‘Chicago Not in Chicago,’ the city’s latest tourism campaign, is a dud

The campaign advertises our city by showing others. It’s a wrongheaded approach that will accomplish very little — if anything at all.

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The city plans to reopen the downtown area June 3, 2020.

Chicago’s famed skyline, lakefront or much of anything else are the focus of the city’s latest tourism campaign.

File photo

It’s understandable why the mayor’s office and tourism gurus sought to refresh Chicago’s global image with a new marketing campaign and tagline released a week ago.

But the city’s new effort to promote tourism and its baffling slogan — “Chicago Not in Chicago” — misses the mark as badly as that failed Cody Parkey field goal attempt that helped the Bears lose in the 2018 NFC playoffs.

The big idea behind the “Chicago Not in Chicago” theme is to promote the city by showcasing New York — and later other cities around the world — with places and spaces that were designed or influenced by Chicagoans.

The mayor and the city’s tourism bosses say the campaign is designed to remind people of Chicago’s global influence and importance, and that no matter where you live, you’re impacted by what was created and perfected here.

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“Many of the most iconic New York buildings were built by Chicago architecture firms, like the Flatiron Building and One World Tower,” said Chicago’s Chief Marketing Officer Michael Fassnacht, who is also president and CEO of World Business Chicago. “Also, New Yorkers always have a cup of coffee in their hands, thanks to Chicago where the coffeemaker was created in 1930.”

It certainly makes sense to let people know our city is no longer the stacker of wheat or maker of tools that poet Carl Sandburg once said it was. Nor is Chicago the nation’s crime and violence capital that many people today think it is.

But the video accompanying the new campaign doesn't provide a new look at our city — but of New York City, of all places.

The campaign is the work of ad firm EnergyBBDO. We’d say ask for a refund, but they did it pro bono. At any rate, it’s a wrongheaded campaign that will accomplish very little, if anything at all.

A lackluster attempt

The campaign will include national magazine and newspaper advertising, and videos showing Chicago’s influence in other cities, including São Paulo, Brazil; London, Tokyo and Berlin.

“We were the first city to ever have a skyscraper, we’re home to house and blues music, and even the first cell phone was created here,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement last week announcing the endeavor. “This campaign will share our story of ingenuity that has inspired so many across the globe and reaffirm our place as one of the greatest cities in the world.”

In reality, it comes across as a lackluster attempt to masquerade random Chicago facts and trivia as a tourism campaign.

A better move would have been one that placed the potential tourist right in the middle of the city’s theater and dining scenes, and its festivals and outdoor music scene.

Chicago knows how to do this. A previous campaign, Imagine Chicago, hits all these buttons. The new one could have done that, and more.

And please show our city — not someone else’s. A early 2000s tourism spot for Tel Aviv, for instance, showcases the city nicely and ends with the welcoming tag, “There’s a little bit of Israel in all of us.”

A 2017 tourism spot for New Orleans, arguably the most culturally influential city in America, debuted nationally on Monday Night Football.

The commercial’s makers don’t lay claim to the jazz places or Creole restaurants that might be in another city, but makes it plain that to get authentic New Orleans requires actually coming there.

To push this message, the Big Easy just shows and talks about itself. That’s what the Chicago campaign, wrongly, avoids doing so far.

The goal of a tourism campaign is to compel people to visit Chicago. This one seems more likely to have people stay home and hoist a stein to whatever Chicago presence is in their city.

A $16 billion industry

Fretting over Chicago’s tourism effort might seem like small potatoes, given the city’s troubles.

But tourism is a $16 billion industry — or it was before the pandemic, at least. That kind of money puts bread on a lot of tables in this town.

That means those in charge of it have a duty to get it right.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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