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See How This Agency Is Branding a City That Won't Exist for Another 20 Years


The branding of cities is obviously nothing new: R&R Partners' "What Happens in Vegas" campaign all but defines the city in the popular imagination, and consultancies have been hired in past years to "brand" locales from Manhattan to Edinburgh to Brooklyn.

But how can an agency help define a place that, according to its own press release, "won't be fully complete for another 20 years?" That's the challenge faced by Chicago-based agency VSA Partners and Colombian consultancy Novus Civitas. 

The Caribbean port city of Cartagena has long been a romantic destination of choice for discerning travelers. But its aging infrastructure, limited public services and outdated industry led one Colombian family to envision an entirely new city on the Cartagena coast—Serena del Mar. 

"Serena del Mar was a dream of a prominent Colombian family involved in real estate development, among other things," Andrea Spiegel, partner and head of client engagement at VSA New York, tells AdFreak. "They've been incubating it for quite a few years and laying down the groundwork among the community, the local government, investors, etc. When they were ready to start talking about it, that's when they put an RFP together." 

VSA and Novus Civitas produced this video to outline the project last summer:

The video, however, offers viewers only a general overview of this family's vision for Serena del Mar, or "Serene Ocean." 

"It's no easy task putting a city on the map, literally," said Nicole Haime, director of international marketing and business development at Novus Civitas. "We called upon the world's leading experts to generate the master plan and then the best communications agencies to package that story in a creative and insightful way." 

Those experts included architect Moshe Safdie and golf course designer Robert Trent Jones, among many others. They laid the groundwork while VSA and Novus Civitas worked to apply "modern sensibility to the region's authentic culture, color and topography." 

Spiegel tells AdFreak: "We started immersing ourselves with the key people on the project by visiting Cardena on a four- to five-day trip with all major stakeholders, getting to know the region, touring the property and getting to see exactly what this 'vision' could be." 

VSA then returned to its Chicago and New York offices to set about defining that vision for would-be consumers. "We started with the brand story, which was the brief for our creative teams," Spiegel said. "Visual/verbal identity came next as we designed a logo and icon system/color palette for each of the project's five pillars—A Prosperous Community, Culturally Vibrant, Healthy and Well, A Steward of the Environment and For Everyone."

"When you're branding something that doesn't exist, there's only so much that renderings can do," she says. "We did a very comprehensive shoot with local photographer—and while we couldn't actually photograph finished buildings, we could capture moments of natural beauty and the lifestyle that goes along with them. These helped us tell the story when coupled with renderings of what the planned community will be." 

Much of the work itself, then, was based on impressions of the project at this early stage.

"The logo itself is a combination of the sea, the mountains and the hills or los morros, a very distinctive geographical feature rendered in a modern way," Spiegel says. "We used a watercolor treatment because that's a well-loved art form in Colombia, and the color palette is both indigenous to the region and modern, or forward-facing." 

Members of the VSA team then returned to South America to record important events in the life of the project, like the groundbreaking for the space that will become a hospital. Serena del Mar will not be a fully functioning municipality for a couple of decades, but its medical center and public transit station, along with the first satellite campus of Bogotá's Universidad de Los Andes School of Management, will be open by 2018 to attract young entrepreneurs. 

"It's like a tourist destination," Spiegel says, "but first and foremost it's a place to live, work and prosper."

Perhaps most important, Serena del Mar's first sales office opened this month to begin promoting its residential properties.

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