Monday, May 30, 2011

Hove to, actually

The London Free Press is pushing the benefits of branding to successfully market a city or a town. As an example of successful branding the paper is using Hove, England. The paper tells us visitors to the area often confused Hove with its larger and very close neighbour, Brighton.

"Oh, you live in Brighton," the visitor would say. The Hove resident would invariably reply, "Yes, well, Hove, actually." That phrase - Hove, actually - became the town's brand and identity. At least that's the story according to The Free Press. It's a good story, but possibly not so true today.

The paper based its report on an interview with Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at the Schulich school of business at York University. Middleton grew up in Brighton with his parents who later moved to neighbouring Hove. The paper could not have picked a better source to gain insight into the branding of Hove.

Still, I questioned some of the stuff in the story. For instance, why does the movie Love Actually enter into this discussion? Why would a film that has nothing to do with the little coastal town give the branding phrase a bit of a pop? Not one person I contacted in my investigation saw any connection between the Hove response and the romantic-comedy set in London.

I decided I must contact Alan Middleton. He was very gracious and answered my e-mail immediately. He wrote: "the basis for the phrase had nothing to do with the movie (no idea where that reference came from)."

My guess is that the reporter asked Mr. Middleton a question linking the movie and the Hove phrase. Mr. Middleton being very gracious simply made a reply based on the reporter's question. When I worked at the paper I watched many a skillful reporter coax supporting quotes from an unsuspecting people during interviews.

Randy Richmond, the London Free Press reporter, has argued that London, Ontario, would benefit from a rebranding exercise. London needs to find a clear identity and boldly brand itself. Of course, this would be an official branding exercise. Was this ever done in Hove? Mr. Middleton told me he didn't know whether the phrase 'Hove, actually' was ever used officially. It did appear on a postcards, he said.

Using the Internet and social media, I was able to talk directly with people living in the Hove area. I asked them about the success of the phrase "Hove, actually" in promoting the small, English city. I was told the phrase is not used to promote the area. The response carried, and still does, a bit of nasty "we're better than they are" baggage.

I talked by phone with senior reporter Anna Roberts at The Argus, a newspaper in the area. She made it clear to me that today Hove is no longer a town or a city but simply part of the English coastal town of Brighton & Hove — the two communities effectively merged in 1997.

When asked about the use of the phrase "Hove, actually" in the sense of branding, neither she nor anyone else in The Argus newsroom could recall any official use of the phrase. When read the part of The London Free Press story referring to Hove she said emphatically, "That's not true." When I brought the movie Love Actually into our conversation, she was puzzled. Contrary to what was reported in The Free Press, the "Hove, actually" phrase got no boost from the movie, she said.

Today there is a free monthly paper that reflects today's municipal reality and usurps yesterday's separatist catch phrase. It's the Brighton & Hove Actually monthly community and business directory .

I received an e-mail from Ruth Allsop, marketing officer for Brighton & Hove. She confirmed that the phrase is not part of a branding initiative but "a bit of an in-joke among residents" who see Hove as being slightly more up market than Brighton. Allsop assured me that "this isn't the case."

Today, if the area has an official branding phrase, it's "London-By-The-Sea", a name that goes back some two and a half centuries according to the Capture Project launched by Eurotowns in 2004. This is a network of 19 towns and cities from 11 EU countries formed to stimulate the economic development of its members, with a particular focus on the knowledge economy. Through their membership the Brighton & Hove City Council aims to expand the knowledge economy and create better local jobs. Today, the twin city is an important educational centre with two universities and many English language schools.

Actually by Brighton artist Amanda Taylor.
I was also able to reach Brighton & Hove area artist Amanda Taylor who has a Website Illustrious Brighton showcasing her work:


"I live in Brighton and both my mother and daughter live in different parts of Hove. We've all moved here within the last 4 years.

I had no idea that Hove had tried to use the 'Hove, actually' phrase officially. So I guess the public attempt at branding, as you call it, has been abandoned.

But it is a phrase used all the time. I guess it started along the lines of  'Do you live in Brighton?' 'No, Hove actually.'

We are joined now . . . Brighton and Hove needed to merge . . . the larger community has both areas bringing their strengths to the table."

She confirmed that the 'Hove, actually' response is felt by many to be tainted by a tone of aloofness, of superiority. Another person told me it is always best to follow the phrase with a laugh to ensure not being misunderstood.

Oh well, Brighton & Hove are at least booming through the global economic downturn: Right? Wrong! You see, despite the glowing story in The London Free Press about attracting employment through branding, The Brighton and Hove Free Press reported last December:

"Unemployment remains a key issue in Brighton & Hove:

A new report from the Office of National Statistics shows unemployment levels in Brighton & Hove are the highest in the country, with four people unemployed for every job vacancy in the city."

For rebranding purposes, the phrase "Hove, actually" appears to be dead in the water; Hove to, actually, you might say.

Hove to: a sailing term indicating a boat's sails have been set in such a manner that the boat is no longer sailing forward, it is no longer making headway; It is almost stopped, drifting sideways.

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