Opinion | Now? Forever?

With visitor numbers at an all time high, the Vienna Tourist Board rethinks the City’s image.

Locals may not have noticed, but Vienna’s got a new line: in October 2016, the official slogan touting the Austrian capital’s fabulousness rather quietly went from “Vienna: Now or Never” to “Vienna: Now. Forever.”

Interesting. In place as long as I’ve been coming to this fine city, the first slogan seemed either bossy (“we demand that you come Vienna right now”) or apocalyptic (“come to Vienna before the world ends/the city falls into a giant sinkhole/everything you know to be Viennese changes fast in a burst of turbo-gentrification!”) … or both. A visiting editor from London was equally puzzled, asking bluntly, “What’s up with the ‘Now or Never’? Isn’t it a bit aggro?”

Yes, a bit, especially considering, as Gustav Mahler once quipped, in Vienna everything happens 50 years later. And even if the pace of gentrification is comparatively glacial, due to widespread tenant-friendly housing laws, “Now or Never” was just a pushier version of, say, “Be Berlin” or “I-Heart-New York.” “Now. Forever,” is less pushy but also teasingly vague, more mysterious. So Vienna shall remain as it now is, forevermore, like a fly fossilized in amber?

Creating a premium brand

To get some clarity I called the Vienna Tourist Board. The office’s energetic director Norbert Kettner explained that the first slogan, “Now or Never,” was launched in 2009, the result of market research in which 11,000 people in 11 countries were asked what they thought of Vienna.

“The interviewees’ reaction to the city was extremely positive,” says Kettner. “but they all said ‘we’ll have to go there at some point.’ ” The at some point was the key phrase – the market research showed that most people felt there was no pressing reason to visit Vienna anytime soon. Vienna needed a slogan that would create some urgency, making the city, as Kettner says, a “must-see” destination rather than a back-burner-ed, “once-in-a-lifetime” or “I’ll get around to it” destination.

Kettner admits the old slogan (thought up by ad agency Jung von Matt, and to me, too much like a flash sale on the Internet) was “kind of aggressive” but hey, it worked. Between 2009 and 2016, the number of overnight stays in the city rose from 9.84 million to 14.96 million. A later round of research indicated that Vienna could relax, stop creating temporal scarcity, and maybe rest just a bit on its laurels.

Thus “Now. Forever.” With the new slogan, Vienna becomes an “eternal city,” like Rome. Agencies Seite Zwei and Wien Nord are behind this one, and market research leaned on “Limbic neuromarketing,” which uses current brain-wave findings to, um, shape their branding strategies. Vienna is now apparently a “premium” brand.

Oy, so much adspeak, so much strategy. Yet – even if the new slogan at first seems to freeze this dynamic city in time – I prefer it to the old one. The tourist board’s revamped website is crisp, clear, and a newbie resident’s dream. I dig the oh-so-Austrian red-on-white, the font, and the little diamond shape between “now” and “forever.”  The slogan even translates into a multitude of languages without losing impact. Despite its calculated, numbers-driven origins, the tagline might just manage to capture Vienna’s uncanny and seemingly effortless ability to meld the contemporary and the utterly timeless, the progressive and the traditional, the productive yet utterly unrushed … in just two words. As It Was in the Beginning, Is Now, and Ever Shall Be, Vienna Without End.

Amen to that.

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Kimberly Bradley
A doubly transplanted California-born midwestern New Yorker, Kimberly Bradley has written about culture and art since the 1990s. Her work regularly appears in Monocle, the BBC, ArtReview, Frieze, The New York Times, and other publications.

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