I know some people read this blog to get a sense of the major topics of conversation in Lancaster. I hardly provide day-by-day coverage, but at the same time when something dominates our ongoing “community conversation,” I want to share that. In most cases, I’m forthright with my opinions. In this case, I don’t have strong ones, so I’d like to focus on recapping the current situation.

The sequence of events in this public conversation

A city authentic
The "official" jpg of the logo is now this version which features a red, rather than orange, version of the rose. The tag line is "A city authentic."

As best I can piece together, three weeks ago, on August 11, a mass e-mail went out (from Lancaster Arts, someone suggested, but it’s not on their newsletters archive), with the subject line, “Exciting news for downtown Lancaster!” It contained an announcement of key branding elements to be used in an official capacity by Lancaster city. The guts of this e-mail were shared on LancTalk.com, a privately-run forum site that serves as the replacement for the TalkBack forums on LancasterOnline.com, which were closed earlier this year, by a 46 year-old male who reveals himself only under the code name “Citydweller.” He posted a jpg of the logo and shared that the new tag line was “A city authentic.” The overwhelming tone of the active discussion thread which followed was negative. Early on, someone even remarked that her neighbor thought it looked like a Nazi swastika. (LancTalk.com has mockingly adopted “A forum authentic” as its new tag line.)

Lancaster city held an event this past Wednesday (August 25) at the failed Pennsylvania Academy of Music building to announce officially the new brand identity. Larry Alexander reported on the event for the Intelligencer-Journal. The reaction to the story on LancTalk.com was typical stuff—grumpy and eager to move off-topic.

On or near August 11, Lancaster County resident Shelley Castetter, an independent journalist who runs LancasterExpress.com, began researching what led up to this announcement of the city’s rebranding. This research culminated in an article headlined “City Authentic, Logo Not So Much,” which she published on August 28 as the start of a new thread on the LancTalk forums. This article revealed that the logo is a near-exact reproduction of an early-twentieth-century rose design by Dard Hunter, a key figure in the American Arts and Crafts art movement.

A city authentic early
Just yesterday, however, the official jpg of the logo featured an orange version of the rose.

The next day, someone operating under the code name “lilmissmoxieful” posted a video to YouTube demonstrating that the city’s new logo is an exact duplicate of Hunter’s design, simply turned 180 degrees and given a different color. The video cast all the blame on Moxie House, a two-person Lancaster Township-based design/marketing firm that helped the city develop its new brand and codify its new brand standards. Shelley’s article made clear, however, that Moxie House did not create the logo itself.

Instead, Bernie Harris reported for the Intelligencer-Journal yesterday, the logo design was given to Moxie House by city officials. The article made no reference to the earlier work of Larry Alexander, Shelley Castetter, or the response in the LancTalk.com forums. It did, however, include a direct quote from an interview the reporter had with Dard Hunter III, the artist’s grandson:

“I don’t remember anybody asking. Had they done so, I certainly would have given my blessing,” said Hunter, who has previously given permission for the rose’s use for non-commercial purposes.

There was a little reaction to the story on LancTalk.com. Shelley Castetter is clearly offended that her reporting was not cited in the Intelligencer-Journal article.

The Dard Hunter rose
The original rose designed by Dard Hunter

Where’d the logo come from?

So how did the logo get in the hands of Lancaster city officials? A sign company suggested and provided it for certain signs and banners that have been around town for at least a year. City officials first filed to register a copyright on the image with the U.S. Copyright Office, then opted to instruct Moxie House to use that as the city’s new logo. Even though a trademark on the image (flipped 180 degrees) is held by Dard Hunter Studio, the copyright office apparently approved the city’s request to register its copyright of the image. (I can only assume that if it went to court, the court would view this as an error on the part of the copyright office and overturn Lancaster city’s claim to owning any rights related to the image.)

I poked fun at the situation last night by uploading to Facebook an version of the full logo where the words “The City of Lancaster: A City Authentic” remained in tact but the logo had been replaced by an orange Nike swoosh turned 180 degrees.

Kelly Watson (soon to be Kelly Kautz) posted a thoughtful blog entry on the subject this morning, followed by a post this afternoon including quotes from her conversation with Deb Brant of Moxie House.

The city has now added a PDF to the brand page of its site declaring, “The rose graphic was created by artist Dard Hunter and is  used with permission.”

What I’m finding most interesting and inspirational is this bit from the city’s “brand toolbox“(pdf) which advocates the use of particular terms that are seen as brand-consistent. One of the terms is “civic dialogue,” and here’s what the “toolkit” says about it: “An aspirational trait, civic dialogue is an exciting opportunity for our city. Generally defned, ‘Civic dialogue creates conditions for people to participate in shaping their environment. It is intentional and purposeful. Civic dialogue explores the dimensions of the civic or social issue, working toward common understanding in an open-ended discussion.  It engages multiple perspectives on an issue, including potentially conficting and unpopular ones rather than promoting a single point of view.'” The quotes is attributed to Ruth J. Abram, founder of New York’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

So, a) what did I miss or get wrong, and b) what do you make of all this?

Edit: Oh, and apparently there’s a song to go with this brand identity.

Edit 2: You’ll notice I prefer to use “Lacaster city” rather than “the City of Lancaster.” I’m unlikely to get brand-consistent on that one.

9 thoughts on “An overview of Lancaster city’s branding debacle

  1. A copyright application requires certification that, among other things, the applicant is the author of the work. http://www.copyright.gov/forms/formco2d.pdf

    Copyright VAu001026466 / 2010-04-27 for a “Red Rose Graphic Design” was claimed to have been authored by the City of Lancaster.

    A city or company can be the author of a work created by an individual if the work is made by an employee within the scope of their employment, or if it is a “work for hire” by an independent contractor. There are specific statutory requirements that need to be met before a work will count as a “work for hire,” most problematic is that the work must have been “ordered or commission for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas.” 17 USC 101

    If the red rose graphic does not fit into one of those categories, and the graphic was designed by an independent contractor, then the city is not an author. In that case, trying to assert a claim of copyright infringement would probably be very ugly for the city.

  2. Here are those lyrics, which apparently have now been taken down…


    She has a beauty that is hard to describe
    Charming, lovely and quaint
    Are just a few words that come to mind

    I appreciate her for reasons words can’t express
    A personality that’s deeply diverse
    And a history so rich it’s priceless

    I am attracted by her business, and find her lifestyle alluring
    She is the best of both big and small
    With so much to offer, it never gets boring

    She is a City Authentic.
    She is an authentic city to me.
    She is an authentic city.
    She is a City Authentic indeed.

    She extends her reach to so many, yet I feel she’s all mine
    See, I’ve already discovered her
    And cherish what others have yet to find

    She has her highs and her lows
    From the tops of her tallest buildings
    To the streets, just below

    She’s every place, in everything I see
    From the parks where I play
    To the great places where I eat

    She is my city, but not mine alone
    Others love her for the very same reasons as I
    And that’s why we call Lancaster home

    She is a City Authentic.
    She is an authentic city to me.
    She is an authentic City.
    She is a City Authentic indeed.

  3. As part of the branding effort, the city wanted to establish an identity apart from the amish country that surrounds it. Unfortunately, it’s not large enough to counter the sway of farm country. When it’s baseball team’s name was put to a vote, the decidedly un-urban “Barn Stormers” prevailed.

  4. I think the sad part is that, despite nation-wide (world-wide?) negative publicity uniformly denigrating the city’s contrived effort to “rebrand” an already well-branded historic city, they got away with it.

    That says a lot about how business is done here.

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