–Ben Kwan, Attorney

I love living in Minneapolis. The quotient for savvy and sophisticated branding is high – an opinion reinforced every time I glance out my office window.

Today, I have two examples of fantastic marketing in the public square. One has been around for quite some time, the other is brand new. One explicitly identifies the brand with which it’s associated, the other does not in the least. Both are incredibly cool and add to our community rather than detract from it. And I’m lucky enough to get to enjoy looking out at both every day at work.

Both examples remind me that there are subtle ways we can promote who we are and what we want others to think of us.  As I hope you’ll see below, you can be both “present” and “useful” without being obnoxious or in-your-face.

What you see to the left is the brilliant LED display that sits atop Target Headquarters (“TPS,” or Target Plaza South in Target-speak). The creative minds at Target have put together a number of neat light shows that cycle through, one per night. My favorite right now is the giant fishbowl. The abstract designs are pretty, cool, too. One thing you won’t find on the display, however, is anything that is even slightly suggestive of Target’s trademarked branding. No classic bull’s-eye, no conspicuous uses of red.

In 2011 when the light show went from a more basic set of hues to the brilliant LED graphical/animated display, a Target spokeswoman told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal that it’s “not a marketing display. It’s an artistic display.”

But that’s not the whole truth. The light show projects a very strong branding message. As soon as someone finds out the source of the lights – that they sit atop Target HQ and Target is behind them – there’s a sort of epiphany that happens in the viewer’s mind: that’s so classy, Target is invested here, Target is sophisticated, Target doesn’t need to be “in my face” to be noticed. One of the best things I’ve heard about the branding came from an architect who was interviewed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune a few years ago (looked for the link but can’t find it). He said that the lights serve an important purpose for Target, which literally anchors this downtown business market – the lights communicate the message that “we are present” at all times.

I apologize if you can’t make it out to the right – but that blue dot in the middle of the picture above (what I can make of it from the Capella Tower) is my second example of strong branding in the public square. It’s WCCO-TV’s brand new “Weather Watcher.” It’s one part nostalgia, one part conspicuous-yet-useful presentation of the WCCO brand. What you can’t tell from the photo is that today, the Weather Watcher is blinking blue.

The Weather Watcher of today is the “scaled-back reproduction of the 78-ton Weatherball that towered more than 350 feet above the street” in downtown Minneapolis atop the Northwestern National Bank building. That iconic piece of Minneapolis’s past went down with the bank building in the great Thanksgiving Day fire in 1982.

While the new WCCO Weather Watcher clearly carries the WCCO brand (video below), it is also so useful (read: disappointing or encouraging). See, on a given day WCCO lights it up red, blue, white, or green. For the thousands in downtown Minneapolis with a view of it, we know what the weather is going to be shortly: warmer (red); colder (blue); wet (green); or more of the same (white). I like this use of marketing in the public square because it’s useful and not wholly self-aggrandizing. The more cliché, obnoxious way for WCCO to promote its brand would have been a giant TV broadcasting its programming (which, admitedly, they do have out back on the Marquette Av. side of the building). This is useful, and it makes me want to look out every single day. These days, I’m looking for red, and not seeing much. At least by sunset, there’s a nice little show atop Target, no matter the season.

Here’s a bit more on the new Weather Watcher — the jingle that accompanies it: