it. Or at least that’s what it looks like.

The design of the website is hard to navigate and quite difficult to use. It’s not very informative (although it has a lot of content) and in the end it’s a sloppy job. So sloppy that it uses an old default template on a barely used CMS like Drupal. Or were they trying to go vintage on website development too?

Well, see for yourself:

new tourism brand and UI
Los Angeles new tourism brand and User Interface on Desktop
Los angeles user interface
The same UI, this time in mobile

For all the work that was put into this, I’m not sure what it’s worth. The content is good and there are some nice visuals, but in terms of navigation (or usability) it’s a mess.

They even forgot to put “Tourism” in the URL for their homepage!

All that being said, we can learn from Los Angeles’ mistakes here.

As an agency that specializes in brand development, we have worked with many companies over the years and tried to apply lessons learned into our own approach. One of which is about staying away from rebranding exercises where you don’t want to change everything at once.

It just doesn’t make sense as a strategy if you know there will be more changes coming down the road

Conclusion on LA’s Tourism rebranding

It’s very hard to say something bad about Shepard Fairey or House Industries. They’re top notch designers and they really know their game, so they probably see something we can’t see.

On the surface, this is a tourism brand. And as such, it works. It’s simple and “cheerful”, with a nice vintage look. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But, as I found out in writing this article, there’s a lot more to it than that. The folks at L.A. Tourism Department have their finger on the pulse of the local community and they are constantly thinking of ways to give back. That’s what sets them apart from most tourism brands. They’re not just selling things, they’re trying to be part of something bigger than themselves.

On top of that, the city has a lot to offer. It’s beautiful and diverse. There are tons of cool restaurants and shops in LA, it’s just not talked about enough (or at all).Also, the hospitality industry in L.A. is booming right now and there’s no sign of it slowing down anytime soon (or so I’m guessing), so there’s plenty for tourists to do when they visit the area… even if you’re not staying in a hotel or visiting any attractions.

However, the final taste is that this is NOT a tourism brand. This is a “marketing / business brand disguised as tourism brand”. They didn’t go far beyond the logo design. And that feels dissapointing.

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