The I amsterdam letters
“I amsterdam” is Amsterdam’s hugely successful marketing slogan.
Yes, a capital ‘I’ and a lower caps ‘a’.
And no, there is no ‘I amsterdam’ or ‘I love Amsterdam’ sign.
We’ll explain the meaning of the sign. But first:
Too Successful — Letters May Be Gone Soon
Update: Wednesday, October 10, 2018 — It looks like the letters will soon be gone — and, Amsterdammers think, none too soon.
Like many other cities throughout Europe, Amsterdam has in recent years been suffering from over-tourism. This city of 850.000 people is currently visited by 8 million tourists a year. That is simply too much of a good thing.
A majority of Amsterdam City Council members now wants to get rid not just of the letters, but also of the marketing campaign they stood for.
Mind you, for now this is just a ‘motion’ — suggested by Groenlinks, the current majority party in Amsterdam. Or, depending on your perspective, ‘political symbolism’. That is what Frits Huffnagel, who in 2004 as alderman for Economic Affairs commissioned the letters.
According to GroenLinks the slogan has become a symbol for mass tourism and individualism in a city which stands for solidarity and diversity.
“Iamsterdam stands for individualism while we want a city which stands for solidarity and diversity,” said Femke Roosma, leader of the GroenLinks group on the city council. “In addition, the slogan reduces the city to the backdrop of a marketing story.”
The motion was accepted by the full city council, and it may well turn out that the letters will be removed within weeks.
A final vote will be held in November 2018.
Launched in September, 2004, the sign — at the back of the Rijksmuseum — has become one of the city’s most photographed icons. You rarely see the letters without people in front, behind, or on top of the slogan — taking photos and selfies which help market the city through social media.
Amsterdam Marketing happily estimates the letters are photographed some 6.000 times a day. ‘Happily,’ because the original intention — marketing Amsterdam abroad in the wake of the financial crisis — has worked far beyond expectation.
In fact, now that (according to a growing number of locals) Amsterdam is “overrun” with tourists, many Amsterdammers believe the sign has worked too well, and has overstayed its welcome.1
The marketing folks, meanwhile, have changed their focus from attracting tourists to promoting the city as an ideal place to do business, organize international conferences and congresses, and locate or relocate company headquarters or satellite offices.
What is the meaning of the I Amsterdam sign?
The sentiment behind the slogan was, ostensibly, to make Amsterdammers feel good about themselves:
Amsterdam’s strongest asset is its people.
The people who live here, who work here, who study or visit here.
The people of Amsterdam are Amsterdam.
We are Amsterdam.
– Amsterdam Partners2
The larger message (intended or not): Amsterdammers are happy. Tourists are happy. Expats are happy.
Indeed, Quality of Life surveys — used by international companies to decided where to locate their offices — generally rank Amsterdam highly.
Where is the I Amsterdam sign?
The main set of letters is located at the back of the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ premier art museum — just a stone throw from the Van Gogh Museum (which houses the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) in the world).
Take trams 2, 3, 5 or 12 to get there (stops listed on the map).
A second set of the I Amsterdam letters is found at the plaza of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Meanwhile a third, smaller version travels around the city. It pops up at events — such as fashion shows, fairs, festivals and congresses — but also at museums, along the river IJ, or just about anywhere else.3
Finally, a scaled-down version lives in the courtyard of the Amsterdam Museum (a must-see, by the way).
And of course you’ll find the I amsterdam phrase printed on every imaginable souvenir.
I Amsterdam Letters Trivia
- The main sign is 2 meters (6.5 feet) high and 24 meters (26 yards) long
- On average each letter weighs about 250 kilo (551 pound)
- Nevertheless, one night in February 2010, two of the letters ‘went missing.’
- Warning stickers on the side of the sign state that the letters are not meant to be climbed on. Countless people do so anyway. The letter ‘D’ is the most popular letter with climbers, since it is tall (and easier to climb on the the stand-alone letter ‘i’)
- The sign features in an average 6000 selfies a day.
- The I amsterdam motto was designed in 2004, by advertising agency KesselsKramer
- Two years earlier designer Vanessa van Dam created and printed an ‘IAmsterdammer’ postcard with an accent on the first three letters. Though it was determined her design was not plagiarized, the City bought the right to her logo for € 20.000
- Cities and countries around the world have shamelessly copied Amsterdam’s slogan in one form or another
- The I amsterdam City Card is a really good deal
- Amsterdam’s 800.000+ residents in 2016 saw an estimated 12 million visitors — from the Netherlands and from abroad — visit their city ↩
- When the ‘I amsterdam’ phrase was introduced, Amsterdam Partners was the “platform for city marketing in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.” It has since been renamed, Amsterdam Marketing ↩
- See: Where are the travelling letters now? ↩
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