Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Mexico City’s $150 Million Rebrand Faces Growing Pains

Mexico City has been taken over by a searing fuchsia color—reminiscent of the bougainvillea flowers that tumble over the city’s walls—and a sans serif logo with four letters: CDMX, for Ciudad de México.

Since 2016, they have both been part of Mexico City’s place-branding campaign, initiated by former mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera. Last week, incoming mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo announced a competition to redesign the city’s logo. Open to Mexican nationals and all residents of the capital, she invited designers, publicists, and visual artists to submit proposals for a new brand to mark the duration of her government (from 2018 through 2024) for a prize of 150,000 pesos ($8,000 USD).

The backlash was swift: In an interview with El Universal, the city’s outgoing Secretary of Tourism, Armando López, argued against changing the CDMX brand, calling it a “legacy” that had helped to attract tourists and economic investment to the capital. According to Irene Muñoz Trujillo, director of Mexico City Tourist Trust, the rollout had cost 2.5 billion pesos (nearly $150 million USD).

The CDMX brand had closely been associated with Mancera, a lawyer-turned-politician with Jeff Goldblum-like hair, whose friends often refer to him as “El Doctor” (he has a Ph.D). During his six-year term, which started in 2012, he became interested in the idea of branding to coincide with the city’s changing administrative status and formal name change from Distrito Federal to Ciudad de México. Such an initiative, he figured, would communicate the transformation, increase tourism revenue, and present the city as a world-class place.

In 2014, he tasked the city’s Tourism Trust with taking over city branding responsibilities. They contracted an agency, Happy Media, to design the logo. The result was a contemporary design with the CDMX acronym in Gotham, rendered in white against a rainbow palette of orange, pink, blue, green, yellow, and purple. Together, the colors were meant to display the city’s multi-layered identity.

That March, the Tourism Trust registered the logo with the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property. The city arranged for the branding to be painted across 30 metro trains and at one of the metro system’s workshops in Coyoacán. Each of the carriages was painted a different hue with CDMX sprayed across the body of the train. It was “colorful and very fun, and it was very CDMX,” says Muñoz. “Estuvo padre,” she says, using the Mexican slang word for “cool.” An Aeroméxico plane even had its fuselage painted with the CDMX logo that summer.

But in a twist of fate, while the Tourism Trust launched their tourism campaign deploying the CDMX brand, the Social Communications department—the city government’s public relations arm—decided to adapt the logo for their own use. In February 2015, communications agency Avión compiled a 164-page manual for each of the city’s 22 departments to help standardize the logo’s usage. The brand transformed in the agency’s hands. The font for the official logo was still Gotham, but the manual stipulated the use of Helvetica Neue when applying the CDMX brand to things like posters, images, and business cards. Most importantly, the manual didn’t include a rainbow of colors in its palette. Instead, it declared one official shade: Mexican Pink, the hue that has taken over the city’s public spaces via posters and 3-D volumetric letters. “What is more Mexican than this color? And what is more Mexican than this city?” Eric León, the Avión designer in charge of the project, asks rhetorically.

As a result, most people only associate the CDMX brand with what has jokingly been referred to as “Mancera Pink.” The two different fonts can be seen clashing against each other on minibuses; the Metrobús, Mexico City’s BRT system that opened in 2006; and taxis. To add to the confusion, Avión’s designated shade of Mexican pink was different to the one used by Happy Media, and on posters erected by the government, the shade leans more towards magenta (Pantone Hexachrome Magenta C) while the pink on the city’s 140,000 taxicabs features orange undertones (Pantone 226C).

The confusion might not have been deliberate, but the adoption of the CDMX brand by the city government was, in an effort to ensure the logo endured beyond a tourism campaign. When Muñoz took her current role as the Director of the Tourism Trust, in March 2017, communication with the public from the city often included both the CDMX logo as well as the individual logos of the municipal department. The first thing she did was suggest to Mancera and ask him to prohibit this—it should just be “puro CDMX,” she said—so that the logo would be more closely associated with the government.

When Sheinbaum announced the new logo competition—not the first time Mexico City has crowd-sourced gubernatorial decisions—there was resistance from those who were conscious of how much had been invested in the CDMX brand already. Both Sheinbaum and her incoming Tourism Secretary, Carlos Mackinlay Grohmann, were quick to clarify: “The acting government used ‘CDMX’ for both government and tourism purposes[…] and therefore keeping the brand would be maintaining the same “look” but with a different government, and this is what you want to avoid,” Mackinlay told El Sol de México.

It’s also true that place branding, whether for government or city, might be one of the most thankless exercises for anyone to take on. When the original branding was revealed, Alejandro Olávarri, an assistant curator at the Archive of Design and Architecture, organized an exhibition at the Archive in response. Titled MXCD01: Presente, it was the first in a curatorial series focused on design related to the city, and critiqued the branding. “I think [the government’s] main goal was to make the population of the city think that it was a new etapa,” he says—a stage.

“Branding obviously has a lot of good consequences in the sense that it unifies things, especially for foreigners,” adds Olávarri. “The city starts making a lot more sense to you, or you feel safer in specific areas where you see the booth that has the same color. You’re like ‘Okay, the government is present, there is control, it’s organized.’ [But] people from other parts [of the country], who speak different native languages, migrate here everyday. And the variety of those people is just ridiculous and huge, so why would the pink represent them?”

Following the announcement of Sheinbaum’s competition, Alberto Herrera, the Director of for Mexico and Colombia, pointed out on Twitter: “To change the logo of a city with each administration is to think of the city as hostage and a prey to political fluctuations, more than a product of history, roots, or a long-term vision. It’s our city, not a soda that changes its label every six years.”