The Drake effect on Toronto’s Brand.

The city’s image has seen a quiet, steady, upward shift. As a Torontonian, I’ve always known how special the city is. However, on a world scale, the city has often eluded the spotlight. For some time, the city’s brand has tried to fight for respectability – claiming that we’re the 5th largest city in North America. Media, travel experts and residents felt that size would help our city gain the world’s respect and acknowledgement. However, size, in this case really doesn’t matter. It’s simply a proof point and a testament to its popularity.

We’ve all heard our neighbours to the south make comments about Toronto. “It’s so clean”, “It’s so multi-cultural up there” in the same tone as a parent offering their child some positive reinforcement. There has long been an insecurity about how the world (and especially the US) views the city. Sure it’s clean and safe and multi-cultural. There are over 10,000 restaurants to choose from. It’s home to an amazing academic, arts and world-class sports scene. It’s also just about a 2-hour drive from some of the most beautiful Canadian wilderness one can imagine. But none of these elements are enough to define Toronto’s brand. There’s nothing emotional or visceral about physical attributes. They don’t define a personality.

Enter Toronto’s favourite son – Drake. He’s not just another celebrity (from a long list of celebrities) that the city has produced. He brings just the right amount of ‘street cred’, talent and genuine love for his hometown. Part of me wants to believe that his long-standing endorsement has been a calculated brand plan from the most brilliant marketing minds in the world. Buuutttt, I’m not so sure about that theory.

Civic pride has long been an important ingredient in Hip Hop culture. Long before the East Coast/West Coast rivalries of the early 90’s, rappers have been repin’  their cities and neighbourhoods as a means to reinforce how tough their upbringing was. Jay-Z + Brooklyn. 2pac + Los Angeles. Eminem + Detroit. Kanye + Chicago. And the list goes on. Toronto, however, has never been known for being a ‘badass’ city. And Drake, as we all know, grew up in Forest Hill, not exactly Compton. But creatively, he took a pretty big risk since rappers get called out all the time for being posers or not ‘hard enough’. Drake not only embraced the city, he opened it up to the rest of the Hip Hop universe (aka. The universe where trends are set, fashion and culture is defined). He not only rapped about neighbourhoods, restaurants and hot spots, he started the OVO music festival and brought the Hip-Hop world here.

‘Edge’ has long been the missing ingredient for Toronto’s brand. Drake has helped expose it. Toronto’s brand is no longer ‘apologetic’ for being too cold, too clean or too safe. Culture and creativity have long been a part of the city’s DNA.  And culture and creativity can define a brand, they can generate an emotional response. We are more liberal than our neighbours to the south. We are more accepting. We are more ‘open’. These values are (generally) what millenials value. It’s the internet’s greatest gift. A social movement that happens to be directly in line with what Toronto has always stood for.

Call it the perfect storm, call it a long time coming. Toronto’s shiny new rebrand as ‘The Six” is a massive boost both economically and culturally. According to Mastercard’s Global Destination Index, Toronto is the 4th most visited city in North America in terms of international overnight stays behind only New York, Los Angeles and Miami. Vogue magazine recently named Toronto’s West Queen West as the second hippest district in the world.

 The city has captured the world spotlight. Sometimes it takes the right endorsement to be credible. Love him or hate him, the city owes a lot of thanks to Drake.