A bad habit of a lot of city sprucing efforts is a tendency to deny who we are and have been.
Experts say the most important part of
an advertising campaign is to make sure your product delivers on its promises. And as our Chamber of Commerce cooks up a brand for this fair city, people are wondering if Tulsa can deliver on any promise except "Tulsa, how you like them highways?" or "Come to Tulsa, we've got a lot of trees!"
Regardless, the Chamber and Littlefield Inc. advertising firm think they've got it. The decided upon phrase to describe to these 183 square miles: "Comfortably cosmopolitan".
Hmm, this process would be a lot easier if everyone had just listened to me last month, and broken up our city into more manageable chunks. "Comfortably cosmopolitan" applies nicely to our Midtown area. No one can deny the quality of our existing local shops and restaurants, we can be quite urbane when we choose to be.
A nice house or apartment won't set you back to exceedingly far, and nearly every barkeep or store manager will remember you. And I like the contrast of the high falutin and the down home. We're not hayseeds, but we're not snobs either. Sounds good to me.
However, the only thing cosmopolitan about the southside is the name of a certain sub-par coffeeshop. Maybe we should have another grueling media crunch to come up with slogans for the parts of Tulsa this doesn't apply to; for the West and North Sides how about "ignominiously ignored" or "70 Years of Being Swept Under The Rug"? And South Tulsa, forgettably flaccid, massively mundane, boringly bourgeois?
A City, Not A Soda
Now, this "brand" is not supposed to be a catchphrase. It's supposed to "drive other marketing concepts". So, we probably won't be issuing new license plates anytime soon. We're just defining the product of our city, putting it in a can, packaging it for distribution. As my business professors might say, we're in the manufacturing phase of product management.
Correct me if I'm wrong, ya'll, when I look at a city and see an organic and growing entity, instead of an inert piece of merchandise. A city has a life, a personality, a history. Designing marketing campaigns for living beings is the stuff of daytime talk shows and reality television.
Extreme Makeovers and MTV's Wannabe. Tulsa is made up of human beings, not components. We can't be bought and sold.
Look at Austin, TX. According to their tourism bureau, their city is known as "The Live Music Capital of the World". But that slogan pales in recognizability compared to the immortal words "Keep Austin Weird".
The KAW campaign was launched, grass roots style, as a response to the "rampant commercialism and over-development" of Austin, via bumperstickers and a website. Those three words contain the city's personality; pride, creativity, disregard for the expectations of outsiders. You can't get that kind of verbal vitality from a board room. (The sad irony of the KAW movement is that the words are now trademarked by folks other than the creators, folks who make bundles selling products with the phrase. The slogan promoting local businesses is now emblazoned on mugs made in China.)
Of course, you gotta support the idea of promoting our town and getting a reputation for ourselves 110%. But let the city speak for itself. And if it's voice can't be heard, give the town a megaphone and a soapbox. Don't speak for us. Instead of raising another wad of cash for this advertising campaign, put the money back into the city. Let the pipe dreamers and starry-eyed visionaries of Tulsa make those funds speak loudly through new businesses, new artwork, things that will add to Tulsa's voice for years to come. Fancy wrapping don't change the facts on the ground. Tulsa is what it is, no matter how we package it.
If Tulsa needs to be more attractive and well-known, provide better amenities that will make it so. If we want to be seen as "comfortably cosmopolitan", there are things that will work a whole lot better than commercials and postcards. The first thing we could do to be more cosmopolitan (defined in part as: especially not provincial in attitudes or interests) is legalize gay marriage.
If we aren't provincial, if we're worldly and welcoming, prove it. A middle American city that grants gay marriage, talk about putting us on the map. And hell, you wanna attract people to the city, bring tax dollars? About 10.5 million Americans are gay. Gay people tend to be better educated. Nothing screams "stable labor force" like well-educated married couples, no matter what their sexuality.
Nothing To Hide
Though the phrase "comfortably cosmopolitan" itself isn't that objectionable, the reason behind it's conception is. It's creators are quoted as disliking Tulsa's association with Steinbeck's masterpiece Grapes of Wrath. Why should we be ashamed of this association? The Dust Bowl happened, Okies migrated, and Tulsa survived. Steinbeck's book chronicled this era of our history. Shall we shun all our supposedly ugly past? Try to gild over the Race Riot? The fact that Oklahoma Territory fought on the side of the Confederacy? That we were a hotbed of communist activity? That the entire state was never meant for the white man at all?
A bad habit of a lot of city sprucing efforts is a tendency to deny who we are and have been. We have a bright future, but we can't ignore the darker parts of our past. We've always been a town with a colorful history. We were a wildcat town, born from fast women and roustabouts fresh off the oilfields. We were the last frontier. We can't forget this as we're defining our city's character. So let's drink our cheap whiskey and not hide our accents. Let's be rowdy and get our hands dirty, Tulsa. I'm not ashamed to say ya'll.
All that said, at least our slogan is better than Glenpool's.
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