<B>Zaragoza and the Olympic dream</B>

Gildo Seisdedos. Director. Master in Sales and Marketing Management. Instituto de Empresa

17 February 2005

Last December the city of Zaragoza was awarded Expo 2008. It has reached that elite status made possible only by hosting an international event of such magnitude.

Organizing an event of this kind is one of those strange occasions where the majority of the population seems to want the same thing. The existence of a unifying force on which a city bases its dream has been reserved, until very recently, for the world of sport. Cities develop their strategies and compete with each other more aggressively. But to quote Jorge Valdano, no city jumps into one of its own fountains to celebrate a new town plan or the adjudication of a new infrastructure - no matter how essential for its economic growth.

To develop the power brand, today’s cities need the strong identification of their citizens based on unique, distinguishing values. The stereotypes of the past have no force. They do not function as an effective bond among citizens. Neither do they furnish the pride of belonging. They provide even less of an attraction to those outside, since the classic stereotypes of the local inhabitant of Zaragoza, Bilbao, Barcelona or Seville belong to the past. The brands of our cities need to be urgently reinvented. It is essential that they be able to build coherent identities and project attractive images.

Cities do not have the huge budgets multinationals can lavish on traditional brand-building tools. An attempt to base creation of a city brand name on advertising would bankrupt any city hall. However, towns can use their imaginations to carry out highly effective actions forbidden to the business world. One example is Madrid’s candidature for the 2012 Olympic Games. On state-run TV, we said farewell to 2004 with the logo of the city's Olympic project in Puerta del Sol, and greeted 2005 with the mythical first sport toasting for the success of the bid. This is an example of how, when managing this kind of advertising, quality comes before quantity in environments of this type.

Organization of unique sporting and cultural events provides a global vision at a ridiculous price – in comparison with the cost of advertising – and associates the city with modern values that make it highly engaging. It likewise sets the bases for a new citizenship, focused on emotions, which seem to be unique and non-exclusive. To top it all, new icons arise, as do new public areas and ways of life in the city.

From Zaragoza to Madrid

Accordingly, Zaragoza combines Expo 2008 with the Barcelona Olympics and Seville Expo of 1992. The importance lies in the event; the icons come later. For when they cannot be advertised forcefully, the new icons transform the city but do not make any dramatic changes to its position in the global system of urban hierarchies. Valencia needs to advertise its City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia through the America’s Cup. The profound transformation of La Coruña is still in search of a platform for its global exhibition. Only icons as powerful as the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao make it possible for a city to reposition itself. Although in this case we must not overlook the help provided by Agent 007: the film industry is a powerful medium - often underestimated - for advertising a city, especially when it has an icon that lends itself so well to the media. The opposite is also true. The Universal Forum of Cultures of Barcelona was an iconless event that simply sought to generate infrastructures and advertise the already-existing locale.

This has engendered a parallel phenomenon: an increase in the supply of and demand for this kind of event. The supply grows. The Universal Forum of Cultures, a Barcelona invention, is to be held in Monterrey in 2007, and cities already crowd the waiting list (the event will undoubtedly return to Barcelona in a few years). Expo 2008 is a new product of the BIE, which joins the existing Universal Expos (every five years) and International Expos (every two years). Zaragoza will be the first to present this format.

There is no doubt that demand grows faster than supply, which means competition increases and the key factors to success must be skilfully implemented. In Zaragoza’s case, the factors are clear: enthusiasm for the project (mere support is not enough) from all governments and citizens; a modern proposal that is coherent with urban tradition; and use of city marketing tools to give the candidature - unavoidably presented on paper - body and credibility.

Besides the technicalities of the excellent Madrid project and the success in management of the voting system, an equally important factor will be for IOC members to sense that the city feels olympic during their visit. They must be convinced that Madrid sees itself as an Olympic venue. Achieving that is easy. All we need do is dream of a new city; everyone can share the dream of a new Madrid. If that is achieved, July 6 will be another New Year’s celebration. Zaragoza has done this to perfection and achieved its goal. Madrid now needs to be next in line.


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