Is Chicago’s terrible new slogan designed to keep tourists away?
On Saturday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office released details of Chicago‘s new branding campaign. Ready for the new slogan, the pithy phrase tasked with attracting new businesses, new residents and perhaps tourists to our great city on the lake?
“Chicago Not in Chicago.”
Not exactly, “I Love New York” or “Cleveland Rocks!” or “Keep Austin Weird” or even Las Vegas’ “What Happens Here, Stays Here” right? Do you feel your civic pride strengthened?
We do not claim to be branding experts on this page (this tagline is the pro bono work of Energy BBDO). But we’d venture the opinion that, all things being equal, including a negative word like “not” in a four-word promotional tagline doesn’t really rock your work with positivity. This slogan is enough to make you cancel your plan to come here alone.
Why does Chicago have such a hard time with self-marketing? “Second to None,” a previous effort, seemed to wear this city’s insecurity of New York on its sleeve. “Make No Little Plans” might have been a sly reference to Daniel Burnham, but it also suggested to the reader that perhaps any move or trip to Chicago was just a “little” trip and the big bucks should be saved. for a more exciting place.
But compared to “Chicago Not in Chicago,” these earlier efforts market poetry incarnate.
The idea, according to the mayor’s office, is that people need to know about Chicago’s influence on the rest of the world: No Ferris wheel in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, without the Chicago-based invention. No iconic San Francisco skyscrapers without the development of such technologies, you know where. No coffee for thirsty Gothamites without Chicago first inventing the coffee maker.
These accomplishments are certainly worthy of some civic pride, though none of them are surprising given that this huge city was built by inventive industrialists and quickly became the hub of business innovation. But why knowing that it makes you more likely to visit here, or move here to live, or bring your business here, remains a mystery to us.
And it gets worse.
The campaign is accompanied by a series of videos, the first of which features a double-decker bus tour of New York. The first image you see is the Statue of Liberty.
The idea is that you see all the stuff in New York that was invented in Chicago and then you think you might like to come and work or live here. This is a locally targeted campaign, so maybe there’s some merit in positioning this city in terms of places others call home.
But let that sink in: Chicago has come up with a promotional video that involves a trip to this city in the east. It’s like the University of Michigan offering a tour of Ohio Stadium for prospective students. The video could say all it wanted about Ann Arbor, but viewers would still be watching the Buckeyes’ home. Do you think that would fly in the city of the Big House?
Coming soon: a video tour of London. And no, it’s not our joke. This really is the next video in what is supposed to be a global “national newspaper and magazine ads” campaign. Berlin, Sao Paulo and Mexico City are coming soon. All are part of the latest “activation” under the city’s marketing “main brand”, “Chicago. City of Stories”, which is also not a big slogan, but much better than “Chicago Not in Chicago”.
You might think that city marketing campaigns are trivial matters. You would be wrong. The city center suffers from empty headquarters buildings. Some neighborhoods are losing population. International tourism has fallen off a cliff due to COVID-19. Domestic tourism has been significantly reduced. Major conventions, which are vital to the retail, restaurant and live entertainment industries, have disappeared like a Zoom attendee with lousy Wi-Fi. All of these things that are crucial to the economic well-being of Chicagoans need to be revived in a hyper-competitive environment.
Make no mistake: pent-up demand for in-person meetings, new work environments and leisure travel will be a reality after omicron, and cities around the world will be fighting for their market share.
Worse still, Chicago is battered day after day by media coverage of our terrible violent crime problem, now notorious for infecting areas where tourists like to hang out. When companies consider moving here, they assess the impact of all of this on the talented employees they need to be able to attract and retain.
You can’t blame the city’s marketers or World Business Chicago for these issues, of course, and this relentless negative coverage is unfair to this city in so many ways, because many of these depressing trends are also true for peer cities across the country. Much of it is politically motivated, dating back to right-wing attacks on Rahm Emanuel, a longtime Democratic Party attack dog. But good marketers get paid to overcome those objections, to reshape the perception, to change the focus, and to make the best pitch possible. And Chicago has a fantastic case to make.
Years ago, Chicago attracted new businesses, residents and tourists with its beauty: our flowers, our festivals, our parks, our blue water and, of course, our spectacular cultural scene with celebrity chefs, world-class museums , burgeoning theater companies. We told how jazz and blues oozed from the pores of the city. We showed them and they ate it.
Now we are reduced to “Chicago, not Chicago”. Or, to put it more precisely, this negative represents how we have reduced ourselves.
This campaign is a general branding effort, but it should be noted that the Choose Chicago tourism agency remains without a permanent executive. If there was ever a time when that needed to change, it’s now. Mayor Lightfoot should make this a top priority, just as she should try to attract new business and talented people from all sides.
Right after sinking this slogan to the bottom of Lake Michigan.
See also: Albania is a hot contender for the world’s worst tourism slogan
See also: Every Country in the World Tourism Slogan, Mapped