posted on September 15, 2010 11:24
By Joe Borgstrom, Director
Specialized Technical Assistance
& Revitalization Strategy Division
Michigan State Housing Development Authority
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said the title of this blog as advice to my five year old daughter. Usually its my response hearing her answer a question my wife or I have asked in one of her huffy, five-going-on-fifteen, timeout inducing tones. “I’ve already told you THAT,” or “FINE.” If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about.
However, today I’m advocating for we, as downtown professionals, adopt a little bit of that attitude. This week we had another successful Michigan Downtown Conference. It’s our annual event we do in partnership with a whole host of fantastic statewide partners where we bring in some great keynote speakers and have some awesome breakout sessions. On Monday, we had outspoken author James Howard Kunstler as our keynote. Prior to the organizing of this year’s conference I hadn’t heard of him. In the weeks leading up to the conference, I watched videos and listened to podcasts of him. He’s a very engaging speaker. He also frequently swears, even dropping a few dreaded F-bombs. Monday’s speech at our conference was no different, though no F-bombs were dropped. There’s something about the way he uses the language. He's not doing it to be out and out vulgar. With apologies to my urban planner friends, you don’t have to talk to an urban planner about urban planning very long before your eyes start to glaze over. When Kunstler swears, to me at least, he breaks the malaise that I start to get listening to planners. He keeps my attention, and by keeping my attention, his message gets through.
Now, I’m not advocating we downtown and Main Street professionals turn our public speeches into George Carlin impersonations. I’m saying that sometimes we need to do something different to get our point across or our communities’ message through.
The City of Zeeland, one of our Associate Level communities, went through a community branding exercise a few years ago. Their “Feel the Zeel!” campaign used guerilla tactics that would have made any big corporate brand manager jealous. Instead of doing the traditional press conference where the mayor pulls the sheet off of the new logo, they went about it in a whole different way. Mysterious volunteers, under cover of night (and secretly with permission,) tagged the new logo all over town one night. They soon released this video afterward on YouTube. Soon there was a buzz all over town about what the logo was, what it meant and people wondering who did it. Their town’s water tower was even tagged. When asked, the mayor replied with a “No Comment,” and quickly walked away further adding fuel to rumors. The buzz built and built until finally there was a community event where the plan was unmasked. The campaign was, and continues to be, wildly successful. Why? Not only was there a catchy slogan, but the way it was talked about broke through the noise.
What do you do, or what tricks have you seen to break through the malaise and noise?