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TaglineGuru Releases List of Top
U.S. City Mottos and Monikers


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Ranking of Top
U.S. City Mottos
& Monikers




Winners of Sloganville, USA Awards Also Announced; City Branding Honored for Charm,
Humor, and Infamy

SAN MATEO, CA – September 20, 2005 – Just because you’re a small town doesn’t mean you can’t have a big slogan. The towns that play the branding game well are part of a growing trend of thriving hamlets and villages whose mottos and monikers are helping to market their appeal and put them squarely on the map.

So says TaglineGuru™ (www.TaglineGuru.com) which today released its survey of the Top 50 U.S. City Slogans and Top 50 U.S. City Nicknames. It also announced the winners of the “Sloganville, USA Awards™,” recognizing the most charming, colorful, dubious, and infamous city slogans and sobriquets across the nation.

According to one hundred leading branding, marketing, and advertising professionals, “What Happens Here, Stays Here” (Las Vegas) was ranked #1 out of 400 city slogans, followed by “So Very Virginia” (Charlottesville); “Always Turned On” (Atlantic City, NJ); “Cleveland Rocks!”; and “The Sweetest Place on Earth” (Hershey, PA)

The well-known moniker, “The Big Apple,” was ranked #1 out of nearly 800 city nicknames, followed by “Sin City” (Las Vegas); “The Big Easy” (New Orleans); “Motor City” (Detroit); and “The Windy City” (Chicago).

For a complete list of the 50 top-ranked slogans and 50 top-ranked nicknames, go to www.taglineguru.com/citymottosmonikers.html.

Survey Methodology

Respondents in 82 cities across 38 states were asked to rank their top 10 city slogans and top 10 city nicknames. Both official and unofficial, as well as past and present, slogans and nicknames were eligible for consideration. To level the playing field, a city could be listed only once in each category even though it had several mottos or monikers.

Rankings of city mottos and monikers were based on the following branding criteria:

  • Attributes: Do they express a city’s brand character, affinity, style, and personality?
  • Message: Do they tell a story in a clever, fun, and memorable way?
  • Differentiation: Are they unique and original?
  • Ambassadorship: Do they inspire you to visit there, live there, or learn more?

According to Eric Swartz, president of TaglineGuru, “Rebranding your town with a memorable motto or moniker is the most cost-effective way to leverage your assets, increase your visibility, and build brand identity. In a post-9/11 world in which the cost of gasoline is spiraling, towns that once counted on tourist and investment dollars are now competing for a smaller slice of the pie. To survive, they must grab greater mind share among prospective travelers, home buyers, and retirees.

“Successful slogans satisfy deeply-cherished dreams and desires,” Swartz says. “They tell a story and engage us in a compelling way. As affluent Baby Boomers abandon urban sprawl for a more fulfilling and less stressful lifestyle, small towns are in an ideal position to create enduring brands that reflect some of these strongly-felt values and sentiments.”

Survey Results

The Southwest accounts for 36 percent of the top-rated slogans in this study. “Perhaps it’s the region’s history and lore, or the ability to spin a good yarn, but the Southwest is chock-full of towns that sport fun, clever, and engaging mottos,” notes Swartz.

Survey results indicate that 52 percent of top-ranked slogans are from towns with populations less than 25,000. In contrast, 58 percent of top-ranked nicknames are from cities with populations greater than 100,000.

“When it comes to slogans, small towns have an easier sell,” Swartz says. “They’re known for one thing, and everyone usually agrees what that one thing is. Big cities, on the other hand, are complex and have many constituents. They require an overarching message that must satisfy and unify disparate interest groups. The result is more bland than brand-oriented. In the absence of a good slogan, a big city’s identity has been shaped primarily by its unofficial nickname, which is often tough to shake off.

“Look at Cleveland. They’ve suffered for years with the sobriquet, the ‘Mistake on the Lake,’ says Swartz. “Now, they have a new slogan that’s vibrant and contemporary. Other big cities should take heed: Urban rebranding is a form of urban renewal…without the need for a bond measure.”

What Makes a Slogan Successful?

A good slogan is unique. Cities that borrow another city’s brand style, personality, or message are simply a “me too” and not a true original. Baltimore, Cleveland, and Detroit have all been known as “America’s Comeback City.” There are seven cities that claim the title of “Magic City,” Miami being one of them. Finally, two California coastal towns, Santa Cruz and Huntington Beach, are currently embroiled in a legal battle over the moniker “Surf City, USA,” which is sparking heated debate.

A good slogan is specific. It should reflect a city’s history, values, or main appeal, and allow its individual style, personality, and character to shine through. For example, some towns rely on hometown heroes (“home of” or “birthplace of”) to cement their reputation; and some pick the one thing they do really well, like hub caps (Pearsonville, CA) or barbed wire (La Crosse, KS), which becomes their de facto claim to fame. Others leverage the assets of nearby attractions, positioning themselves as the “gateway to” someplace else.

“Cities do themselves an injustice when they claim to be America’s ‘best’ or ‘most’ (superlative) city, or ‘the (some such) capital of the world,’ and then fail to back it up by putting their money where their mouth is,” Swartz says.

Like all brand messages, a slogan should be a visible and integral part of all city communications. Ironically, most slogans are elusive. More than 80 percent of the Web sites of the 50 largest U.S. cities don’t even mention their official slogans. “That just goes to show how little thought most cities give to their own branding,” says Swartz.

“Without help from the city’s official Web site, it’s difficult to distinguish between official and unofficial slogans and nicknames,” Swartz says. “The unofficial ones tend to have a longer shelf life and enjoy greater grass roots support. On the other hand, most official slogans are developed by ad-hoc committees of business and city officials or simply voted on in a city-wide contest, usually with mixed results.”

Swartz continues: “The upshot is that most cities aren’t convinced they need a strong brand identity. A city motto is not simply a convenience for filling up empty ad space on buses, billboards, and banners. It’s an expression that reinforces your brand and invites people to experience it and internalize its value.

“Still, a slogan in and of itself is not a panacea,” Swartz warns. “Without the proper infrastructure and campaign to market the message, it remains an empty promise. Without a strong brand identity, a slogan doesn’t have much of a foundation to build on.”

Sloganville, USA Awards

In conjunction with the Slogan & Nickname Survey, TaglineGuru announced the first annual Sloganville, USA Awards, which recognizes greatness, weirdness, and “other-ness” in American city mottos and monikers.

According to TaglineGuru, which selected the award winners, the goal of the Sloganville, USA Awards Program was to honor the best, brightest, and most bizarre slogans and nicknames in ten different categories. “To be honest, the vast majority of city mottos and monikers are pretty dull and not very original,” says Swartz. “Those that stand out and make an impression deserve some much-needed recognition.”

For a complete list of award winners, go to www.taglineguru.com/sloganvilleawards.html.


With the success of Las Vegas’s slogan, many cities have jumped on the bandwagon to get a motto makeover. Atlanta recently selected its new moniker (“City of Peace”); Omaha is adjusting to its new slogan (“O! is for Omaha”); and Atlantic City is basking in the glow of its latest incarnation. The buzz is that Indianapolis and Oklahoma City are still searching for one.

“All slogans have their detractors. That comes with the territory,” Swartz says. “The goal for all towns, big and small, is to select a motto or moniker that connects with people on a personal level, makes them feel good, and opens up their hearts, minds, and wallets.

“Coming up with an effective slogan or nickname for your city is a political, economic, cultural, and creative decision, and requires more time and effort than a simple roll of the dice. Just ask Las Vegas. Their gamble paid off.”

A division of The Byline Group, TaglineGuru is dedicated exclusively to the messaging strategies that shape effective branding and positioning choices. Its president, Eric Swartz, has created slogans, names, and other branding concepts for more than 80 organizations, including Adaptec, Apple Computer, CMP Media, FedEx, Sun Microsystems, and
Wells Fargo.

For more information about Slogan & Nickname Survey, the Sloganville USA Awards, or www.TaglineGuru.com, contact Eric Swartz at 650.573.9009 or eric@taglineguru.com.