Destination Branding: Salem, Massachusetts

By Mash Bonigala

What comes to mind when you think of Salem, Massachusetts? For most people in the United States, this town conjures up images of witch trials and famous hauntings. However, instead of embracing their dark side, Salem has seemed determined to hide it.

Consider, as Exhibit A, their former logo. It features an old-fashioned boat with sails set against a bright sun, with the name of the town written in stodgy capital letters with serifs. These elements, combined with the blue colors that dominate the logo, create a distinctly nautical feeling. This would be a fine identity for a town that had a less notable history. For Salem it feels undistinctive, especially when compared to the area’s notable history.

Many of Salem’s visitors—in fact, probably most of them—visit Salem, Massachusetts because of its somewhat dark history. That’s why we were so happy to see the new logo design. The town has introduced a new logo and a new tagline that are better representatives of the area’s unique flair. Instead of blue and yellow colors, a sophisticated and understated black is used. We still see a sailboat on the water as the logo image… or is that a witch’s hat? The new logo seems to say: this is a quiet, nautical New England town—maybe.

The font was obviously chosen to ‘go with’ the image, although it is not a particularly distinctive choice. Even so, the logo design for Salem is overall an improvement over the past one. It ties into the main reason that people visit Salem and gives a shout out to both the seaboard activities and the witch trials. The tagline also refers indirectly to the town’s past: Still Making History. This is a better brand for Salem. They had some interesting things happen in the past, but it is a relevant place in modern times as well.

We can see why Salem was attempting to build an image beyond historical tragedies. After all, the witch trials are considered a somewhat embarrassing episode in early American history. The town happens to be placed in a beautiful maritime area with historical significance beyond the witch trials, and there are more than 40,000 permanent residents who, we assume, have normal, modern lives.

Nonetheless, a tourism brand and logo design should give some reference to the factors that set the destination apart. The majority of Salem’s tourist activities in some way have to do with witches and the occult because those are main reasons that people visit the area. October is the busiest month, and the locals seem to be embracing the past that the tourism council has until recently ignored. The high school’s mascot is a witch, and police uniforms bear a flying witch. You can’t just pretend that this rich and interesting history doesn’t exist, not if you want to keep tourist dollars flowing into the town. The new logo design shows the town as a diverse area without ignoring the unique brand.