September 22, 2016

In 2013, the headlines were blasting how the Streetcar had no future in the city of Cincinnati—and at the helm was our newly elected, very outspoken mayor, John Cranley, who ran on the platform to shut down operations. As Cranley was fond of saying at the time, “It’s no secret that I want to stop the project.” And stopping it—regardless of the ramifications—seemed to be the name of the game. Soapbox media captured it best when they wrote in their December 17th issue—“Local Tea Party conservatives huddled in the wings, giddy with anticipation, and when the final votes were taken, it was as if a dark cloud had settled in over the city.” Their reference to the drama that loomed over the city as a great Greek tragedy will forever be remembered. Today, there is only sunshine and money falling from the skies, largely due to the brand that saved the streetcar and created the best return on investment ($3.4 million) with a transformation from negative perception, to now the tune of millions. The new Cincinnati Bell Connector naming rights heralded in a new opportunity for the streetcar to be the best brand turnaround story in the region.


SORTA had a vital role in continuing to create the possibility of a downtown transit system and dutifully issued a public Request for Proposal (RFP) to more than 120 agencies nationwide to create a new brand for the incoming streetcar.

The potential hopes for raising funds through advertising and naming rights had been awash since the public’s perception of the streetcar was down in the dumps, due largely to the hands of the Mayor and his so-called “Gang of 5”—Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn, Amy Murray, David Mann and Kevin Flynn.

We, as big supporters of the streetcar, boldly applied to be the agency of record and develop the new brand. We knew that the strategy for the new brand would represent a “future city,” a city connected and united.

Kolar was proud and excited to be selected out of 18 finalists as the agency to create a new brand identity for the city’s newest icon. The Cincinnati Streetcar is soon to be Cincinnati’s newest iconas – a new icon was joining the likes of Music Hall, Carew Tower, and the Tyler Davidson Fountain. But before the vehicles even arrived, the Cincinnati Streetcar needed its own icon to represent it. It was critical to establish a strong civic brand that captured the spirit of the new transit system while allowing it to become a part of Cincinnati’s downtown experience.

Kolar happily accepted the brand identity challenge to help position the streetcar as a new symbol of hope in the hearts and minds of the citizens. As a downtown firm just two blocks off of the route from the stop, we knew that seeing and riding the streetcar would become a part of our “NEW” downtown experience each day. We wanted to create a memorable brand experience reflective of our progressive city and the infrastructure investment for our very own business neighbors, residents, and visitors.

To begin, Kolar led collaborators from the City of Cincinnati and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) through a designs thinking and discovery process to reveal what the Cincinnati Streetcar brand would embody in our community. GIVE THE # HERE: CONNECTIVITY, etc. We followed three strategic paths in story and visuals.

It couldn’t be denied that the Cincinnati Streetcar represents connectivity. Connectivity: It is the ultimate connector–connecting people, businesses, cultures and neighborhoods for a stronger community. Each concept we put on the table had to reflect this inside and out.

After 3 months of a close partnership with the city and SORTA, the design was launched to the public in December 2014. The brand reflects Cincinnati’s proud rail history and establishes a new brand for a city that’s moving into a new era. The brandmark is made up of two elements: The Cincinnati Streetcar icon and the Cincinnati Streetcar proprietary logotype. The icon is comprised of a “C,” representing Cincinnati’s identity, and a graphic interpretation of a moving streetcar vehicle. The graphic system depicts a system of connecting ‘rails,’ consistently reinforcing the brand’s strategic platform.

The design expression also includes vehicle graphics, streetcar platforms, and other marketing materials to build a comprehensive brand experience.

With the identity launch, Kolar designed a series of limited edition Founder’s Club passes available for pre-purchase that give riders unlimited rides for the first 15, 30 or 60 days of Cincinnati Streetcar service. The public’s response was immediate, and the $25 15-day pass sold out in just one week. It seemed everyone wanted a piece of the new Cincinnati Streetcar—the first tickets were sold, providing proof of the impactful success of the identity.

As the last rails were put in place and the stations were complete, the brand application made the Cincinnati Streetcar tangible—a beacon of positivity for the community behind which they could rally.

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A few weeks ago, it was announced that Cincinnati Bell bought the naming rights to the streetcar. It will now be known as the Cincinnati Bell Connector. With Cincinnati Bell’s tagline of “Connecting what Matters,” their sponsorship feels like a perfect delivery of the ‘connecting’ positioning Kolar established. While the colors and identity have changed, the connective spirit of the streetcar and the community will still ring.

Cincinnati Street Car Dedication Festivities PitchBox | In partnership with Eyman Creative

Kolar was thrilled to celebrate the opening of the Cincinnati Streetcar on September 9th. Kolar is just two blocks from the platform at 8th Street. COME ON BOARD, LET’S RIDE!

Posted in Branding, Transportation, Wayfinding Tags: Civic, Branding, Transportation, Wayfinding