Posted by Abe Sauer at brandchannel.com on January 14, 2011 05:30 PM
New billboards along I-95 in Philadelphia, Route 30 in New Jersey and on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, urge motorists to go to VisitPhilly.com to submit a "love letter" to Philly. One lucky participant's message will end up on a highway-side billboard (and maybe on an ad resume!)
The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) is jacking up the "love" part of "city of brotherly love" as a new part of the “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO" campaign. It's just the latest attempt to cultivate and foster both a sense of civic pride and communicate that Philadelphia is more than many outsiders might think. And as with most crowd-sourced campaigns, the journey, not the publicized goal, is the goal.
It's just the latest move from a municipal branding agency that demonstrates how a lot of creativity and a willingness to work outside the normal branding channels, can turn low-budget strategies into big awareness and real results.
Of course, while it is a fun reward to one participant, the final billboard is somewhat inconsequential to the objective of the "Love Philly" campaign. Encouraging participation in, and social network promotion of, a positive activity associated with Philadelphia is the real objective.
The idea is that users will go the the VisitPhilly.com site, create a billboard entry, and then that entry will be emailed back to the creator who can then share it on Facebook and/or Twitter, thus exponentially increasing the reach of the promotion.
The GPTMC has approach promoting the Philly brand in creative ways before. In 2007 it launched Uwishunu, a branding campaign that aimed to "reveal Philadelphia's unconventional and contemporary side and show off the city as a hip, urban destination that fosters the creative class." Central to the endeavor was the blog Uwishunu.com, which, we're impressed (and a little surpassed) to see is still going string with what looks to be a strong, and interactive, following. (Impressed because often those sorts of municipal branding projects are left to wither and die online after the campaign ends.)
And current Philadelphians aren't the manly target. Meryl Levitz, president and CEO, GPTMC, says, “We think the billboard contest is something both residents and visitors can have fun.”
GPTMC is optimistic about the overall reach of the campaign, with 400 entries already only one day after opening the contest. By Thurday, it was 1,000. One previous promotion netted 2,000 entries. With a total of three weeks to run, the GPTMC could expect more than that. Measuring the social network outreach element of the campaign will be the real challenge.
As with many long-term city branding endeavors, GPTMC is challenged with counteracting both large-scale public events and stereotypes. For example, the recent postponement of an NFL game in the city had some blaming Philadelphia, and not the NFL, for a "wussy" approach to bad weather.
A great example of how GPTMC has leveraged, instead of fled from, potentially rough publicity is how the agency seized the opportunity to leverage the cult TV comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
For the unaware, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is about five irredeemable Philadelphians whose self-centered lives revolve around substance abuse and amusing themselves at the misfortunes of others, including each other. Naturally, the show has a loyal following. What isn't so natural, for a branding agency anyway, is that GPTMC moved immediately to embrace the show. GPTMC created a site Visitphilly.com/sunny to spotlight the memorable locations visited by the characters. A GPTMC spokesperson told us, "We decided to give visitors the tools they need to explore the city just like The Gang," adding that visitors to the site "spend an average of 2.5 minutes on the page, more than twice the normal average for the site."
Then last June, GPTMC sponsored the press event and opening night for Mac’s Tavern, an establishment opened by stars of the show.
The GPTMC has to find creative ways to maximize its reach as the agnecy has just 42 staff members, including advertising, communications, web (visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com), cultural tourism (www.visitphilly.com/philly360), research, special projects (including its hotel program) and accounting, serving a greater Philly area of nearly six million.