Real or not

6/16/2022, 6 p.m.
Last week, Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney went to the top floor of City Hall to eagerly reveal the results ...

Last week, Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney went to the top floor of City Hall to eagerly reveal the results of a secretive yearlong project led by the West Cary Group, an advertising and marketing organization.

The bottom line: Richmond is a real place with real people with real stories to tell, the mayor announced.

Even better, the mayor said that message is going to be delivered widely to the region, the nation and the world so that anyone who thought this was an imaginary place could eliminate that concern.

In reality, that tagline is the main element of a new branding campaign on which the city is spending $450,000. That includes the development and launch.

It is not clear why Richmond Real was the choice. Richmond Real does not trip off the tongue like RVA, the brand that the city and region have promoted for a decade.

Mayor Stoney wanted a marketing identity that is unique to the city, but Richmond Real is not the way people would talk. “Would anyone say, ‘Hey come to Richmond Real?’” or “I live in Richmond Real.” Not likely. RVA works far better.

Surprisingly, the experts who came up with Richmond Real appear to have overlooked the obvious. The logo for this campaign is a big capital R, and that could have been the basis for marketing the city as, “the Big R,” the first, the biggest and the best of the communities named Richmond that dot the country.

New York is the Big Apple, Charlotte is the Queen City, Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love and we would be “the Big R.”

Obviously, the mayor is enthusiastic about the new slogan “Richmond Real: Real people. Real places. Real stories.” As he put it, this slogan captures “all that is authentic and unique about the great city of Richmond. “

Ask yourself: Does it really capture the city’s vision and mission? Does it really send an understandable message? Is it honest, positive and passionate?

On social media, much of the commentary focuses on ways the money could have been better spent solving Real Problems people are facing.

The mayor also booted an opportunity to involve the community, most notably its young people. He could have turned the branding initiative into a contest, as the Richmond Flying Squirrels did in seeking a new name after arriving in Richmond. Instead of secrecy, he could have, as one critic noted, given high school students an opportunity to come up with ideas or allowed students at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brand Center to make it a project.

While Mayor Stoney sees Richmond Real as positive, that tagline also lends itself perfectly to critical messages.

For example, the Rev. Ralph Hodge of Second Baptist Church of South Side issued this message on Twitter after hearing of the campaign: “Richmond Virginia won’t be ‘REAL’ until it has REAL affordable housing, REAL equity in education, and REAL leadership.”

Activist Phil Wilayto offered this view of the campaign on Facebook: “Richmond Real” – Real Poor. Real Violent. Real Racist. And a Real Waste of $450,000? In the background of this Band-Aid-on-a-gaping-wound media event, you can hear the sounds of the bulldozers destroying public housing in Creighton Court, adding Real Cruel to the mix.”

Not exactly the sentiments the mayor hoped for in introducing this tagline.

Asked for an opinion on Richmond Real, one council member just burst out laughing. When the laughter was over, the council member indicated that represented the view of constituents who had commented.

Ahem, mayor, Richmond may be real, but this initiative appears to be an expensive dud.