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Toronto('s) Unlimited (Stupidity of the Media)

When Tourism Toronto unveiled their long-awaited Toronto "brand" intended on countering the SARS effect on the local tourism industry, it was greeted with a unified response: anger. Toronto's media lined up at the Toronto logo pinata like dizzy children, swinging blindly in hopes of the big candy score in front of all their friends. The Star, the Globe and Mail, the Sun (if that actually qualifies as a newspaper), all pounced on Tourism Toronto's new campaign with Rocker's-caliber tag team efficiency. The thing is, that $4,000,000 logo that everyone is so excited about? It didn't cost $4,000,000. Oh, and that disastrous campaign that ruined Toronto's international image? It's already working. So, should Tourism Toronto apologize for focusing its efforts on tourists rather than pissy journalists? No bloody way.

In the wake of the SARS outbreak, Toronto suffered a major blow to its tourist industry. The city knew that it would require strong advertising campaign to reverse the negative attention that the airborne, lethal virus had generated. The problem of contouring the multiple effected interests into a comprehensive and universal campaign that equally benefited all parties presented itself. Rather than going ahead and allowing the hotels, the restaurants, the city proper, and whatever other groups that had advertising funds to use, put together their own unrelated ad blitz's targeting the same market, it was decided that a single, recognizable brand and campaign should be launched using the collected funds of the interested groups. The result was a $4,000,000 advertising system that re-vamped Toronto's traditional views on its tourist markets. Using the pooled resources, the designers worked closely with a New York City based advertising firm to achieve a logo that didn't encompass everything that is "Toronto", but instead adapts to become a part of whatever specific event or information of which it is part. (For example a film reel for the Toronto Film Festival.) And it is said logo that has caused the Toronto media en masse to unite against this common enemy.

Almost two weeks ago, Tourism Toronto revealed its new logo, and campaign promises, to the media and public. A journalist from the Toronto Star called the ad's message of, "an eclectic tour of an eclectic city", "...more than embarrassing. It is all out excruciating." Which, aside from being quite hyperbole, it's pretty uninformative as well. It caused him pain to hear that Toronto is eclectic? Later, he goes on to announce that an abandoned idea for Toronto's campaign, "You Belong Here" was an "appropriately friendly come on to tourists." And perhaps this is true of the old markets that Toronto aimed to gain. But, as this campaign is not designed for the neighbouring provinces/states, "friendly come ons" are a touch too little. Are twenty to thirty-five year old Los Angeles urbanites going to rush to LAX upon finding out where they actually "belong"? Jesus, I hope not. Although it would explain the lemming-esque nature of American feature film.

Both the Star and the Sun have used to $4,000,000 figure as some sort of flagstaff to lift their opinions upon. This is either conscious misrepresentation of the facts, lazy journalism, or a considerable reading comprehension problem. The obvious implication is that tax paying Torontonians have been had. An article in the Sun carried the headline, "Is this Worth $4 Million?" beneath an image of the new logo. I suppose Sun readers might actually go on with their day believing that their taxes had gone on to finance the development of that logo only. But Sun readers also choose their news source by the quality of the pin-up inside. Indeed, some Toronto taxes went into its development. But only $500,000. For a $4,000,000 campaign. Doesn't that seem like value?

For that money the city reaped the benefits of over 4000 surveys, 250 extensive interviews, and over a dozen focus groups that were worked over 13 months in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The outcome was considerably different than expected. Traditionally, Toronto's tourists travel from nearby cities or states. Therefore, the majority of the city's tourism efforts were focused on these geographies. Tourism Toronto discovered through its exhaustive research that the majority of Toronto's tourists are coming from younger professionals living in other urban centers like London, New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. So, consulting an advertising firm based in one of these markets doesn't seems so crazy, does it? Wait, couldn't that (gasp) make perfect fucking sense?

When Mayor Miller appeared on City TV to discuss local issues and take calls on his monthly hour-long show, host Anne Mroczkowski preambled the discussion of the Tourism Toronto logo with, "Is it the Mayor's job to defend mediocrity?" Which is, after all, brilliant impartial journalism. It's also a good way of swaying the caller's opinions. I believe the very next caller barked to Miller, "Toronto means meeting place...that's your logo!" While not making sense having a phrase as a logo, it also touches upon a hotly debated spot among scholars. The actual translation of the word "Toronto" is not agreed upon. Therefore, this is not a good slogan, much less logo. Mayor Miller went on to slowly spoon feed the proper information to bumbling callers and the inexplicably confrontational and determined hostess; the money was raised by private interest groups, the city only paid $500,000 to develope this campaign, blah blah blah. The efforts seemed to be largely a waste, when the caller went on to ask about the dead tree on his lawn. Miller should have asked about the dead tree on the phone.

But, this was an attempt of a non-professional ad executive. And not the only one. The Sun, in a very ironic gesture, hosted the most hilarious collection of alternative logos exclusively designed by its readers. Several consisted of catchy rhymes like, "Go! T.O.!". More still, used the brilliant supplantation of one of the "ts" in "Toronto" with a drawing of the CN Tower. One (hopefully illustrated by a child, but possibly not, considering the Sun readership) consisted of the word "Toronto" with an alien flying a saucer overhead saying, "too cool." The public has spoken.

Finally, if one can accept that the Tourism Toronto campaign isn't aimed at us Torontonians, rather at the markets that they worked closely with to develop the new approach, one must wonder how effective the campaign is on said markets. Well, a television commercial and ad placed in The Times in England has lead to a roughly 10% increase in bookings from the U.K. to Toronto in the first quarter of 2005 over last year's figures. While, overall travel to Toronto is up over 26% for the first quarter of 2005. My math isn't especially good, but if the Toronto tourism industry represents roughly $4 billion per year, and we're up about a quarter of that already over last year, that equals everybody shutting their mouths, does it not?

The cold facts are these: tourism pays for a hell of a lot of things that we all use in this city. Our preferences about how we want our city to be presented to other cities in order to get their citizens to come here and spend their money is less important than the actual money that they spend. Tourism Toronto can design a logo that has a pickle in a hammock if that means people will come here and indirectly pay for my streetcar tracks. This system was exhaustively researched, executed, and is achieving its aim. The major publications can editorialize all they like, they are still basing their ideas on nothing more than a font that displeases them. They have simply presented a collection of (generously put) semi-formed ideas on an area that they know next to nothing about. No, not Toronto. Relax. Advertising. My only concern is that when Toronto tourism exceeds pre-SARS levels for the first time in 2005, the critics will be forced to personally report on it beneath the title, "One Billion Dollars Renders My Opinion Useless." Except the Sun. They can have another colouring contest.


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