Giving cities a bad name: The most craptastic urban rebranding efforts ever
When we asked readers and friends on Facebook and Twitter to help us find the goofiest city slogans, nicknames, and rebranding campaigns ever, we had no idea what we were getting into. Really. Turns out this country is CHOCK FULL of marketing consultants who don’t have the foggiest clue what they’re doing — and cities love to hire these people!
It’s no wonder Americans have been high-tailing it for the ’burbs for decades: Cities seem to never fail to find fresh ways to look like doofuses.
But in this regard, as in others, all cities are not created equal. When he heard about our quest for crappy slogans, Aaron Naparstek responded simply, “You’ll find what you’re looking for in Cleveland.” And so to Cleveland we went.
There’s this winner, shared by John Tolva: “You’ve got Cleveland. What more do you need?” Hmmm. There is a certain risk to asking questions like that. You might end up eating your words later, when you decide that, in fact, Cleveland isn’t enough all by itself, and what you really need is ClevelandPlus!
Besides, what more does Cleveland need, when it has Cleveland Rocks!
(And just ‘cause we can’t resist ribbing Cleveland just a little more, here’s a great piece from the Scene called, “Why Does Every Cleveland Sports Slogan Have to Be So Jesus-y?”)
But listen. We’re not just here to bust on the Mistake on the Lake. You’ll recall that the story that inspired all this was about how utterly and grittily cool Cleveland is. No, America’s North Coast has no monopoly on milquetoast marketing campaigns. Consider this finger-snappin’ jingle from our friends in Buffalo, N.Y., care of reader Ross Hammond. Be warned, though — this video runs for more than FOUR MINUTES! (Note: The jingle did not originally run with this video. See the correction below.)
Gaaaaaah! Make it stop!
Baltimore, too, seems to be a tad tone deaf when it comes to singing its self-praises. Anne Chenot reminded us that it was briefly “The City that Reads,” which locals quickly remixed to read, “the city that breeds” (a reference to its high teen pregnancy rates) and “the city that bleeds” (see: The Wire). Also known as Mobtown and Charm City, Baltimore later coined the slogan “BELIEVE,” which also spawned many a spin-off. My personal favorite: “PRETEND.”
And the list goes from there. The branding maestros at Great Destinations compiled a list of the top 50 U.S. city slogans, ranging from the businesslike (Havre, Mont.: “Get ‘er Done”) to the bizarre (Prairie du Chien, Wis.: “Where the Bald Eagle Soars and the Carp Drops.” Wha?) Their favorite: Las Vegas’ “Whatever happens here, stays here.” All right, but we’ll take “Keep Austin Weird” any day. (And OK, Portland can stay weird, too.)
Great Destinations’ list of top city nicknames includes a few you’ve no doubt heard before: The Big Easy (New Orleans), Motor City (Detroit), Beantown (Boston), Tinseltown (Hollywood), La-La Land (L.A.), Berzerkely (give you one guess). You may not know, however, where to find the Home of Susie the Duck (Lodi, Wis.), the Goat Ropin’ Capital of the World (Gotebo, Okla.) or — whee! — the Drunk Driving Capital of America (Gallup, N.M.).
A handy dandy Google map of city slogans includes Hooker, Okla. — “It’s a location, not a vocation” (just to be clear), and this one, from Algona, Iowa: “Home of the world’s largest Cheeto.” Watch out, Great Ball of Twine, there’s a new kid in town.
A look through Wikipedia’s long list of city nicknames reveals that Texas has a shitload of state capitals, including a hippo capital (Hutto), a wild boar capital (Dickens), cheeseburger, sausage, and polka capitals (Friona, Eustis, and Fredericksburg, respectively), and the most #winning of all, Electra, the Lone Star State’s self-appointed pump jack capital. Corsicana, Texas, went for global domination when it deemed itself “Fruit Cake Capital of the World.”
And then there are the spoofs, like the “Regina: It Rhymes With Vagina!” tourism campaign. “Yes, I’m aware that our city’s name is pronounced almost exactly like lady-junk,” one local resident told the Smew. “Once you know that, how could you not want to come here?” Thanks for sharing that one, Sherri Ingrey.
Our favorite homegrown slogan comes from Fruita, Colo., via reader John DeCock. Printed on bumper stickers by a merry band of local pranksters, the town’s unofficial marketing slogan is “WTF.” Short for “Welcome to Fruita,” of course.
But the winner, the Top Banana, the Great Cake-taker of the bunch? Without a doubt, it’s Flora, Ill. The town — and for all we can tell this actually happened — launched a campaign in 1987 under the banner, “All We Want’s A Prison.” It came with a music video featuring many of the town fathers, sent to us by reader Michael Thompson.
It’s so wrong. In so many ways.
But you know, if what you’re gunning for in a city slogan is authenticity, maybe Flora was onto something. They strutted their stuff, showed their true colors, and didn’t get a prison. Something tells us they didn’t win many friends, either. No doubt real estate is cheap in Flora, if anyone is interested.
CORRECTION: You’ll be shocked to learn this, but we apparently stepped on a few toes with this story. Chris Elisara, a producer with First + Main Media in Buffalo wrote to tell us that “Greg Hanscom has been badly punk’d”! The Buffalo video, which we had originally taken at face value, is actually a contemporary promotional spot with Buffalo’s 1980s jingle dubbed over it. The video, with its original voiceover and symphonic soundtrack, is here. Elisara also pointed us to this video, which apparently won Gold Addy awards in 2010. (Hey, who are we to judge?) Go Buffalo! Still talkin’ proud!
Also, reader Kevin Leeson wrote to tell us that the people who created the “You’ve got Cleveland. What more do you need?” poster are not the same folks who dreamed up ClevelandPlus. Fair enough. For some, Cleveland isn’t enough; for others, it’s almost too much.
And on one final note, we realized after publishing this that we had somehow COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN to mock Grist’s own hometown for its bombshell of a city slogan, “Metronatural.” A play on “metrosexual,” apparently. Happily, it has reportedly died of natural causes.