Thoughts about the new ad campaign

The new campaign to increase tourism for Duluth had, I guess, a “soft open” this week, covered in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and on Fox 21.

According to Fox, “The new campaign is a partnership between the Duluth City Government, Visit Duluth, the DECC, the Twin Cities-based public relations firm Bellmont Partners and its South Dakota-based partner, Lawrence & Schiller.”

There’s been some chat about the ad on Facebook, complaining about the lack of localness. (For example, remove Enger Tower and the Aerial Lift Bridge, and it could be anywhere. Remove Enger and a lighthouse and replace the lift bridge with the bride over the St. Croix River and it could be an ad for Stillwater.)

There has also been some chat about the politics of representation in the ad. With one exception (an image of two women walking together early in the ad), every woman in the ad is either a companion to a man or a child). With small exception (an ethnically ambiguous person mid-video and a woman of color, I think?), the video is overwhelmingly white. White “men biking, hiking and working” (a quote from the Facebook discussion) with women and children at their side.

Finally, only one local business makes an appearance in the ad. There is some concern about whether this really represents Duluth.

I don’t have an opinion about that, generally (although the questions of racial and gender representation do give me an itch I hope the designers scratch in future ads). What I do think is that the advertisement isn’t supposed to reflect the reality of Duluth, anymore than an ad for a car is designed to reflect the reality of the assembly line or the dealership or even what’s under the hood.

An ad is about allowing the customer to see themselves with and through the product. In the end, the fact that the wilderness trail on which the runner runs could be in Duluth or just outside Stillwater doesn’t matter as much as whether ideal customers see themselves in the ad, running through the woods, having a good time, thinking that Duluth is where that good time could happen.

So, in that sense — if Love Creamery is the only small business named, that’s almost irrelevant. What’s relevant is that a couple nearing retirement age see Love Creamery, and so Duluth, as a place to kindle or rekindle their love. In that sense, white “men biking, hiking and working” might be whom the marketing firm identified is the ideal customer.

That would have surprised me — I imagined that women were the ones who plan family vacations. (Forbes asks that we “Consider tourism and travel, where experts agree that women are fueling an explosive growth, making 80% of decisions and expected to spend more than $125 billion this year.” Maybe I don’t understand the relationship between “seeing myself in an ad” and “seeing my family in an ad” when it comes to persuading the women who make these decisions about family vacations — I want to imagine my male partner running, and my children on a rock by the water, so I plan a trip to Duluth?

I do think, if the makers of this ad are smart, they will look deeper into what is available in Duluth and into who might want to visit. A great place to start is this very website.



about 2 years ago

Slick as an airline brochure.


about 2 years ago

The problem with using an outside ad agency isn’t so much that they don’t know which places in Duluth to promote, but that they don’t understand what has consistently worked to get people to come to Duluth. People don’t visit Duluth because they are interested in any particular destination or experience. They go to Duluth because someone they recognize from television has told them to go to Duluth. The evidence for this has come up repeatedly in different Perfect Duluth Day posts.

When thinking of current known television personalities with Duluth connections who could be both funny and sell the city in 30 seconds, the answer is obvious: the entire ad budget should be directed towards hiring Duluth’s own Maria Bamford to do all future ads. If she says no, the Telly Savalas ad should come back. The YouTube video, posted 30 years after the commercial first ran, has over 100,000 views. I’m not sure any sort of 30-second sightseeing montage will ever top that.

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