Branding contradiction (and a 5K)

Live jazz at the 6th Annual Vahagn Setian Memorial 5K Run
    Live jazz at the Vahagn Setian Memorial 5K 

When you hear the words “Beverly Hills”, what springs to mind?

Rodeo Drive? Tiffany’s? Movie stars in dark sunglasses wearing spandex and $5000 tank tops?

Luxury mansions? Eddie Murphy?

Or do you think folksy, low-key, civic participation, community?

On December 4th, I participated in the 6th Annual Vahagn Setian Memorial 5K Run/Walk. Vahagn Setian was a 17 year old saxophonist, water polo player, and student at Beverly Hills High School when he was tragically killed by a drunk driver. The Vahagn Setian Foundation, established to ensure that Vahagn’s “passion for music, the arts, laughter and human joy will continue to flourish in the community he loved”, provides scholarships and grants for deserving students, and educational programs about smart decision making.

Despite its Beverly Hills locale, this event was decidedly low-key and low-hype. No inflated admission charge (donations only!), no glitzy trophies or swag bags, just a bunch of families and runners/walkers of all shapes and sizes out to run through Beverly Hills on a glorious December morning. Before the race, a live jazz band played upbeat music, and Vahagn’s father spoke, welcoming us all and thanking us for our participation. It was heartfelt and moving.

While the high tax base in Beverly Hills has contributed to terrific infrastructure and public resources, such as the Beverly Hills Library, excellent fire and police services, a beautiful civic center, and parking lots (2 hours free) throughout the city, the leaders of Beverly Hills are trying to promote the small-town, everyone-knows-everyone aspect of their brand with their tag line “It’s all about community.” At the same time, public officials talk about their vision for the city’s future, and its creative heritage. Dr. Julian Gold, their Vice Mayor, verbalizes this intention, stating “…Our major challenge is to keep the brand BH as sparkly as it has been for the last 40, 45 years…”

Had it not been for this delightful and real event, I would have continued to think of Beverly Hills as a place for movie stars and fashion idols, not for regular people like me. Hosting an event like this, with full participation from the Police Department and a cross section of the BH community, gave me another insight into the city of Beverly Hills.

Are upscale, high-end brands diametrically incompatible with having an inclusive, community feeling? Or can they show a human, authentic side too? Do you know of other cases (cities, brands, products) that hold this contradiction?

4 thoughts on “Branding contradiction (and a 5K)”

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