Very well-known and successful city brands across the globe attract holiday-makers from other towns and cities within their own countries, overseas tourists and business people, including Foreign Direct Investments. They are also seen as safe places to establish and grow businesses. Branding a city through internationally attractive events, such the Toronto Film Festival, the New York and London Marathons, FESPACO in Ouagadougou, etc. is one sure way of growing city brand equity. Cities like New York, Toronto, Sydney, Paris, Sao Paulo, Berlin and many others, big and small, also attract positive media coverage through doing the right things for their own citizens and appealing to them first for patronage.

The split brand personality of Cape Town

Internationally, Brand Cape Town only represents the best. It is certainly one of the most recognized city brands in Africa; arguably the best tourist destination and the most culturally diverse city on the continent; it also boasts the greatest array of outdoor activities and sites to behold. But branding is also about perceptions in the mind of the beholder. In branding, perceptions count because they determine whether a destination (in this case) will make it or break it.

Internally, Brand Cape Town is very conflicted. The history of Apartheid in South Africa and, even more relevantly, of forcibly separating the local Coloured population from the local African population through past legislation such as the infamous “Coloured Preference Act”, has not helped post-1994 political authorities create the necessary unity locally.

Impact on brand Perceptions

The result of decades of racial classification and forced segregation is that people from different “population groups” perceive Brand Cape Town from their own corner, influenced by their allocated place in society through a carefully crafted system of rights and privileges; all of them racially determined. Being the most privileged of the lot, Whites are generally very proud to be Capetonian. They have much more ownership and control of Brand Cape Town and, having gained materially from it, they have also embraced it fully. Through their international business and kinship networks, as well as access to media, they have ensured that Cape Town remains one of the most admired cities in the world. Many Coloureds, on the other side, believe that while Cape Town is theirs, they have never been allowed to control it fully, before and after 1994. The famous claim “Not white enough during apartheid and not black enough after apartheid” is a good summary of what seems to be the overriding Coloured attitude. Africans, on the other side, have always been ranked right at the bottom of the pile, below everyone else. Their current conflicted relationship with Brand Cape Town is also one that is heavily influenced by their position in society, relegated to having to fight for even the most basic of rights and, in the process, clouding their perception of Brand Cape Town as one that is oppressive.

In order to be fully admired internally, as it seems to be externally, Brand Cape Town will need to cultivate – through caring and equitable delivery of services to all of its citizens – the nurturing of Brand Ambassadors coming from within, as they alone will help sustain a strong and profitable city brand.