The History of Branding Cleveland




We had a friend in from New York a few months ago who, after seeing the varied, unconnected, super-PR-ish slogans that Cleveland and its assorted tourist and visitor bureaus use, decried them all stupid.

He had a point. Cle-Plus? Be the plus? Be the Cleve? HappyinCle? Schlock. And worse than that, ineffectual schlock. They mean jack-squat, accomplish jack-squat, and miss the very heart of what the Forest City is all about.

"What happened to Cleveland Rocks?" our friend said.

Good question. Hokey, for sure, but on-point, memorable, historical, and it doesn't sound like 16 public relations professionals sat around a conference table for two days trying to come up with it.

This is all by way of getting into a fun little piece from Rust Wire on the history of branding and rebranding Cleveland. They took their cue from the PD, which wrote an editorial that said, among the priorities for Cleveland in 2012, the city needs to rebrand itself again.

Oh goodie.

From Cleveland's a Plum to "You've got to be tough," we've had our fair share of slogans before. Rust Wire, incidentally, likes the latter and explains the difference between trying and being when it comes to city branding.

To get to a few being examples, the characteristics of the approach are several: more guerilla-based than corporate-funded boosterish types, but even more than that: an ability to foster an appeal to place by working perceived weaknesses into strengths.

Take the Cleveland You’ve Got to Be Tough! saying. It was birthed on a t-shirt in the 70’s by Daffy Dan: Cleveland’s iconic haberdasher. And what it did was great, carving a silver-lined essence out of the reality of the city’s physical condition that: we are resilient in these parts. And everyone loves resiliency. So the city should show it off.

It's like the tagline for this blog, where we call Cleveland the "Paris of the Midwest." That slogan's not going to get any traction, no matter how many times we say it, but the reason it struck a chord with us, beyond the tongue-in-cheek funk, was the same reasons Rust Wire explained above: yeah, we're in the Rust Belt, but we're a pretty fucking badass Rust Belt city.

Anyway, click on over to Rust Wire and read the whole thing.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.