Can cities be branded?
Can cities be branded?
How to become the gourmet capital of Scandinavia.

By: David Licona

Cities around the world have been increasingly employing marketing and branding tools in order to develop and maintain competitive advantages in economic, political and social terms. This is a complex practice that goes far beyond logos and slogans; it's a strategic long term coordination of marketing, urban studies and policy-making that aims to give cities a fair reputation and a balanced and useful competitive image. City branding strategies focus on the city residents, trying to forge local community pride and identity to improve city 'quality life' in economic, cultural and social terms. So if it's not with logos and slogans, how do you do this?

Cities are umbrella brands for absolutely everything that exists inside of them. Tangible elements such as landmark buildings (make your own choice ) and other functional, utilitarian and physical factors as the city's infrastructure or accessibility build the city brand. But in our global village, cities can no longer rely on tangible elements to create a unique selling proposition. More and more, cities prioritize emotional elements and mental representations, as intangible elements carry the uniqueness of local culture with its ideas and emotions, sensations that cannot be reproduced as easily as I <3 T-shirts. Examples of these emotional elements that can build unique competitive advantages for cities are fashion, music, art or food.

Culinary tourism is on the rise and more and more people are traveling around the world just to eat. Restaurants that offer unique experiences are putting cities and towns on the international map (heard of Swedish town Järpen?) and cities are making efforts to place their local restaurants on the international ranking lists and the respected food guides. A netnographic research (an adaptation of the traditional ethnographic methods that relies on public online information) carried out last year at Stockholm University showed that marketing savvy European cities have been making use of their Michelin-starred restaurants on their online communication platforms, in order to position the cities in a geographical competitive context.

Only rivaled by The World's 50 Best Restaurants, the Michelin Guide is the mayor authority in gourmet dinning. A brand more than a hundred years old and constructed around strong myths; like the secret identity of the food critics that decide which restaurants make it to the guide; and empowered by leading figures of the industry like French master chef Paul Bocuse saying 'Michelin is the only guide that counts', or chef Bernard Loiseau committing suicide in 2003, after Le Figaro suggested that his restaurant might lose its 3-star status.

External authorities like the Michelin Guide validate what cities say about themselves. When the city of Stockholm started calling itself 'The Capital of Scandinavia' in 2005, both Danish and Norwegian officials protested against the slogan. But when a city happens to have more Michelin-starred restaurants than the cities around, it irrefutably becomes the gastronomic capital of the area and the behavior of the cities around it adjust to the discourse.

Let's take Germany as an example. In 2006, Hamburg had more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other German city and the online portal of the city released an announcement about it:

'The metropolis on the River Elbe is the undisputed capital city for gourmets in Germany. The town boasts a total of 9 restaurants which have been awarded a Michelin star - more than any other German city'. (Hamburg Tourismus GmbH, 2006)

Six years later, the Michelin Guide allows Berlin to call itself the gourmet capital of Germany, and competing cities take this as a fact and adapt to it:

'Berlin was awarded sixteen stars distributed among thirteen star restaurants in the 2012 Michelin guide. The gourmet capital of Germany has in the meantime left its former competitors of Munich and Hamburg far behind'. (Berlin Tourismus & Kongress GmbH, 2012)
'But sometimes, the view from the window is more important than the Michelin star'. (Hamburg Tourismus GmbH, 2012)

The 32nd edition of the Michelin guide Main Cities of Europe will be released the 14th of March, and most of the attention is on the Scandinavian cities of Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo. The three cities have at least one restaurant with 2 Michelin stars and various restaurants are making the effort to be the first in the Nordic region to earn the coveted third star. The websites of the three Scandinavian cities are constantly updated with the new prizes awarded to the city restaurants, in order to show the cities as attractive food destinations.

Noma, the restaurant that has become a symbolic element not only for the city of Copenhagen, but also for its nation, has been waiting for a couple of years for its third star. The restaurant has been recognized as the best in the world for three years in a row, and precisely this could be precisely the reason why it hasn't earned its third star. Why? Simply because Noma is the poster child of Michelin's competing rating system.

Stockholm on the other hand is the only Scandinavian city with two 2-star restaurants, Mathias Dahlgren and Frantzén/Lindeberg. The latter could give the surprise of becoming Scandinavian's first 3-starred restaurant, as it has received the attention of local newspapers and national guides as well as a good position in other respected rankings. Other restaurants to watch in Stockholm are Esperanto and Gastrologik.

Most probably, Copenhagen will remain the Scandinavian city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants. But what if a restaurant in Stockholm manages to get the third star? Will the gourmet capital of Scandinavia be the first city to boast a restaurant with 3 stars or even the city with the most stars in total?


Anholt, S. (2005), Some important distinctions in place branding, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 116-121

Giovanardi, M. (2012) Haft and word factors in place branding: Between functionalism and representationalism, Place Branding and Piblic Diplomacy, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.30-45

Kavaratzis, M. (2004), From city marketing to city branding: Towards a theoretical framework for developing city brands, Place Branding, Vol. 1, pp. 58-73

Kozinetz, R.V. (2002), The Field behind the screen: Using netnography for marketing research in online communities, Journal or Marketing Research, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 61-72

Lucarelli A. & Berg P.O. (2011), Place Branding: A state-of-the-art review of the research domain, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 9-27
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