(This article was written in 2007 but I think it is a good reference point for the city)

Thirty years ago – in 1977 – the iconic ‘I Love NY’ logo was designed by graphic designer, Milton Glaser in support of the marketing campaign for New York State devised by advertising agents, Wells Rich Greene, at the request of William S. Doyle of the New York State’s Department of Commerce. Their goal was to promote tourism.

Writing in The Gotham Gazette in 2003, Kate Stohr noted that the ‘most successful effort to “brand” New York came during the final moments of the city’s fiscal crisis in the 1970’s. Crime was rampant and the City’s coffers were empty. Fear permeated perceptions of the City and tourism was suffering. The City had lost much of its glamorous allure.’

I suspect these words may sound all too familiar to anyone who has lived in the Marbella for the last couple of years?

As a measurement of the ‘I Love NY’ logo’s success, to this day is a proud boast for locals, celebrities and visitors alike.

Wolff Olins – possibly the best brand consultancy in the world – tell us on their website that ‘Branding is no longer about imposing a logo everywhere. “A brand platform” is needed…from which you can engage different audiences in the best ways.’ And above all Wolff Olins tell us that “Consumers believe what you do, not what you say”.

For those of us involved in the local property market, we clearly need our ‘audience’ from wherever they hail to again fall in love with Marbella. I am concerned whether the legacy of deceit left by corrupt officials, unscrupulous lawyers and property developers has done irreparable damage to the once glowing image of Marbella?

Can any campaign put a positive spin on the miserable experiences of a number of innocent buyers caught up in property purchases where illegally issued licenses – or the lack of – have blighted their properties?

David Honeyman of sales agency ADH was recently quoted as saying that buying a property in the Marbella region was probably the safest place in Spain to buy. He’s probably right, particularly if you are buying with mortgage funds.

The UK and USA are not alone in suffering the outfall of the recent credit crunch. Spanish based lenders are very carefully analyzing the risks involved in lending, crawling all over purchases to check the paperwork and to ensure – let’s be honest – not just that your investment is safe – but also that theirs is!

There is a feeling in certain quarters that the ‘brand platform’ of the Costa del Sol sells itself. It does tick many relevant boxes for would be retirees or relocators seeking a better quality of life. The weather is fantastic. The infrastructure is amazing with new hospitals, airport terminals, roads and high speed intercity rail links. The land and water sports are second to none and the Mediterranean diet is renowned the world over for its many health benefits. But is that enough?

No – I don’t think it is.

Whilst they are high, property prices may still be cheaper than the equivalent property in their home market, but along with a willingness to invest in Marbella a purchaser must be vested with a level of confidence in the underlying market – will what costs 100 euros today be worth not less than 100 euros tomorrow – and a degree of trust in those who police and represent it.

Expatica.com recently reported that CB Richard Ellis – the International real estate giant – has dismissed doomsday predictions of a crash in Spanish house prices. In a recent report on the state of the market, CBRE noted that ‘the current slowdown in the housing market after an unprecedented boom did not constitute a “catastrophe” for the sector.’ Further the CBRE report said it was “logical” prices were starting to slow after the “above-normal” rises seen in the market.’

Reports of this nature must contribute to a collective confidence. I suspect there is much in the power of the self fulfilling prophesy – as witnessed in reverse with the recent saga of Northern Rock – it will get better if we all believe in a positive message.

Many will have read of the new draft Marbella General Plan (‘the PGOU’). On the basis that actions speak louder than words, the Town Hall and the Junta de Andalucia in Seville seem to have grasped the nettle. It’s clear that offending developers will be cajoled into parting with cash or land in recompense for former transgressions. For those whose properties are within developments that are outside the scope of the new PGOU the future looks less certain but once enacted the new PGOU should provide additional certainty for the majority that their purchase will not be torn down.

For many of those formerly active in Marbella, who saw this beautiful town as their personal fiefdom to pillage at will, the prospect of several years behind bars is perhaps just desserts. However, the new guard needs to ensure that the positions of power and influence, particularly within the Town Hall are peopled by individuals not prone to insidious greed.

The appointment of a Planning Czar by the Junta with responsibility for the entire Western Costa del Sol – widely tipped to be the former head of the Marbella Management Committee – lawyer Diego Martin Reyes – has telegraphed a willingness to deal long term with the issues of sustainable development. This must be good for those who need to see a continuance of the development cycle in this micro economy.

Any re-branding exercise for Marbella cannot be comprehensively achieved without learning from recent experience. It cannot simply be about the will of an international community to re-apply some polish to the tainted star of Marbella. Paternalistic property developers and complacent sales agents – who seem to feel that they doing a property purchaser some form a favour in selling to them – need to be re-educated. The re-branding needs to involve all those in the food chain.

I am all for putting my efforts into reviving the image of Marbella, the raw materials are fabulous and with a little moulding – no pun intended – I am confident that we collectively lay the recent history to rest.

© The Rights Group SL 2007 (Marbella)

Mark FR Wilkins

mark@therightsgroup.com

www.therightsgroup.com

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