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Branding Strong

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I’m writing this blog post on Monday, April 21 — Boston Marathon Monday. Last year, the marathon was held on my birthday. As a runner who couldn’t be there, I took that as a kind of consolation prize. But that particular birthday — April 15, 2013 — will be etched in my heart and mind for years to come. I watched the news clips in horror as the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the country was turned into chaos. Three innocent people were killed; several more suffered life-altering injuries. We were all scarred in some way by the events of that day.

But Americans are resilient. We rallied. We showed solidarity with the city of Boston. And we created a brand. Actually, two seniors at Emerson College — who wanted to do something to help — say they came up with the phrase “Boston Strong” within hours of the attacks, creating a simple blue-and-yellow T-shirt with the two words. They started selling the shirts for $20, with $15 going to charity.  

Boston Strong spread like wildfire. The phrase became a rallying cry, a way to show strength and support for the victims, the first responders, the community. It began to show up everywhere — on necklaces, hats, bracelets, stickers. You name it — it was there.

Yankee Candle developed a Boston Strong commemorative candle (all net proceeds donated to the “One Fund,” a Boston nonprofit organized by the governor and the then-mayor of Boston to raise money to help those most affected by the bombings). Sam Adams filed for a trademark on “Boston Strong” 26.2 Brew so they could rename the beer as a tribute and as continued support for the bombing victims. ’47 Brand created the Red Sox/Boston Strong baseball cap, with proceeds going to The One Fund. The marathon was on April 15. The hats sold out by April 18.

Crimson Hexagon, a social monitoring and analytics firm, says that “Boston Strong” has been used more than 2.18 million times; on April 15 of this year, it was mentioned more than 285,400 times on Twitter and Facebook.

But how original was it? As an article in the Boston Globe pointed out, the rapid success of Boston Strong showed just how much we’ve learned from the advertising industry about the creation of phrases that stick, even when they are inspired by unexpected events.

Remember “Livestrong”? It wasn’t that long ago that everyone wore a yellow bracelet with the word emblazoned on it (long before we knew of the banned substance use, of course). How about “Army Strong,” the line coined to replace “An Army of One”?

After Hurricane Irene brutalized Vermont in 2011, the state introduced “I Am Vermont Strong” license plates to benefit the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund.

And more recently, we’ve had Governor Chris Christie telling us New Jersey is “stronger than the storm” in the “Jersey Strong” spots that aired after Sandy destroyed parts of the Jersey Shore.

“Whatever” Strong may be overused or may sound trite at this point, but there’s something about it that’s powerful and unifying. It’s a phrase people can get behind. I imagine Meb Keflezighi, the 39-year-old winner of this year’s marathon (the first American man to win the race in more than 30 years), was feeling Boston Strong when he crossed that finish line today.

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