Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

A Cleveland Anthem

I heard a while back that Cleveland’s new marketing slogan was going to be “This Is Cleveland.” I was not exactly inspired by this (“Hello, Cleveland!”?). But Matt Wootton sent me this first video in the campaign, and I’d have to say it’s a step in the right direction.

What’s more, remember last week how I mentioned that Richey Piiparinen had been put in charge of a research group at Cleveland State to develop his talent strategy? This is another big example of official Cleveland signing on to the Rust Belt Chic program. This is in effect the branding team translating this 2012 Rust Wire post by Richey into a video. Take a look.

Update 3/31/14: Well, I guess a step forward was still a step too far. The original video has already been yanked and replaced with the one below that seems at my watch and that of commenter John Morris to be tweaked back towards the “ordinary” side of the spectrum. Still an advance, just less far than before. I guess that shows how far Cleveland has to go.

If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.

It’s not perfect. There’s too many standard issue “me too” items. Not that I think they are bad or inappropriate, just a bit jarring when the video itself proclaims that “we never followed their rules” and that in Cleveland “we made our own.” I saw some rules being followed in there. But apart from the tag line dissonance, I thought the mix was actually good and this represents progress on the marketing front for Cleveland. It will be interesting to see how far Cleveland is willing to take this new direction.

Topics: Civic Branding, Urban Culture
Cities: Cleveland

31 Responses to “A Cleveland Anthem”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Positively Cleveland, the tourism/convention bureau that produced this seems to have picked up a few Rust Belt chic ideas in their focus groups, but they haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. The text is sort of outisder/defiant, but the images are almost all pop. Pro sports? Chain restaurants? Chain hotels? Yes Rock n Roll has always had a cutting edge, but what demonstrates Cleveland’s role in that? Beachland yes, Rock Hall, no. Its a Hall of *Fame*. You can’t be non-mainstream and famous. But the sports teams, hotels, restaurants, Rock Hall are paying for the production, so how could they not be featured?

    There is irony in saying Cleveland was “never mainstream.” Cleveland practically defined the mainstream from around 1890 to the 1970s. Characteristics of the South or New England were notable because they differed from life in the Midwest. The Midwest was the norm, with Cleveland among the most “normal” locales. There is additional irony in using the tag line “never conventional” to attract conventions.

    Now, after 30-40 years of deindustrialization, we are outside the mainstream. We are not trendy, just because trend setters make more money with their innovations elsewhere.

    I think Rust Belt chic has been generating trend setters (even before it became self aware), and I expect this to accelerate. More of these need to be featured in the promo. I’m guessing the mountain bike course in the converted factory is rare, if not a Cleveland exclusive. Crew races next to the ore freighters are probably rare. We now have a hand full of companies producing goods with reclaimed material from our deconstructed houses.

    Living in the Rust Belt means that one has to endure an essentially endless stream of insults, and the video touches on that. The “we weren’t listening” line is an important first step for people living here. We have to stop letting outsiders add to our self loathing. But this needs a next step for the visitor. “We weren’t listening, so we were doing X differently, that is worth coming to see.”

    And the “pressure makes diamonds” line? What is the pressure? Competition from China? Our poverty?

  2. Adam says:

    I don’t see this as significantly different than the St. Louis video that you trashed recently (which, by the way, wasn’t even produced by the city’s convention and tourism organization). Yet you praise this one. Is it because they played rock music instead of folk? Because they flashed some inspiring words? Based on that conversation, I thought every piece of media to come out of the Rust Belt was expected to apologize for crime and poverty in order to be considered “authentic”. Just St. Louis, it seems.

  3. Marty says:

    A bit of a misfire as it’s a tad too cool for room. It’s very stylish and will probably just end up being a reinforcement for the folks already in Cleveland or planning on a move to one of the neighborhoods.

  4. Matthew Hall says:

    At least it’s better than this: Everything is relative, my child.

  5. John Morris says:

    Wow, I really liked it. The problem I have is that a brand has to live up to its sales pitch.

    The video does a good job showing the gritty, earthy grass roots creativity of Cleveland. Would a city that really valued those things be killing off its music clubs and bars with sin taxes to support crony capitalist sports teams?

    Is Cleveland a town that rocks or the town that taxes rock?

  6. John Morris says:

    Case in point:

    “We want to put the spotlight on the threat that the admissions tax poses to local clubs and the musicians,” said Sean Watterson, owner of the West Side’s Happy Dog. “We want more venues to open. It allows creative musicians to play here instead of moving to New York or Nashville or Chicago or Los Angeles.”

    “Cleveland cracked down last year on small music clubs for failing to pay the 8 percent tax, which critics say is one of the nation’s highest. Club owners said the tax imperils grass-roots music in the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

    The Beachland, in the Collinwood neighborhood, faces a three-year tab totaling $400,000, more than half of it in penalties and interest.”

    The city is at a tipping point with a gritty, real and largely unexpected energy bubbling up from below and a teetering, corrupt, leech class of crony capitalists and corrupt politicos still at the top. Until people are willing to defend what’s great about the city, marketing can only go so far.

  7. John Morris says:


    Ooops, Cleveland’s City Council did actually eliminate the tax for clubs that hold 150 or less & cut the tax in half for those 150-750.

    Even so, the Cleveland mayor resents that and is trying to collect the back taxes from clubs like Beachland, one of the city’s biggest brands- even if it destroys the club and the entire community built around it. At the same time loser teams like the Browns bleed the taxpayers for cash.

    Where is Keith Moon when you need him?

  8. Carl Wohlt says:

    Props the folks in Cleveland who put this together. What I liked best were the images, and the images I liked best were those that were distinctly Cleveland (which were the large majority). My first impressions of the defiant text are mixed – I’ll have to look at the video again during the next few days. Visually, the typography was pretty cool, but the overall message feels defensive rather than confident. The music conveyed defiance much more effectively. Maybe that would have been enough. I’d like to see the video with just the images and music sans the graphic text.

  9. John Morris says:

    Defiant underdog is a big part of Cleveland’s authentic brand. Honestly, it’s working for Detroit.

    Problem is the whole city needs to live the brand. Freedom? Really?

  10. anonymous says:

    Just watched the video again with the sound off. Hmmm… if you see grit in this video, maybe its relative to the sparkly new gilded cities that are today’s model. Cleveland is ten times as gritty as depicted in this video. A lot of the grit is beautiful. Although, as a native and resident, I am bias. I wish a videographer with talent could capture some of it for you.

  11. John Morris says:

    “Just watched the video again with the sound off. Hmmm… if you see grit in this video, maybe its relative to the sparkly new gilded cities that are today’s model.”

    The music is an integral part of the video and it can’t be judged without it.

    It doesn’t try to do glam. Starts with black & white- doesn’t seem to try any kind of pretty skyline shot.

    Compare this video to the one Aaron posted of St Louis that tried to be clean and pretty in every shot.

    This is the perfect Anthony Bourdain crowd video, playing on the things the city is gaining a national reputation for.

  12. Adam says:

    Anybody who sees grit in this video is seeing what they want to see. Please, direct me to a moment of grit anywhere in the video. Give me a time stamp. With the exception of the text and the choice of music (i.e. gimmicks) this video and the St. Louis video do the exact same thing albeit with different tones. Give me any “scene” in this video and I’ll point you to an analogous scene in the St. Louis video. I’m certainly not not knocking Cleveland or this video (which I like) but the bias around here is absurd sometimes.

  13. Adam says:

    That should be “not knocking Cleveland” and not “not not knocking Cleveland”. The point being, of course, that I’m not knocking Cleveland.

  14. John Morris says:

    “With the exception of the text and the choice of music (i.e. gimmicks) this video and the St. Louis video do the exact same thing albeit with different tones.”

    You can’t extract out the text & music & have anything close to the same video.

    “Give me any “scene” in this video and I’ll point you to an analogous scene in the St. Louis video.”

    The big question is the relative role the different scenes play.

    Both have scenes at the a baseball game, but the St Louis video goes back over and over. No black and white in the St Louis video- constant sunshine & smiles. If it’s night, there are probably fireworks. Virtually no street scenes- and one hipster cafe/ art scene shown over and over.

    Scenes not shot at special events,museum, mega attractions & parks are rare. (You probably would rather be in a park) I don’t think the Cleveland video has one shot inside the Cleveland Museum.

    IMHO, The Cleveland video focuses more on food, street life, people & ethnic culture rather than things an occasional visitor might want to see. I would have liked that pushed a bit further- with more sausage.

  15. Adam, I didn’t “trash” the St. Louis video. In fact, I actually like it for the most part. My problem was only with embracing that video, which shows only positive images of St. Louis, while castigating the Salvage City people for showing another side of the city that is also a legitimate part of its narrative.

  16. George Mattei says:

    Hey Matt Hall, I like those videos! Pretty funny! Someone had a good sense of humor.

    I thought for a minute that the song in the real video was by the Black Keys. Would have been nice, a (nearly) local national act (from Akron). Still, overall well made. I do agree though that they could have used more authentic pictures.

  17. Josh Lapp says:

    I like the new ad, much better than most of the other official ads. But the faux-ad that Matt posted brings up another point:

    12 Million people have watched the “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video” Part 1 & 2. Thirty Thousand have watched the newest official ad. I think they should pay that guy to make their videos.

  18. John Morris says:

    If you go out of your way to make your city a laughing stock with corruption, crony capitalism, loser “investments” and false advertising you can get smart, talented people to insult your city for free!

    The good news is that the first hastily made video dates to 2008, and a lot of positive stuff has happened since. In spite of the crony elites.

  19. John Morris says:

    Ooops. Says it was uploaded in April of 2009- still a long time ago.

  20. Rick Smith says:

    George Mattei, I thought it was an unheard Black Keys song too. Turns out it is a local Cleveland Band, Welshy Arms. I tried to find them on Pandora but no luck.

    I tend to agree the only impact this will likely have is it will give Clevelander’s a warm fuzzy!

  21. Adam says:

    Aaron, the Salvage City people were not HONESTLY portraying that other side of the city. Aside from the untrue claims of pillaging for the sake of drama (they had permission to enter all those buildings) they also misrepresented parts of the city as dangerous that are not, and claimed that buildings currently undergoing multi-million dollar renovations were slated for demolition. Again, nobody has a problem with HONEST representation of the other side. I gave a few examples in that comment section.

    Here is what you said about the St. Louis video:

    “Want to see a real myth? Check out “Here Is St. Louis.”

    I fail to see how the Cleveland video is any less mythological. Where are the homeless people? Where are the abandoned neighborhoods? Where’s the crime? Yes, it’s clear they’re targeting a particular demographic, whereas the St. Louis video (which, AGAIN, wasn’t produced to be a commercial in the first place) isn’t “targeting” anyone specifically.

    I also think it’s funny that John thinks the videos are totally different because, you know, black and white and slogans, even though they’re shot-for-shot the same thing. (Okay, I’ll give you the slogans but, ONCE AGAIN, the St. Louis video was not intended to be a commercial.) Yes, the tone is different. The content is not. And, John, if you missed the food in the St. Louis video you may want to watch it again.

  22. John Morris says:

    Obviously, the question is of emphasis. The food shows up late in the video and most of the shots seem to be of the same outdoor market or very sanitized looking tourist type restaurants (A planned development near the ball park?)

    The overall impression one gets is the SL video is hiding something. Why not show the streets more? Why such a focus on the standard tourist destinations? Is it always sunny? Is every old building a spiffed up gem? (The video does say it’s the summer edition)Why so much focus on big “events”? Is it dead or dangerous at other times?

    Almost everything in the video would be an OK place for a 10 year old on a safe family trip from the suburbs. (Similar to the Chicago 1949, film that focused on golf, parks & safe white middle class pastimes.)

    The Cleveland video at least gives me some of the feeling I got in neighborhoods like Ohio City. A little taste of what things might be like on a a more average day & what some of the people might be like.

    IMHO, this is far more about the video makers POV here than the city itself. St Louis seems to have made some decent progress with its downtown & neighborhoods but the video doesn’t seem to show it off well.

    This video marks a little progress for Cleveland. My guess is if it was made 5 years earlier, it would be closer to a checklist of museum, museum, park, symphony, stadium, stadium & tourist trap. The music & text add a real quality that acknowledges things ain’t perfect or right for everyone.

  23. John Morris says:

    I mean, stadium, stadium, stadium & tourist trap.

  24. Adam says:

    “The food shows up late in the video and most of the shots seem to be of the same outdoor market or very sanitized looking tourist type restaurants (A planned development near the ball park?)”

    That’s an interesting but demonstrably incorrect perspective. Below you’ll find a list of all the food/restaurant shots in the video. Not a single one of them is “a planned development near the ballpark.”

    Soulard Farmers Market at 00:19
    Worlds Fair Donuts at 00:27
    Sump Coffe at 00:39.
    Gelateria Del Leone at 00:43.
    Mud House Coffee at 00:50.
    Gooey Butter Cake at 00:51.
    St. Louis Style Pizza at 01:13.
    Liquor selection at Pi Pizza at 1:15.
    Fitz’s Soda + cheeseburger at 01:58.
    Farmer’s market at 02:01.
    La Vallesana Mexican at 02:04.
    Kakao chocolate at 02:07.
    Pint Size Bakery and Coffee at 02:12
    Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard at 02:28
    Kayak’s Coffe and Cafe at 02:30
    Ice Cream truck at 02:32
    Farmer’s market at 02:40.
    Schlafly Beer at 02:58.
    Bogart’s Smoke House at 03:02.
    360 Rooftop Lounge at 03:23

    “Why not show the streets more?”

    There are street shots at 00:42, 01:40, 02:32, 02:34, 03:06, and 03:25. What exactly is the appropriate number of street shots? Is it whatever number they used in the Cleveland video? Maybe Grain was trying to focus more on local businesses and attractions than random street scenes.

    “Why such a focus on the standard tourist destinations?”

    See above comment.

    “Is it always sunny?”

    See clouds at 02:25 and gray, rainy, gritty street scene at 02:34.

    “Is every old building a spiffed up gem?”

    I challenge you to point out a single scene in the Cleveland video that shows a building in need of maintenance.

    “Why so much focus on big “events”? Is it dead or dangerous at other times?”

    What “big events” are you talking about? The only thing in the video that could be considered a “big event” is the baseball game. Or maybe the two shots from the Chinese Lantern festival at the botanical garden. Do you consider Saturday shopping at the farmer’s market an “event”? Kids playing in the fountain? Buskers performing?

    I’ll reiterate. You’re seeing exactly what you want to see and dismissing the rest. It’s fine if you prefer the Cleveland video, but your preference is not objective.

  25. John Morris says:

    Wow, the video link is dead- and it seems like a new, “improved” version is up which- of course tilts more towards sporting events & major museums- and less on the organic grass roots feeling of the city.

    Still pretty good, but it looks like they will edit this until it’s just like the standard lame stuff.

  26. Hah! You’re right. What’s that they say, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up?

  27. John Morris says:

    This is what I expected. Cleveland seems have a major war brewing between the grass roots small business & DYI youth culture in places like Ohio City & the old institutional elites.

    If lots of people felt the city was headed in the right direction, they might not support the constant hand outs and land grabs.

    This video doesn’t seem to show one Food Truck.

  28. Gerhard E. says:

    There’s something really tasteless about city branding.

    Most of us have been ‘over’–and immune to–the pushy noisiness of advertising for some years. No, I don’t want to buy your half-price low-fat frozen pizza…and I don’t want to BUY or go rah-rah for your over-hyped, self-righteous city. As someone mentioned: rarely, if ever, does the city live up. But, that’s not even the point. Even if it did live up, this teenage boasting brings it down again. Or, it succeeds…in attracting zombies.

    These resources are better spent on actual qualitative improvements to the city/its services and communicating this to its citizens.

    Real men don’t brag. Neither do real cities.

  29. anonymous says:

    What dream world do you live in? I can’t count the times I’ve seen the loudest, most overconfident, obnoxious prick get the job, the credit, the promotion, the raise and the girl. In every school, company, club, team, I’ve ever been a part of. The next world belongs to the meek. This world is for the braggers.

    NY, LA, Chi brag 24-7. Just turn on a TV. “Coming to you from the greatest city in the world….”

  30. anonymous says:

    What dream world do you live in? I can’t count the times I’ve seen the loudest, most overconfident, obnoxious prick get the job, the credit, the promotion, the raise and the girl. In every class, school, company, club, team, I’ve ever been a part of. The next world belongs to the meek. This world is for the braggers.

    NY, LA, Chi brag 24-7. Just turn on a TV. “Coming to you from the greatest city in the world….”

  31. paula says:

    i really liked the music and the grittier segments – i do think the overly stylized photos/segments and those cut against the grain of the overall message of cleveland going it’s own way, and not working hard to be something it’s not. (one example is the “we’re a world class city too” part – ugh that sounds more like whining than like being proud of who we are.)

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