Unconventional Branding

How Brands Shape the World we Know

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Leaving on a Jet Plane

Three countries, five cities, eight cities, and thirteen days later our MIT Sloan Branding Study Tour has come to a close.During our two week escapade we were able to explore three of Europe’s most distinct cities, each one projecting a different image, atmosphere, and cultural identity.

They’re easy to overlook, but airports are powerful brand ambassadors that give a unique glimpse of the personality of a city. Often the first touch-point with a destination, the airport experience can tell you a lot about where exactly you’re going. 

Located in the former French Sector of West Berlin, Tegel Airport is tired, utilitarian, and functional. 25 years after the wall, Berlin felt like a city exiting the long years of recovery. To this day the city identifies itself as East or West; and while the wall is no longer visible, its path is clearly visible by its barren wake. From this emptiness, however, springs new life. Slowly but surely the city is recovering as investors like Daimler-Benz, Sony, Nickelodeon, Coca-Cola and others once again look to Berlin as a springboard to central Europe.

In stark contrast Berlin-birthplace-of-grunge stands Stockholm. At the intersection of the Baltic Sea and Malaren lake, the picturesque city is filled with heritage, art (even the subway walls  have been transformed into commissioned art canvases), and a distinct style all its own (it’s the birthplace of IKEA, after all). It’s no wonder, then, that the city plays host to some of the trendiest brands today: from the mass-market H&M, to high-end Acne Studios, and even tech-savvy Spotify. Efficient, spotless, sleek, beautiful - Arlanda Airport captures the essence of the “Capital of Scandinavia”.

Where Stockholm boasted an almost palpable obsession with all things perfect and pristine, Madrid celebrated the chaotic diversity of the moment. The hustle and bustle at all hours is representative of the Spanish philosophy of living each day for today. Teeming with life, the city can turn even a simple lunch of beer and fish into a vibrant experience. It’s no wonder, then, that a country fixated on living the good life can produce sloping vineyards of the Ribeira Sacra (home of Dominio do Bibei) or the trend setting fashion houses of Carolina Herrera and Zara. Like its city, Barajas Airport is alive with the city’s tension between work and play. Its rolling ceilings and towering, curving, colorful exposed steel beams is a clash of function and art. 

Today’s airports are more than belts and buildings, they are the modern city gateways. Whether they are the like the Golden Gate of Kiev, a simple doorway, or anything in between tells a lot about who lives beyond them.

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