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  • Writer's pictureAJ Gastelum

The Marketing of a City: How “I ❤ NY” Became a Global Symbol of New York Tourism

November 17th, 2021

By: AJ Gastélum

You’ve probably seen this logo before. Whether you’ve been to New York or not, this logo shows up on clothes, in movies, across the globe. But this iconic symbol is far from a random logo, it was one of the most successful tourist marketing campaigns ever created, and has been effective for over fifty years.

Why Was It Commissioned?

This simple logo was actually the product of an extensive three-pronged campaign to revitalize New York tourism and was created by marketing firm Wells, Rich, Greene. The logo was commissioned during 1977, when the state of New York, and specifically New York City, was facing a crisis. The city was experiencing the worst crime wave in its modern history, with an estimated 1 million people leaving the city within a decade. The crime was constant, with hundreds of felonies a night, and mafia groups creating chaos for the city. This seems straight out of a movie, and indeed it was the blueprint for dozens of movies portraying dystopian scenes of New York. Popular films such as “Escape from New York '' and “Taxi Driver” showed New York as a city full of mob bosses and overrun with corruption. Rising crime rates, economic downturns, and rapid suburban flight destroyed the tourism industry. The city was in such economic lows that in 1975 the city requested federal assistance from President Ford to avoid bankruptcy.

The Godfather, released 1972, was a popular reflection of NYC based Mafia crime.
Marketing and the Logo

In an effort to attract tourists back to the city, the New York state department commissioned Mary Wells Lawrence, founder, and president of Wells, Rich, Greene, to come up with a marketing campaign to revitalize the city. Working with the team pro bono was Milton Glaser, a graphic designer from the Bronx. He was sitting in a taxi when he came up with the main logo for the campaign: I ❤ NYC. The campaign was accompanied by a slogan and song, both called “I Love New York.” The logo was the final piece of the puzzle.

The original concept logo via crayon on napkin, by Milton Glaser, now on display at the MOMA.
Modern Resurgence

The logo was intended for a campaign lasting a few months. But it was such a popular graphic that it stuck around for decades, outlasting other tourism efforts, and weaving its way into popular culture. The logo saw a resurgence in popularity following 9/11. The original designer Milton Glaser released a variation “I ❤ NYC More Than Ever” with a homage to the twin towers within the heart. This was part of the massive push to bring back city tourism and the overall image of New York in the early 2000s. It was largely successful and remains a popular symbol today at events showcasing New York's resilience and pride. The state economic department of NYC still makes about 33 million dollars a year off of the original logo’s copyright. When Milton Glaser passed away in June of 2020, the impact of his design and renowned service to the city was acknowledged by artists and government officials alike.


AJ Gastélum is one of the Co-Content Directors this semester. He is a sophomore at NYU Stern studying Marketing with a minor in Studio Art. Check out his article on Digital Marketing!

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