While Los Angeles has been successfully commercializing its reputation as the city of angels, Helsinki’s potential as the city of sins hasn’t been fully explored. Just look at the name more closely: Hel-sin-ki. There’s a clear reference to hell, sins plus a key – perhaps a key to hell and sins. It can’t be just a mere coincidence. Rebranding the city as Hellsinki not only is witty but also commercially beneficial. In the global economy powered by an oversupply of brands, competing for the end user’s attention is extremely challenging. To succeed, you need to come up with unique brand positioning capable of withstanding fierce competition.

Hellsinki is a perfect brand: the original name changes so little yet it communicates a powerful message: a city of hell and sins. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Somehow human nature craves for forbidden and frowned-upon experiences. In a stereotypical sense, of course. Personally, I don’t understand why people flock to the city of angels. It’s so good, predictable yet boring. Why not head to the city of sins, Hellsinki? There’s way more intrigue, isn’t there? Hellsinki’s brand has immense strategic potential. It only needs a well-executed brand communications (brandcomms) strategy in place.

Let me just give you one example. Why not to start from the obvious: souvenirs. I can’t understand why all souvenirs promoting Helsinki lack originality. Why are they all the same? Such a unique city, yet souvenirs don’t reflect that. There’s nothing wrong with them per se, yet there’s nothing really special about them either. They reflect a cliché image of Helsinki: nature, safe colours, safe design, etc. In short: nothing really special. However, if you focus on the Hellsinki brand, you can already think of more creative ways to visualize it. There’s so much power as well as freedom encoded in this brand. It’s only up to souvenir designers’ creativity to visualize it. Their hell is their limit. Pun intended. 

The Hellsinki brand is a powerful manifesto in itself. It reflects the culture of protestantism. I say culture as an increasing number of Finns are atheists. Yet still they have been affected by protestant culture. One of the key values which Finns cherish, regardless of their religious affiliation, is freedom in a very broad sense. Finns know how to fight for their freedom, they actively protest if it is at risk. There are plenty of protesters marching on the streets of the capital whenever new legislation suppressing their freedom in any sense is on the way. The transition from protestants to active protesters is obvious, and the Hellsinki brand well encapsulates that.   

In terms of brandcomms strategy, positioning the Finnish capital as Hellsinki offers a lot of room for manoeuvre. The appeal of the Hellsinki brand rests upon intrigue: communicating the hellish aspect of the city is an extremely creative process; there’s no standard to adhere to or deviate from. Brand communicators can easily brainstorm their creative ideas, reach out to their ‘inner hell’ and experiment even with the craziest ideas. Unconstrained creative freedom can result in a truly unique brandcomms strategy, which could help position Hellsinki as a top destination for globetrotters.

The Hellsinki brand could easily encompass an entire infrastructure built around it. Take, for example, the experience economy: consumers crave for unforgettable brand experiences. As the name suggests, Hellsinki has plenty of hellish experiences to offer. If those experiences are crafted with utmost care and creative zest, the city of sins has the potential to compete with the city of angels and lookalikes. Hellsinki’s uniqueness is encoded in its name. It’s time to explore its ‘inner hell’ with wit and humour and craft a brand that will set the trends for other cities.


My interest in rebranding Helsinki stems from the fact that I’m a Hellsingistá. I see a lot of untapped potential in positioning it as a Nordic urban hub. Helsinki has a lot to offer, yet current branding efforts are not sufficient to position it competitively worldwide. To succeed, the city needs to upgrade its current brand strategy to withstand fierce competition in the global market. Due to an oversupply of brands, Helsinki needs to come up with innovative brand positioning and communicate its value proposition with an innovative edge. Having this in mind, one of my main goals is to explore the potential of the Hellsinki brand as an alternative to the official brand of the Finnish capital.

Birute Birgelyte | #BRG

Infopreneur, BrandComms Consultant and BX Creative

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