Thursday, July 07, 2005


Much has been said about the new brand, Toronto Unlimited, in just a few days since its launch on June 23rd. The papers, blogs, reporters, Torontonians, all have voiced and continue to express their ideas and opinions… good and bad, positive and negative. Clients and partners as well are offering their mostly enthusiastic perspectives.

At first glance Toronto Unlimited seems to be in great company: Gustave Eiffel’s iconic Parisian structure, Minoru Yamasaki’s beloved Twin Towers, Milton Glaser’s I Love New York brand, even Las Vegas’ What happens here stays here. Today, these ‘projects’ are widely recognized as having raised profiles, if not put cities on maps, or re-invented destinations. Yet, in their early days, they all raised eyebrows at best and opposition at worst. But above all, they stirred passion. And passion is a welcome feeling when it comes to Toronto, a destination grappling to find a way to release its’ intensely passionate spirit amidst an almost apologetic way of expressing it.

This, incidentally, is what we heard from the thousands of Torontonians that took the time to tell us their thoughts on this great city. In the research phase of this branding project, we got great input, insights, and observations from dozens of government and private sector stakeholders who gave us important strategic input. But it was the public engagement campaign, executed in late 2004, that provided us with the depth and richness of content that inspired the brand development.

The passion in the tone, the enthusiasm in the delivery, the ambition in the intentions, the modesty in their character, and the humanity in their values, all contributed to the development of a place that is full of possibilities, full of culture, full of life, full of imagination… a city of unlimited potential. Some other products and services can tag the “unlimited” label to their names. But I would challenge any other city to deliver on it.

Toronto is a wonderful place, but one of the most underestimated and misunderstood metropolises on the globe. We suspected this going into the project, and focus groups around the world proved us right. This is largely due to the modesty in Torontonians, who are not out to prove themselves to the world. Yet, to some extent, this modesty has not helped the city in promoting itself to travelers, investors, and businesses.

We are very proud of the Toronto Unlimited brand, as we feel it puts a strong stake in the ground. We feel it is unique, it is solid, it is attractive, and it is credible to this great place. But most importantly, it is authentic, it represents what the destination is about, it is informational and provocative to visitors, and inspirational for Torontonians to live up to.

We’ve read the criticism… “Toronto limited,” “limited imagination,” “too corporate,” etc. In their early days, similar things could have been said of I Love New York, Just do it, or There is no substitute, some of the most iconic and imitated signature lines in history. We’ve read praise too… “Tourism Toronto gets its act in order,” “Look out world,” “Big names are lined up to sell big city,” and heard the ovations from our clients. Ultimately, the measurement of success depends on the brand living up to its promise.

We believe Unlimited shows the same potential for Toronto. This is a city with morphing museums, a pioneer in gay rights, provocative architecture, a city that cools itself with a lake, a city that leverages innovative theater to develop biotechnology, a city with hundreds of cultures... It is a city of unlimited potential.

How else can you describe a city that over the course of six weeks can host a million gay and lesbian revelers, inspire 50,000 members of Alcoholics Anonymous visitors from across the world, entertain 150,000 racing fans and get a million more to celebrate Caribana? Our city, Toronto really is Unlimited.

We know Torontonians want to live up to the message they inspired us with. To continue to make this destination an exemplary metropolis. To continue to show the world, in their own modest way, all that a city can be. A city unlimited.

Please see the Toronto Unlimited brand video at:

The Origins and Originaligy of the Unlimited Brand

The premise of "Unlimited" was inspired during the public engagement campaign as one of the most recurring themes that appeared across the board in Torontonians' feedback. The people told us Toronto is a place of unlimited potential, for many different reasons, summarized below...

"What makes Toronto such a uniquely interesting place is answered by a constantly growing list: its innovative architecture, its theatre district, the hundreds of ethnic restaurants, the character of its neighborhoods, its accepting legislation, a multi-talented workforce, museums that are themselves works of art, the stories of its street corners, its cleanliness, the International Film Festival, the parks, the lake, the celebration of humanity. . . In short, Toronto is a city built with and for the limitless imaginations of the people that come here. And it is these people that make Toronto the city of imagination."

What is important about Toronto Unlimited is not whether it's an original thought, phrase, or term. It is whether it is uniquely ownable to Toronto. Las Vegas trademarked the line "Only Vegas." One could argue it is hardly original, and that New York, Paris and London could say "Only NY," etc. In reality only Vegas can make that claim with credibility and even let that phrase take on a new meaning.

Sure many cities could call themselves "unlimited," but how many could carry it with credibility? How many cities have half of their population born outside their country? How many cities cool themsleves with a lake? How many cities accept gay marriage? How many cities use theater to develop groundbreaking biotechnology? For Toronto the list of unique, unlimited points goes on and on...

Who Developed the Brand?

The brand was developed by communications specialists Brand Architecture International and TBWA\Toronto. The actual team working directly on the project was composed of Torontonians, Argentineans, Americans, Koreans, African Americans, among other nationalities. Like the city itself, the team was highly multi-cultural. We wanted locals, and we wanted foreigners working on the project. Why does a Fortune Global 1000 firm hire an outside consultancy? Because they can bring a much needed fresh perspective to the table. Likewise, the branding project made a point of bringing people from around the world to make sure we address local as well as global issues.

Yet, ultimately the brand was "delivered" to us by Torontonians. We held a 7-week public engagement campaign where we asked the citizens to tell us their views, opinions, thoughts, criticism, and ambitions for the city. The brand DNA came primarily from that feedback.

Brand vs. Logo vs. Advertising

A brand is NOT a logo, not a tagline, and not an advertising campaign. These are expressions of a brand. But a brand is far more complex, profound, and meaningful than any one of these expressions. The Toronto Branding Project went through a comprehensive exercise with brand stakeholders and its citizens to discover, define, and express the true DNA of the brand Toronto.

Its most visible expresion, the new logo and the Toronto Unlimited signature line, are only the early steps of a brand committed to deliver on its promise. A brand that is proud and confident without arrogance, and one that is setting the pace for the way cities around the world are trying to be.

The Toronto Typographical Design

The Toronto proprietary typographical design was created exclusively for the Toronto branding project and the owners of the brand. It was not inspired by any font, although it is reminiscent of some original Huron signs. But above all, it is a graphic and typographical interpretation of what Toronto stands for. It is clear, simple and easy to read; yet it is creative, different, organic, and imaginative, as the city itself.

Graphic Icon

The logo is a graphic representation of Toronto's endearing nickname "T.O." Moreover, it reflects the city's unique spirit of imaginative civilization, starting with a structured "T" and an organic "O". The choice of blue reflects the city's relationship with the water.

The icon was purposedly done simple and iconic, allowing itself to multiple applications. It is easy to read, easy to remember, and memorable. It also introduces people to the more intimate concept of "TO".

A graphic campaign based on the logo was introduced in Toronto to display a navigational language of the brand, demonstrating once again the unlimited potential of the city.