The backlash against Merritt’s new brand and tagline “Country with attitude” has been swift, vocal and damning.

Merritt resident Dawn Chypyha started the petition opposing implementation of the new brand, which collected about 400 signatures in four days.

Chypyha said she has not been involved in a petition before, but started this one because she is passionate about Merritt.

She said she is displeased with the branding process and the resulting tagline, and would like to see the city take public input into account.

“My concern is the majority of the citizens of Merritt didn’t get a voice,” Chypyha said. “Yes, at the end of the day, it is council’s decision, but you know what? We are the residents and citizens of this town.”

The focus group and online survey didn’t include enough members of the general public, she said, noting not everyone is comfortable using a computer and the focus group participants are young.

“Wait until they get to be grown up and start paying bills and taxes. Then let them be part of the task force. What about the volunteers who have been here for forever and a day?” she Chypyha said.

She also criticized the way it was passed at the Feb. 13 council meeting, noting the public open house seemed like an “afterthought.”

Chypyha said she would at least like to see the tagline changed as a result of the petition, possibly with input from the community at large in a contest or call for ideas.

She is slated to address council at the start of its next regular meeting on Feb. 25.

Chypyha said the word “attitude” has a negative connotation that she doesn’t want associated with her town.

Concern about that connotation was the reason Lana Schindler signed the petition in front of the post office on Feb. 18.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to agree that it just comes off negatively,” Schindler said.

Long-time Merritt resident Marguerite Kempin said she would sign a petition against the branding, and that she doesn’t like the tagline because the word “attitude” is not timeless.

“I don’t like it because that’s a slang term that is a popular term at this time, but is it going to be a popular term four years down the road?” she said. “I think it’s much too slang, much too young and not really mature enough for a city.”

People who are displeased with the branding are slated to speak before council as a delegation at the beginning of the next regular meeting on Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.

It certainly isn’t hard to find someone who’s displeased with the branding — just about everyone has an opinion on the topic, which is undoubtedly the talk of the town.

The branding was adopted by city council at its regular meeting on Feb. 11, and included a condition that implementation of the new brand includes a public open house.

Imagery associated with the brand will be unveiled at the open house.

That open house is slated for March 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Civic Centre.

However, some critics of the branding say the open house should have taken place before it was accepted by council.

Merritt Mayor Susan Roline is standing up for the city’s new brand direction in the wake of the backlash.

Roline said it was devised over a lengthy process that included about 140 community members in workshops facilitated by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA), a regional division of the tourism marketing Crown corporation Destination BC. Those workshops took input from stakeholders on the direction the new brand should go in.

TOTA presented three taglines to council after distilling the input. The other two choices were “Country branded” and “Kicking back.”

Roline said it wasn’t just council’s choice on the tagline, and that a focus group with seven high school students helped narrow down the brand.

“The strong choice was ‘Country with attitude,’ so that’s where we’ll work. This is sort of just the stepping stone into the next phases. This isn’t the end-all and be-all of this branding.”

Roline said the focus group featured high school students because the brand is aimed at a younger set.

“We wanted to get the young people who are travelling with their families and even the young single people who travel for the experiences, whether it’s mountain biking, skiing, all-terrain vehicles, whatever their interests are,” she said.

“We don’t market and we don’t brand for our residents because they know why they live here. They know why they love our community. We’re trying to pull in those other tourists or those people who might want to look at living here, investing here or doing their business here. That’s what branding’s all about.”

Roline said the word “attitude” doesn’t have to have a negative connotation.

“Merritt has always had an attitude,” she said. “We want to be winners in all our sports. We want to be ahead of the parade, so to speak. We want to do things differently. That all takes attitude to get there.”

Roline acknowledged the criticism of council’s approval of the rebrand before the tagline went public.

“Maybe the first step shouldn’t have come out like it did, but I can’t change that now,” she said.

Reviewing the city’s brand was identified by council as a priority in 2009.

Roline said there appears to be confusion about how much money the city has put into the process.

Between brand development, tourism development and website review, the city is into the rebrand for about $8,000 right now, as TOTA’s mandate includes doing community marketing work so they’re covering off the bulk of the cost, Roline said.

The Country Music Capital of Canada mark, which the city owns, did not cost the city anything except some time to fill out paperwork, Roline said.