The Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association created this parody video of the Chicago Bears “Superbowl Shuffle” to market the city to meeting and event planers. (If the video doesn’t display, click here). It was posted to You Tube though, and ended up provoking a firestorm of reaction locally, as people piled on saying how it was so cheesy and lame that it embarrassed the city. This meme went mini-viral, even earning some national attention, as in this particularly brutal Deadspin post.
Is the video cheesy? Yes. Then again, so was the original Bears video, of which there are tons of similar parodies out there. Watching this, I can’t believe that it was ever anything other than what the ICVA says it was: a piece of industry marketing. The whole thing is about hotel rooms, for goodness sake. On that level, I don’t think it’s that much different from various other types of promotional gimmicks I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the ICVA erred in letting it get out “into the wild,” but I don’t see how anyone could really think this was intended as aimed directly at tourists.
But I think this brings up a couple salient points of relevance to smaller cities. First, this is part of an increasing trend of people in Indy taking extreme exception to what they believe as second rate stuff. I started noticing this a few years ago when the city first proposed an extremely bland generic design for a new convention anchor hotel, and it continues to get stronger ever day, as things like this and the chorus of dissent over the dubious proposal to rename Georgia St show.
I think this is extremely healthy. Like too many cities, Indy has long lacked a strong culture of self-critique. And as is especially true in the Midwest, there’s been an acceptance of mediocrity that wouldn’t be tolerated in other parts of the country. But increasingly locals are saying no more and are aggressively stepping up to demand better for their city. This ability to self-criticize and to have a robust, engaged citizenry that demands excellence can only be a good thing.
Secondly, cities like Indy want to be taken seriously on the national stage. Well, be careful what you wish for. Now you are in the fish bowl. You’ve finally got people to pay attention to you, now they are going to start making judgements. Things you could get away with when you were drifting in obscurity get called out when you try to play in the big leagues. So second tier cities like Indy really need to, as the ICVA might put it themselves, raise their game and get a lot sharper in the face they put forward. All cities cities need to realize that to play at a higher level, they have to bring a new standard to the table in everything that they do. Especially as they aren’t going to be getting any free passes from the folks who are already in the cool kids club.
Again, this isn’t just an Indy thing. It applies to all similar sized cities who want to move up to the next level. You’re playing in a whole new league and the game is a lot tougher than what you’re used to.
So while I think the criticism over the video itself is largely misplaced, I think the overall sentiment behind it is positive. And hopefully this does let the local powers that be know that there’s a new expectation level among their own citizens. People have started to take seriously all that talk about “world class city” and unsurprisingly they are expecting the city to deliver on it. And to operate at the place it wants to, the city has to bring a level of polish and sophistication to its marketing, design, etc. that it has never had to in the past. Because to the extent that you realize your ambition to have a place in a national civic conversation, you’re going to get scrutiny like you’ve never experienced in your life. Game on.