Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Mike Doyle: Meet Me In St. Louis, Not Milwaukee

Recently, two other fine Midwestern cities, St. Louis, MO, and Milwaukee, WI, launched tourism campaigns aimed at attracting Chicago visitors. Raging urbanist that I am, I love spending time in nearby metropoli, and have a particular fondness for our sister city to the north. It’s the Windy City’s smaller, quieter, less-flashy Lake Michigan alternative–and that’s why Milwaukee’s current tourism campaign has me wondering whether the city’s overselling itself in a potentially damaging way.

This summer, the Brew City’s ads are posted on Chicago ‘L’ trains and buses with powerful headlines claiming things like, “If I had a week, I’d spend it in Milwaukee.” Follow up those ads with a browse of the VisitMilwaukee website and you get more hubris-induced marketing messages claiming the city sits “At the Intersection of Water and Fun“–not to mention celebration, success, and value, too.

Considering that most Chicagoans have likely been to Milwaukee before–and, not for nothing, live in Chicago, already–you have to wonder why Milwaukee’s tourism board would think the ads would be effective here. I mean, I enjoy Bayview restaurants, the Art Museum, and the Domes as much as the next Windy Citizen. Send me to State Fair or Summerfest for a weekend and I’m all set.

But a week? Really? I have never met a Chicagoan willing to spend a week of valuable vacation time in Milwaukee and I probably never will. When we have that much time to get away, we tend to head for O’Hare and Midway airports to really get away–usually from the Midwest entirely, much less from just the Lake Michigan shoreline.

And call me a stuck-up Chicagoan, but those “At the Intersection of Water and…” tourism messages sure sound a lot like Chicago, to me. (Well, except maybe “value.”) Reading them on the VisitMilwaukee website, I couldn’t help thinking how generic and misplaced they were.

VisitMilwaukee sure doesn’t sound like it knows who Milwaukee is, what its values are, or where it wants to be. You can’t tell potential visitors–especially potential visitors from a world city like Chicago–that your town’s worth a week of their time, and then support your grandiose claim with a series of generic marketing messages that could have just as easily been written about any other Great Lakes city. If there’s anything unique or special communicated about Milwaukee in these tourism ads, I don’t see it. And as a result, even as someone who likes the place, they don’t particularly make we want to visit it.


I am dying to visit St. Louis, however. Unlike Milwaukee, I’ve never been there, but I’ve been curious about the city since moving to Chicago in 2003. I always say I want to visit, I just never seem to get around to it. Imagine my surprise to discover that hiding behind the KidnappedChicagoan ads festooning CTA transit vehicles (and at least at the moment, positively peppering the Adams/Wabash ‘L’ station) was a cleverly covert tourism campaign for St. Louis.

You don’t know that when you see the ads. They don’t tell you anything except that an average Chicagoan has been stolen away to an interesting place–that it’s not far away, he’s not angry at being kidnapped there, and you’d want to be him if only you could figure out where he’s been taken. Holy Interactive Interest Raiser, Batman!

Every time I saw these ads I thought, “Dammit, I keep meaning to go to that website!” When I finally did, I was greeted by a curiously familiar map with clickable push pins, and an invitation to click through to try and figure out my kidnapped compatriot’s current location. Mousing over each push-pin opened a photo and capsule summary about an interesting tourist destination–a museum, or historic site. Or an arch, for that matter.

I chuckled when I saw the message that sat below the map:

“Okay, so you’ve figured out which city—St. Louis. Der. But admit it. You were a little surprised by all the stuff there is to do in the Gateway City.”

You know what? I was. And without the help of an overblown, generically empty ad campaign, either. Unlike Milwaukee’s currently hard-to-believe tourism claims, the soft-shoed Explore St. Louis approach sends potential visitors on an Internet adventure to learn the city’s glories for themselves. Did I mention the Foursquare badges for checking in at locations he’s visited? (Earlier this week I sang the praises of Chicago’s own Foursquare-based tourism campaign.)

By mischievously whetting their whistle for adventure and then letting them learn about the city from their own task-oriented click-throughs, Explore St. Louis’s Kidnapped Chicagoan campaign gets potential visitors to arrive at the conclusion that the city is an interesting place on their own. (While I’m at it, feel free to check out the ongoing CityToRiver campaign to rebuild the urban fabric of the St. Louis waterfront.)

And in my book, letting the wonders of your city speak for themselves beats unstrategically overselling it any day.

Mike Doyle is a communications strategist and scribe of the CHICAGO CARLESS blog. A native of New York, he fell in love with Chicago and moved there for life in 2003. But he still has no plans to learn to drive a car.

This post originally appeared in CHICAGO CARLESS. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Topics: Civic Branding, Economic Development
Cities: Milwaukee, St. Louis

32 Responses to “Mike Doyle: Meet Me In St. Louis, Not Milwaukee”

  1. Dave says:

    Obviously being a “Raging Urbanist” has nothing to do with any sense of journalistic integrity or even an adequate ability to form paragraphs. Mike, I suppose I can get past the fact that you’re a terrible writer, but if you’re going to critique something, you should probably be able to at least quote it correctly.

    “…headlines claiming things like, ‘If I had a week, I’d spend it in Milwaukee.'”

    What the board actually reads is “If Ferris had the whole week off, he’d come to Milwaukee”. This is obviously a playful reference to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off which took place in Chicago. I’m not sure how to explain your ability to turn that into “If I had a week, I’d spend it in Milwaukee.” other than you being a horribly sub-par blogger that lacks even the simplest cognitive abilities who enjoys the act of spewing ignorant critiques of an industry that you have nothing to do with nor any valid opinions to contribute to.

    Not only did you regurgitate a horribly inaccurate misquote, but you wasted everyone’s time spending the next 4 paragraphs focusing on how absurd it is to expect Chicagoans to spend an entire week in Milwaukee. If you took two minutes to correctly read the board that you saw and look into other additions to this campaign, you’d notice that everything is light hearted with a hint of playful city rivalry.

    Here’s your next bit of genius:
    ” I mean, I enjoy Bayview restaurants, the Art Museum, and the Domes as much as the next Windy Citizen. Send me to State Fair or Summerfest for a weekend and I’m all set.”

    Guess what, Columbo? The whole campaign is focused on Milwaukee’s highlights while having weekly updated copy that focuses on Milwaukee’s ever changing festival schedule. This campaign is accompanied by a comprehensive and city wide text-to-win and festival info program (with rail cards in every major bus line and “L” train route) that gives away weekly festival tickets and free weekend hotel stays at various Milwaukee locations.

    Here’s your last bit of wonderment from today:
    “I’m even prouder to note this post today appears as a guest post on national urban-affairs blog, Urbanophile, published by Aaron Renn”

    Proud? Are you kidding me? You should be embarrassed from your unbelievable ineptitude as a writer. This brings me to Mr. Renn. I assuming this “review” came across your desk via Google Alerts because this literary wizard quoted you in his article. You saw your name, mention of a few cities and then slapped it up on this embarrassing conveyor belt of urban related entries. If you are the “opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century” that you claim to be, perhaps you should fact check the worthless ramblings that you repost that hold the potential of damaging a city’s tourism industry before you post them. Both of you should take a second to think about the ramifications of this kind of garbage reporting and reviewing. Thanks for contributing nothing but pitiful ignorance and damaging, moronic ramblings during a time of economic despair. You’re doing a bang up job of accomplishing your “mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century”.


  2. John Morris says:

    I guess I’m lazy but I would have liked a few examples of the Milwaukee campaign or easier to find links.

    I haven’t clicked around on the St Louis stuff yet but I think I like the idea a lot.

    Dave, your response seems more than over the top. It’s one person’s opinion and hardly likely to damage the city of Milwaukee.

    One further point, that’s worth a post is internet marketing in general.

    Honestly, I actually think one of it’s biggest advantages is the ability to distort time and space. Online, geograpghy is hard to judge. Look at a map of Pittsburgh, with no knowledge of the hills and good luck having an idea what it’s how easy or difficult it might be to see things.

    You can lie like crazy online. Look at people who believe the walk score site which tells you things across a river with no bridge or across a highway with no sidewalks are close.

  3. Sonja says:

    I love both of the above comments. Dave, I also write emails and comments in that tone. Let’s at least be pen pals if not get married. John, you’re right on w st louis, there are miles and miles of unpleasant walks in stl.
    Mike, if you really do come visit, please do not hesitate to email me Sonja dot Trauss at gmail dot com. I’ve only been here for a year, but I’m metro-spective. The best way to get to stl from Chicago is to take the 7 am Amtrak, it’s like $20. Also I don’t drive either, you’ll get the p.t.p.o.v.

  4. John Morris says:

    I still haven’t found exact examples of the Milwaukee ads the post refers to. I know it might be a bit of work to create a full context here, but I think the writer should have done that.

    The St. Louis campaign might be the single best concept for social media driven advertising I have seen.

    Suppose the map site allowed individuals to list all the great local things they think are special or at least allowed non profit arts organizations and others to do that.

    One could easily extend that and have this “kidnap victim” be seen around town with special discounts and prizes for spotting him.

    Right now at first spin it strikes one not how many but how few things seem to be on the map but i will get back and click around later.

  5. Matthew Lenz says:

    Visiting Chicago made me feel guilty about how little I’ve actually explored St. Louis (moved here in ’97). I still haven’t gotten around to doing it but I sure as heck wanna visit Chicago again. St. Louis’ charms have little to do with the downtown other than a handful of attractions. It doesn’t help that the transit system in St. Louis just plain sucks :(

  6. Pete from Baltimore says:

    I cant speak for Milwaukee , but i once spent a week in Madison and enjoyed it more than i did Chicago[ which is saying a lot since i liked Chicago]. Since most of thier industry is gone im not surprised that Milwaukee is trying to get tourist dollars. It may not work. But i cant blame them for trying.

    Maybe its me , but im guessing what Milwaukee is really aiming for is to attract people from Chicago who want to leave town for a 2-4 day weekend. I dont see why they wouldnt attract some people from Chicago.

  7. Mike Doyle says:

    Dave: You recidivist you. Thanks for your comment, here and under the original blog post on Chicago Carless. Actually, I think you’re wrong. The Milwaukee campaign is heavy handed and overblown. And if there’s an ounce of humor in it anywhere, then Milwaukeeans must have really poor senses of humor. Which they don’t, so all I can figure is someone in the local tourist office actually believes what this campaign is all about. I don’t. By the way, I’m an excellent writer. :-)

    John: I perceive that to be another failing of the Milwaukee campaign. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any online examples of Milwaukee’s ads in Chicago. It’s as if they exist in a vacuum here. Also, you’re right, not only won’t my opinion sway the tourism fortunes of Milwaukee, but remember, I happen like the place, too. I just don’t think this campaign will sway anyone either.

    Pete: I think Milwaukee is serious about attracting Chicagoans for a week. If not, why run and ad saying so in the first place? If the idea is that maybe an ad like that will plant the message in a potential Chicago visitor’s head to at least come for a few days, given this campaign I really can’t ascribe that kind of strategic thinking to VisitMilwaukee.

  8. John Morris says:

    Actually, Milwaukee works as a Chicago day trip too, I think in a pinch just like Philly does from NY only a bit better.

    My guess is that this was a general campaign running in multiple places. If it runs in Madison, or Minneapolis the city on a lake thing is a great spin.

    By the way, I have heard good things about Milwaukee and want to go.

  9. Mike Doyle says:

    John, Milwaukee is a great day or weekend trip from Chicago. Not in a pinch, either. Same for Philly relative to New York (I can tell you that being former New Yorker.)

    The Milwaukee ad campaign my have greater resonance in other Midwestern cities. But remember, Madison residents are as familiar with the pluses and minuses of Milwaukee as Chicagoans are and live smack between two recreational lakes of their own, and Twin Cities residents think as highly or their city as Chicagoans do. So even in the wider Great Lakes/Upper Midwest region, I’m still not feeling this campaign.

  10. JG says:

    Chicago may be a big and close enough market to deserve a modified and targeted marketing message. On the other hand, it may be a lost cause and no amount of money spent in advertising would convince a significant number of people to make the trip who would not otherwise.

  11. John Morris says:

    Philly is a good day trip from NYC, if you live in or very close to central Manhattan and are going to central Philly.

    As a long time resident of Forest Hills, I found it too much of a schlep for a day.

  12. John Morris says:

    I’m not sure about the lost cause.

    Philly has managed through marketing to pull in lots of New Yorkers for the must see museum shows just for day trips. Years ago that was not common at all.

  13. Matt says:

    Dave, you need some thicker skin buddy. Its called constructive criticism, and its one persons opinion. Because you may disagree dose not by default make someone “inept”.

    FWIW, Ive seen St Louis’ ads all over the L, although I didnt know that was what they were until just now. I also agree with the point that most Midwesterner’s dont want to spend a week vacation in the Midwest. Some might, and it may be more enticing in a down economy. But when I think Milwaukee I think at most a 2-3 day weekend trip. And an ad campaign isnt going to change that perception for me.

  14. west town ed says:

    My opinion: there are only a few cities in the world that I would want to spend a week (or more). The two at the top of my list are Paris in May and Sydney in January.
    New York: five days tops — not because you run out of interesting things to do and see but because that’s about the maximum one’s nervous system can handle. (Which may explain why the first thing New Yorkers do when they have enough money is find a weekend retreat.) San Francisco? About the same as Los Angeles? 3 days tops — for the former how much preciousness can you take? The latter, fine if you want to spend one day out of three driving from one good point to another.
    As an often-times host in Chicago, I can offer my guests (depending on their interests, of course) the best of the city in three days or maybe two.

  15. Rod Stevens says:

    Completely agree with this post. I’m from the West Coast and have been to Chicago many times on business and always look forward to going back. There’s always more to explore, and places downtown to see.

    I once made two trips of two days to Milwaukee, when I was working on the turn-around plan for the failed Grand Arcade there, a formula Rouse project gone bad. The German area near the convention center was a bore- too many parking lots where good buildings once stood. The neighborhoods were intriguing, but this was 12 years ago, and the informal message I got was “don’t go there.” So it would take convincing to get me back, even for two days.

    St. Louis- that’s another story. My niece is doing Teach for America there, and has horror stories about the schools, but is enjoying the city, and my brother says that the stock of old buildings is fun, there are great places to go and, perhaps most importantly in making me think about the plane tickets, the people are friendly. If I go somewhere to see the buildings and places, I don’t want the people to be stand-offish. I want to enjoy the community! And my sense is that St. Louis has a lot to offer. I don’t know what Milwaukee has to offer that I can’t get in Chicago. It has to make the case. St. Louis, however, has the Mississippi and all that goes with that.

  16. John Morris says:

    I think there are lots of low stress things to do in NY. Have you ever left Manhattan?

    It does help if you have money. NY is just so much better with money but if you have a place to stay, out of the main business districs but on a train line, the city can be cheap and low stress.

  17. John Morris says:

    Am I missing something on this map? There just isn’t much on there, no where near enough to attract me. Very little food, drink, neighborhoods.

    I love the format, but I’m afraid the bare bones map including mostly the big museum, zoo, park, amusement park attractions make it look there’s not much to offer at least in terms of quantity.

    I will poke around more.

  18. John Morris says:

    From what I know, a lot has changed in those 12 years.

    Milwaukee really came up on my radar screen when they had an art fair in a bowlng alley.


  19. Mike Doyle says:

    A day after the “Dave” comment was posted here and on my personal blog, Chicago Carless, without any other identifying information, I was tipped off that he might be a Visit Milwaukee insider. He is. I tracked down the IP address associated with his anonymous comment to the PR firm where he works, NOISE Inc.–the PR firm with the web account for Visit Milwaukee. I tracked down who he is exactly via LinkedIn. And as you might imagine, his employer wasn’t pleased when I let them know about his anonymous attack commenting in a discussion of the firm’s own work. See my detailed update on the matter on Chicago Carless:


  20. Sonja says:

    Jeez Mike, you’re a snitch.

    As annoying as bad arguers are, the best way to deal with them is to ignore them. Sometimes people that are vitriolic also happen to have good points. It is up to readers to decide whether they want to wade through the rhetoric to find the good points. Most people don’t feel like it, so they skip over the comment. Some people enjoy it. Either way, you are under no obligation to respond to posts you find insulting.

    Dave didn’t really do anything wrong, except maybe waste company time. If he had written that comment and signed it as an employee of Noise Inc, then that would have been a mistake. But he didn’t. The only way anybody knew he was a noise inc employee was through snooping. Dave signed his name, he didn’t sign his company name. He did that on purpose. We should be allowed to hang out on the internet and talk sh-t under our own names if we want to.

    You might have got this guy fired. All because he insulted you.

  21. Mike Doyle says:

    Sonja first of all, one comment is fine, unlike Dave you needn’t troll my blog as you did today to leave this comment in multiple places. I’ll leave you one of them. Not all three. But I’ll leave this comment in all three places instead of deleting your trolling.

    What Dave did is unethical by the standards of the PR industry, of which I am a part. I contacted NOISE Inc. because I don’t appreciate other PR professionals deciding they can play by their own rules instead of industry best practices. To do what Dave did is not only unfair within the industry, it’s also misleading to other commenters and a potential conflict of interest.

    He’s entitled to his opinion, just like you and me. But if you do something as stupid as to misrepresent yourself regarding one of your employer’s biggest clients and get caught doing it, it’s your own fault and you have no one to blame but yourself. If Dave gets fired (and I doubt he will), I won’t lose any sleep over it, I assure you.

  22. Mike Doyle says:

    (That is to say, I decided to leave all three comments of yours and respond to them.)

  23. JG says:

    Way to go MIKE. Being able to post critical comments makes blogs and the internet great, but more site administrators and should push back hard against those who are really just being assholes. The anonymous nature of the internet allows it to go uncheck too often.

  24. Sonja says:

    Dave didn’t misrepresent himself – he said his name was Dave. He didn’t represent himself as an employee of Noise Inc, because when he was writing, he wasn’t writing as an employee of noise inc., he was writing as Dave. In none of the above comments did any of the commenters indicate their employers, are they all also “misrepresenting themselves”?

    As far as Dave not meeting the standards of your industry, you didn’t know (for sure) he was in your industry until you investigated. Therefore, it’s not clear that you can justify the action taken based on his being in your industry before you knew he was in your industry. I understand you had a tip, so, maybe you can so justify.

    More importantly, if you hadn’t announced who Dave worked for, he effectively would not have been in your industry. In the comments, true identity is self referential. Who’s Dave? He’s the guy that wrote that comment. Who wrote the comment? Dave. Besides information that is revealed in the comment, that is the beginning and end of the identity of Dave – until you outed him.

    I see you called me a troll, I’m not going to respond to it, because I have a general policy of ignoring name calling on the internet and in real life.

  25. Mike Doyle says:

    Sonja, now that you’re trolled my personal blog twice in one day, you’ve been banned as a spammer. Thanks for playing.

  26. Alon Levy says:

    Mike, the technical term for what you’re doing is “bullying.” Nobody misrepresented anything. As far as I can tell, everything Dave said was true. Maybe it wasn’t; if so, it’s your job to tell us why.

    Basically, the problem is that you’re asking the commenters to dismiss either you or Dave as an irredeemable asshole. And from what I’ve seen here, it’s not Dave.

  27. Mike Doyle says:

    Alon, thank you for your comment. Dave misrepresented himself by not identifying himself as a person working directly on the Visit Milwaukee contract, which as his employer let me know, he was. Had he done so–which he should have–he would never have written the things he did in the attacking way that he did. That, by the way, is bullying.

  28. JG says:

    Tell us more about bullying Alon.

  29. Sonja says:

    Don’t do it Alon, it’s a trap. If you maintain a position opposed to that of Mike Doyle, you’ll be banned.

  30. Alon Levy says:

    JG, didn’t you just complain about anonymity on the Internet?

    And Mike, people don’t have an obligation to tell you everything about who they are. In Dave’s case, the comment was primarily factual, with some invective thrown in; this means that who Dave’s employer is is completely irrelevant. (This is unlike some other cases – for example, a commenter who engaged in repeated FUD, or spread malicious rumors about you.) But even if someone doesn’t meet your personal standards of ethics, a well-adjusted person would not respond by emailing their employer.

  31. Ok, I think we’ve all made our points on this. No further responses please.

  32. Mike says:

    I’ve lived in Milwaukee, Chicago, and now St. Louis. I do not work for any firm that promotes any of the three. I’m confused about something in the original post. How is it bad that Milwaukee touts its highlights, but not bad that St. Louis does the same, albeit in a different manner? Is it only because the St. Louis ads were done in a “mysterious,” connect-the-dots manner? Because, to be honest, I don’t think St. Louis offers anything more than Milwaukee, and neither offers the amount of options as Chicago. The author implies that he only thinks St. Louis has a better ad campaign because he hasn’t done all the things St. Louis offers, but has done the things Milwaukee offers.

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