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Marta Torner

A local foreigner The brand Barcelona from a not-so-local’s perspective  

A local foreigner

A local foreigner

Confession M'agrada passejar per Barcelona amb o sense guiris que m’acompanyin and pretending I'm a foreigner. Yeah, I even speak in English (sometimes).


Sometimes life can be threatening. Sometimes it can be marvellous, though. And if you live it in Barcelona, it can even be more fantastic. The aim of the “digital magazine” you are “leafing through” is to offer the reader a view of the brand Barcelona from different perspectives and contexts, although a little bit of subjectivity will be noticeable due to my personal beliefs and feelings regarding the city (my love feeling for Barcelona will make my comments not to be objective enough). I arrived to Barcelona two years ago. I hadn’t really been in the city before. Living, I mean. Of course we (me & my fellow classmates) had had some school trips with the purpose of visiting the zoo or some of the most relevant Gaudí buildings, but I had never had that Barcelona feeling. THE feeling. I guess I’ll never feel the city the same way a born and bread Barcelonese does, but I can kind of get close to it. The thing is that in the summer courses I’m taking in UPF I’ve had the opportunity to meet American people. Most of them, I would say, have fallen in love with this beautiful city. Pretty understandable, isn’t it? However, as said, sometimes I feel like I’m a foreigner too.

They’ve visited places to which I’ve never been, they know things I had never paid attention to! That’s why, although I am a “local” person, I kind of consider myself a foreigner… and I like it – it makes me feel there’s always way more things to discover and to enjoy from this beautiful city. So I’d say that this course has showed to me that, although I’ve already spent two years here, living, discovering and learning, there’s more. Barcelona has lots to offer to the foreigner (and… oh! also to the local and not-so-local individual), and so to sell the city we must brand it. Barcelona is a city that has – even though without acknowledging it – branded itself through its whole history. But it really started to do a conscious job for the Olympics in 1992. Today, however, the city faces challenges. “Yes, ok”, you’ll say, “so what? All cities face challenges”. Well, Barcelona is not the prototypic city. And this is what we are going to discuss here. What’s Barcelona, how’s Barcelona, how did it get where it is and where it will go through the next years. Enjoy.

A local foreigner

So… what are the contents you’ll gonna find through these pages?


Introduction to the city and the brand + Assets of a privileged city

2. 3. 4.

The brand “Barcelona” in the context of the brand “Spain”

The Olympics as a turning point for the brand’s history

Ready? Then… what are you waiting for to turn page?

“Tracing the future of the brand”

1. Introduction to the city and the brand Barcelona is a beautiful name for a city. I love its sonority. BARCELONA. It is formed by three words that describe what I would call the “spirit” of the city. The first one is “bar” (Spain is the country where we have a higher ratio of bars per citizen, quoting a recent add); the second is “cel” (which means sky) and the last one is “ona” (which in Catalan means “wave” and kind of describes this nearby-sea-city feeling). The question is: How come could I discover this during this course?! I was supposed to be “a local”. In fact, the truth is that I might not be as local as I seem at first glance. But we are here to talk about Barcelona as a brand. About one week ago I run into this tweet that really caught my eye.

I don’t agree with @JordiMartiGrau. It is true that when things get branded and marketed they may loose part of their essence, but if they don’t brand themselves they are dead too. If nobody knows you, you don’t exist. If we love a city (in this case Barcelona) and we attract richness by branding it, this will be returned to the city in some other way. I guess that there’s a price to pay for everything. Numerous events have taken place in this city so to brand it and make the world to know it. The last one, that is still taking place when writing this, is #BCN2013, the swimming world championship.

But the first international event held in the city took place no more no less than in 1888, and was followed by the International Exhibit of 1929 and the Olympics of 1992, as well as the notso successful Forum of 2004. However, the Olympics were really the BIG event for branding the city and we’ll pay more attention to it than to any other event. This will be part 2, though.

A local foreigner

a. The assets of a privileged city What does Barcelona have? Tangibles:

Climate, beach, food, history, arts, language, style, the beauty of the details…


Quality of life, fun (freedom), the sense of community, legacy, the timing of things... Both tangibles + intangibles create what we’d call brand equity. We may not realise what we have but it’s interesting to see what people from abroad think of it. They think Barcelona is a safe place, very tolerant; that the way of living that we have is very easy-going… All of them are intangibles that, together with the tangibles (the good climate and so) create a very privileged atmosphere. Having these assets, it is easier to brand the city, isn’t it?

A local foreigner

2. The brand Barcelona in the context of the brand Spain

Click the video above and enjoy the song. It is a parody of the “guiri” culture, the tourist culture, and makes fun of the general conception that foreigners have about the brand Barcelona. They think that “Barcelona is Spanish” and so the assets of the city are the same as in other Spanish cities. But it is not like this. Catalonia is different from Spain and so is Barcelona, but sometimes, so to sell more, we just sell to them “sun”, “sangria”, “paella” and “sevillanas” – typical

Spanish assets and tangibles. Probably this does not any good to the brand Barcelona, but it sells. Here we’d find the dilemma between what’s more important, money or preserving a cultural identity. I guess that in the kind of society we live in, money is always first (although morally maybe it shouldn’t).

In addition, the brand “Spain” is not going through its best moment. Politics, economy… all have to do with it. I highly recommend this article with the view that some artists and citizens have about the brand Spain. Barcelona, as a brand, should not be involved in politics (not related to nationalistic issues, for example) and focus on the improvement of the city to offer more facilities to the tourists and to the locals, and so to attract international people and companies both for tourism and business. We will explain this more deeply in section 4, when tracing the future of the brand.

[Above, image of people running in front of the riot police and also in front of the bulls. - Left Hand Rotation] [At left, another image portraying what’s the “brand Spain”. – Fur Alle Falle ]

3. The Olympics as a turning point for the brand Barcelona

Barcelona, 1992

A local foreigner

A local foreigner

What we can’t deny is that there was a before and an after the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. The Olympics put Barcelona (and, subsequently, Catalonia) on the map. Obviously, the fact that the president of the Olympic committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, was Catalan, may had had an influence on Barcelona becoming an Olympic city. I consider that a section getting in depth about the Olympics was pretty important so to understand the brand, so here we go. Until the Olympics, foreigners poorly knew Barcelona. When asked about the city, they might had answered that some names, such as Pau Casals, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí or Antoni Gaudí were familiar to them, but not much more. That’s why I say that the Olympics were a turning point – probably the biggest in the city’s history.

However, it is true that the city had already started to market itself before the Olympics – it actually started to do so consciously since the death of Franco in 1975. As a case in point, the logo of La Caixa, by Miró, was a branding action that affected the posterior branding of the city – the Olympic’s logo just follow the same logic and style as La Caixa logo. Barcelona had unexpectedly become branded by this Miró-style art. The marketing goals that Barcelona presented for the Games were aimed, firstly, to market the city to attract tourists, business and institutional groups and secondly, to create a “Barcelona trademark”. Some strategies had to be developed, and some such as being a first class manufacturing centre or becoming one of Europe’s six largest tourist centres have nowadays been fulfilled, but not all of them. In terms of being a distribution centre, a centre for higher education (even though there are some good business schools like ESADE) or a European financial centre, there’s still a long path to go. So, how well did Barcelona in terms of urban spaces before and

during the Olympics? The city transformed its waterfront, improved circulation patterns in the city center, revitalized historic districts, built or redesigned more than 100 new public spaces (spaces like MACBA, that are touristic attractions in the middle of the city and have helped to regenerate the neighborhood), and generally enhanced its appearance and wellbeing. Barcelona understood that sports facilities should not be the ultimate goal of the Olympic investment; rather the hosting of the Olympics would be used to supplement and complement the overall urban redevelopment strategy. This may sound simple and obvious, but most of the cities that

A local foreigner

have held the Olympics recently (except probably for Sydney in 1996) haven’t taken advantage of them the same way. For the Olympics, some spaces, such as el “Parc de l’Espanya Industrial”, “Parc de l’Estació del Nord” or “Parc de l’Escorxador”, were recycled and transformed into new “plazas” and parks to be used both during the Olympics and after on. “Via Julia”, “Rambla Prim” and “Rambla del Poblenou” were invented promenades that enforced the characteristic of Barcelona of being a “walker’s city”. However, some authors criticize these transformations of the urban space, especially those regarding

the “plazas” as hard spaces, alleging that transforming the old into the new makes spaces to lose their practical functions and to trivialize the history. Barcelona was already a touristic city before the Olympics. The tourists had started to come from the late 1950 on, heading for Majorca and the semispoiled beaches of the Costa Brava north of Barcelona. Tourism increased considerably thanks to 92’s Olympics, though. The rebuilding and restructuration of the city to make it more modern and appealable to visitors was a complete success.

But the Olympics haven’t been “everything” for the city. They are just one more of the different mega-events that Barcelona has held during the last century to promote the city, as we commented in the beginning of this piece of work. All the fairs and events that have taken place in Barcelona have been positive in terms of renovating a part of the city. For the World fair in 1888, Ciutadella Park was reformed; in 1929, it was Montjuïc’s turn; in 1992’s Olympics, the 22@ district, among others, was created; and in the 2004, the BesósDiagonal Mar area was renewed. This last megaevent held in the city in 2004 was “Fòrum Universal de les Cultures”,

A local foreigner

and it is the more recent “Barcelona big event” (apart from the Barcelona Swimming Championships of this year and the yearly MWC). Even though it didn’t turn out to have the popularity it was expected to and to fulfill the expectations that had been put in it, its aim was clear: to promote sustainability, diversity and peace so to become a “greener city” and, after it, tell it to the world. One of the main ideas of it was to held participative forums where ideas were debated on peace, sustainability and culture. Coming back to the topic: in part thanks to the Olympics, Barcelona was on the global map. Regarding one of the most renowed architects of the

city, Bofill, Hughes1 says that “Bofill’s reputation in Barcelona came from being “international”, while in New York it came from being Catalan”. Without saying much, this sentence itself says a lot about how the city and Catalonia were seen from abroad.

                                                                                                            1  Find the bibliography reference at the end of this paper.  

A local foreigner

4. Tracing the future of Barcelona. How is the brand Barcelona changing and towards which kind of city is it evolving?

In this section we will consider the organization “Barcelona Global” as a key source of information for tracing the future evolution of the brand. We had the opportunity to have Mateu Hernández (the CEO of the above mentioned company) in class talking about the objectives they have in terms of building a better (and better branded) city. Barcelona Global is a private entity. Although being private may have some handicaps (I’d say that the investors can say “bye bye” and leave the organization without funds), I was happy to hear so. It is true that public involvement is key for the correct

development of the actions suggested by the organization, but private involvement is also way very important. We can’t live out of public funds forever (paid with everybody’s taxes) and it is private investment, which, in my opinion, creates richness and helps the world to evolve. “Better cities, better lives” is a motto worth taking into consideration that spreads a clear message. Cities are an even more important entity than Nation states, especially in Europe. Here in Barcelona we have the luck to have this organization helping out the city to develop, something uncommon in Europe.

At the beginning of the conference, Mateu mentioned that, as explained in the previous section, the ’92 Barcelona Olympics were a turning point for the Barcelona brand. This was kind of explained in the previous section. Barcelona is a city that hosts people for tourism purposes, as well as for living and for business projects. However, Barcelona is internationally considered (mainly) for the tourism (since the Olympics, this became extremely important and relevant for Barcelona’s richness), but is poorly taken into consideration when thinking about business. This is something that needs to be changed so to

promote the richness of the city in terms of business investments. Tourism is fine, but we need something else. And because “talent is what’s moving the world today”, we need to attract talent to come to Barcelona. This is one of the main points Barcelona Global wants to get to. Talent is an engine for globalization; it is the best and more sustainable way to grow! And I completely agree with this statement. Universities and education are key for a city’s progress, and talent must be attracted, not bought, like countries like Dubai do.

A local foreigner

So… what needs to be changed? People come to Barcelona to spend, not to invest. And organizations like Barcelona Global can help them to change this. Barcelona should be transformed from a “touristic city” into a “business hub”. The Olympics were great and lots of people started to come for doing tourism, so the strategy that started 20 years ago was successful. Tourism, though, is tricky and something could happen that cracked up the economy, so it should be in part changed and therefore diversified.

How does this affect me? Well, Barcelona becoming globalized and open to business and the world makes it a perfect starting point for my professional life. And I must say I love these changing patterns.

Mateu told us that Barcelona is:











My favourites are “Brains” and “Openness”. They are kind of what I’m doing here.

A local foreigner

A local foreigner

Resources used Part 1: Class notes (also used through all the piece of work). Part 2: Yorokobu: “La cara B de la marca España”: Part 3: Lawrence A.Herzog: “City of Architects: Public Space and Resurgence of Barcelona” in Return to the Center: Culture, Public Space, and City Building in the Global Era, p.91-114. Antoni Luna-Garcia: “Just another Coffee! Milking the Barcelona Model, Marketing a Global Image, and the Restoration of Local Identities”, in Consuming the Entrepreneurial City: Image, Memory, Spectacle, p.143-160. Mari Paz Balibrea: “Urbanism, Culture, and the Post-Industrial City: Challenging the ‘Barcelona Model’”, in Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 3, no.2 (2001), p.187-210. Gary Wray McDonogh: “Learning from Barcelona: Discourse, Power and Praxis in the Sustainable City”, in City and Society 23, no.2 (2011), p.135-153. Part 4: Class conference on 24.07.2013. Guest speaker Mateu Hernández from Barcelona Global.

A local foreigner

A local foreigner

This course and the Summer School in general have made me love even more this beautiful city. I’ve learnt about the strategies it has followed to become what it is. Not something easy, I’d say. It is not “my city” but I feel as if it was. I’m such a local foreigner.

A local foreigner

Want to know more? Twitter: @martatorner

"A local foreigner"  

Subject: Sketches of Spain. Professor: Blanca Fullana. UPF Summer School 2013.