New downtown branding effort unveiled in Ocean City

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Main Street Ocean City launches new marketing campaign

The new marketing campaign for Main Street Ocean City was unveiled Thursday at the Ocean City Tabernacle. The new marketing campaign for Main Street Ocean City was unveiled Thursday at the Ocean City Tabernacle. OCEAN CITY — Shop. Dine. Unwind. Year round.

It's only a few words, but when linked together, and combined with a new logo, local marketing officials hope they become a powerful force capable of promoting Ocean City’s downtown.

The new marketing campaign was unveiled at a Thursday, June 21 gathering at the Ocean City Tabernacle.

Main Street Ocean City, a community organization whose mission is to improve the appearance, image and economy of the city’s downtown, was selected in January to receive a 2011 Digital Design and Branding Service Grant provided by Main Street New Jersey. Ocean City was one of two South Jersey communities to receive the marketing services valued at $20,000. 

After receiving the grant, Main Street Ocean City recruited a team of stakeholders –

merchants, property owners and residents from the downtown and local residents with marketing and historic preservation backgrounds – to make up a brand steering committee. The committee met on a weekly basis and participated in discussions and webinars with representatives from Main Street New Jersey and Cindy Williams of Cindy Williams Design, who was hired to facilitate the grant.

Sitting under a tent on the warm Thursday evening, local merchants listened as Main Street executive director Marcia Shallcross and Williams explained what the selective grant meant for the downtown.

Williams, who works with state programs in New Jersey, Oregon and Michigan to create downtown brand identities and website design, chronicled the 24-week long process of creating the campaign. She said the steering committee decided it was most important to convey that Ocean City is a year round destination for shopping and dining.

Other goals included providing existing startups with the tools necessary to be successful, marketing the downtown to locals, property owners, vacationers, employees and surrounding communities, attracting investment to the downtown, enhancing the appearance and highlighting eclectic design attributes and providing an intimate and distinctive shopping experience.

The seven-member steering committee was assisted by six volunteers.

Everything about the campaign, down to each word, Williams said, means something.

The logo includes a colorful shopping bag portraying fun things about the downtown and is buffered by the words “Downtown Ocean City” with green and blue waves – land and sea – and “between the beach and bay,” referencing the location.

The committee selected from among 60,000 font styles in numerous sizes to create something that they can “build on and grow.”

“It’s very exciting,” Shallcross said.

She said the marketing campaign was just getting started and hoped that Williams would continue working with the steering committee.

Marketing material contains carefully-selected verbiage, Shallcross said. The promotional message changes with the season: in the spring and fall, it’s all about the block parties; leading up to Thanksgiving, it’s the “Earlier than the Bird” promotion; Christmas means carolers and carriage rides in the downtown; and on New Year’s Eve, it’s First Night.

As each holiday approaches, the logo’s “shopping bag” changes color and design, though it retains its shape. The Christmas and New Year’s version are elegant with bold colors. Other times the bag’s message is more whimsical and fun.

Sometimes the message is a simple: “Discover the new old city of Ocean City, brush off the sand and step by the place where summer never ends.”

Williams said the committee pinpointed the audience, defined the city’s cultural heritage, present and future with the design. The process, she said, was “exhausting,” but the effort worthwhile as the end result was “airy, upbeat and trendy.”

“You communicate not always with words,” Williams said. “Sometimes you use symbols.”

The idea, she said, is to “grow a style and an attitude, find the right walk and the right talk.”

The use of the proper colors to convey a message was important, she noted. The message could change with the season, but it had to stay within the framework.

“It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it,” Williams said.

The list of what the committee wanted to promote “went on and on,” she said.

The thought, “what’s in the bag?” attracts a would-be shopper. The logo is now featured on a billboard entering Ocean City along Roosevelt Boulevard in Marmora.

Shallcross said the logo would be utilized on brochures and banners, too.

“We feel very privileged to have received this grant,” Shallcross said.

A new downtown website is in the works, she said, and will offer details about each of the more than 100 shops.

“This is wonderful,” said businessman Tom Heist of Heist Insurance. “It’s another draw, another reason to come downtown.

“Ocean City is getting sophisticated,” he said.

Businessman Mike Hinchman said the branding effort was impressive and asked Williams if she would offer the presentation for a larger audience.

“The language is fabulous,” he said. “We should have a public forum, invite the whole town to see this first class work.”

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