Last Thursday, Experience Columbus invited me and 60 of my fellow bloggers to check out their newest tourism and convention campaign: Not In Columbus.
First, let me say - it was a very well-conceived effort.
- Right people: Columbus is home to a really diverse group of Gen Ys and Xers who love the city. They blog, network and otherwise talk in just about every medium there is. Engaging them (um, us) to preview pro-Columbus propaganda is a great fit.
- Right partners: All local agencies and others (Creative: engauge; PR/Social: FahlgrenMortine; snacks and treats: Jenis; swag: Skeened)
- Right process: Over the last few months, a number of Experience Columbus staffers and leaders have started following me on Twitter. And presumably reading local bloggers. They've interacted with the community and gotten to know us.
- Right presentation: Pete McGinty - VP of Marketing - was tasked with talking to the bloggers. He brought us in on the process of developing the campaign before the big reveal. He was happy to tell the back story and answer questions.
Which brings me to the unasked question: Can we see the other 23 concepts that hit the cutting room floor?
Ok, here's the setup:
Pete starts off by taking us inside the process. He holds up a board titled Challenges:
- No one outside Ohio knows us
- And, we don't have anything our competitors don't have
Sure, he couched it in it's not really that bad. But, the POV still seemed to be that we're somewhere between milk toast and total suck.
The agreed upon solution to this mediocrity morass was to have a little bit of fun; to make fun of ourselves.
Then the campaign was unveiled: Not in Columbus.
It's a collection of light-hearted videos, print ads and tShirts that point out some of the iconic things you can't do in Columbus and then pays it off with the variety of things you can do. It's a teaser, a page-turn stopper. If it works.
If there's one thing we've done plenty of in this town, it's make fun of ourselves. The variations on Cow Town alone are uncountable. It's part of cBus Syndrome: the ability to live in a vibrant, growing city and talk about it like it's a pile of cow crap.
And a campaign like this one feels like only more of the same. We're the marketing equivalent of the fat guy at the party making jokes about his girth so that the girls won't look at him with pity.
Oh, except, we only think we're the fat guy. We're actually the totally ripped hot guy who just has really low self esteem.
If I were to re-invent this campaign, what would I talk about? What are the reasons to come to this city?
#1 for me: Columbus is a destination city for creative people. You're basically guaranteed to be rubbing elbows with an artist whether you're shopping the North Market or noshing on Hyde Park steaks.
- Robust creative economy
- Affordable, eclectic neighborhoods (i.e. places for artists to live)
- Groundswell of independent art activity
- Slew of professional arts organizations (from museums to the ballet)
- Nationally-known arts festivals - art fest, comfest
- Tons of programs and outlets for individual artists - from live/work spaces to monthly art sales and gallery hops
- Huge local music scene
- Nationally-recognized chefs
- Passionate foodie community
(Think you can't market that? Look at Toronto, Minneapolis, Portland)
#2 Ok, don't like that first one? How about the vibe? Columbus has this totally open, do-your-own thing vibe. The kind of city that has cool things to do at every level of hip. The kind of city that would produce the largest privately financed redevelopment project in the nation The kind of city that would have the country's third largest gay population and still almost go red in the election. The kind of city that would have multiple boutique and gallery districts - just to house that army of entreprenuers who feel like they have the right foundation to take the big risk.
(Think you can't market that? Look at Jamaica, Boulder, the other Portland)
#3 Still searching? Ok, how about we're a Big 10 town. And, we're home to the second largest college population in the country (behind Boston). That's exciting sports. A young, engaged population. And, all the cheap fun a college town has to offer.
(Think you can't market that? Ok...someone will have to help me here. You know Advergirl and sports. Like fish and bicycles.)
Anyway, my point is - Columbus has lots of compelling marketing messages. If we could just get over the cBus Syndrome and take an honest appraisal, I think we'd all see what the bloggers you invited over already see.