Toronto tourism 1990s

How Toronto marketed itself to the world in the 1990s and 2000s

Toronto's latest tourism initiative grabbed plenty of attention when it was released this week.

The new video drew much praise for its fresh portrayal of the city and its various features, from the diversity of our food scene to the excitement generated by our musicians and sports teams.

For the most part, the video gets it right. It's a compelling ad for a city that seems to be getting more and more global attention. And it's a marked departure from Toronto's previous marketing efforts.

As retro and quirky as tourism videos from the 1970s and 1980s appear nowadays, it's still possible to discern which ads worked and which ones didn't. Some seemed good, like the Canada - Your World Next Door campaign.

Launched in the late 80s, it continued in the early 1990s and played heavily in the States nearest to the Canadian border, though it got some play in Europe as well.

Closer to home, the provincial tourism board transitioned from its highly successful "Yours to Discover" campaign and was trying out "Ontario the Incredible," which didn't have the same resonance.

Still, it was noteworthy for its occasional urban focus, which leaned heavily on Toronto's entertainment options. No longer did those pushing the charms of the province think they needed to stick solely to boosting the wonders of the rural landscape.

If "Ontario the Incredible" was mostly forgettable, it still wasn't as bad as what was cooked up in the 200os. Facing a full blown crisis following the SARS outbreak, Toronto tourism responded with its "You Belong Here" campaign.

To the ad's credit, the annoying tune is easy to recall and the city shots establish a certain excitement. Where it falters is the use of B-grade celebrities to push the city. Doug Gilmour, the Barenaked Ladies and Jason Priestly just didn't have the star power for this thing to take off.

In any case, nothing could have been worse than what followed. Toronto Unlimited was meant to be a major branding exercise for the city, not just a series of ads, but it all went horribly wrong.

There's still plenty of criticism and discussion of this re-branding idea available online, but it's easy to get a sense for how ill-conceived the campaign was just by looking at one of its video spots.

Um, you'd think there might be even one image of Toronto in there? Nope. It's just someone throwing out a host of slogans with little enthusiasm or desire to show the viewer what the fuss should be about.

It's somewhat amusing that our most shaky marketing attempts occurred in and around a decade ago. In the time that's intervened, Toronto does seem like a more confident city. Perhaps that's finally starting to show in the way we promote ourselves.

Lead photo by

Chuckman's Nostalgia

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