Do Places Have a Personality?: A Perspective from Place Branding

Do Places Have a Personality?: A Perspective from Place Branding

Sonya Hanna (Bangor University, UK) and Jennifer Rowley (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1793-1.ch061
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This chapter contributes to the understanding of the essence and representation of places by considering the personification of places and their relationship to the notion of place brand personality. More specifically, the chapter reviews the personification of places and its link to place representations in place marketing and branding. The theme of place brand personality is further developed and critiqued with reference to traditional theories associated with brand personality. A review of the existing body of theory and research on place brand personality demonstrates the need for further research into place and destination brand personality. The chapter culminates with proposals for further research in this area and suggestions for further embedding the notion of personality in place branding practice.
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To respond to the question ‘Do places have a personality?’ this chapter discusses two inter-related areas of endeavor, place personification and place branding. This question forms a focus for exploring and analyzing the literature that argues for the personification of places and that place personality can be articulated through place branding. Moreover, through brand personification, self-congruity theory suggests that people will develop a stronger representation of a place, be it a town, city, region or a country.

Brown and Campleo (2014) and Paxson (2009) refer to the long tradition of the personification of places with examples such as naming streets and buildings after famous people, and describing the essence of a place using adjectives normally ascribed to people (e.g. ‘smart’ cities, ‘happy’ cities). According to Lakoff and Johnson (2008), personification refers to situations where inanimate objects, institutions, abstractions, or substance are regarded as people, and have human characteristics attributed to them. Brown and Campelo (2014) suggest that people are inveterate personifiers, and interpret the world in human terms, citing phrases such as ‘the walls have ears’, and ‘the hills have eyes’ and offering examples of marketing campaigns like ‘Be Berlin’ and ‘I Amsterdam’, which feature life stories of the city’s inhabitants. Although it is evident that such initiatives are associated with the building of the place image and identity, the literature on place personification does not elaborate to any extent on the wider potential for the application of personification in place marketing and branding.

With globalization leading to increased competition between places (Hanna & Rowley, 2008), there has been an escalation of interest in place branding. Building on earlier work by Aaker (1997) on brand personality, place branding commentators and researchers have started to investigate the ‘personality’ of places, and its articulation and representation in place branding (Kaplan et al., 2010; Murphy et al., 2007c). The personality-based approach to place branding seeks to represent place identities in terms of personality traits, as an alternative to the more commonly used attributes, benefits or values-based approaches. Various authors have suggested that if the unique traits of a place can be captured in brand communications, they can be used to differentiate places from one another (Kavaratzis & Ashworth, 2005; Ekinci & Hosany, 2006; Murphy et al., 2007b; Usakli & Baloglu, 2011). Furthermore, there is some evidence that in the context of destination branding, place brand personality has the potential to exert a positive influence on intention to return and intention to recommend (Ekinic et al., 2007; Usakli & Baloglu, 2011), provided that the place brand personality is congruent with the tourist’s self-image (Ekinci, 2003; Sirgy & Su, 2005). However, research on place brand personality is limited and scattered, and the link between the personification of a place and the articulation of the place’s identity through personality-based branding deserves further exploration.

Hence, this chapter acknowledges the theoretical foundations provided by concepts such as personification and self-congruity, and by drawing on the empirical research in the realm of place branding, the chapter seeks to explore the creation and measurement of place brand personalities in its pursuit of an answer to the question: ‘Do places have a personality?’ More specifically the objectives of this chapter are to:

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