Much has been made since its unveiling of the Regional Chamber and Growth Association's ad campaign to give St. Louisans a shot of self-esteem. "St. Louis. We Got it Good." is the tagline on print, radio and television ads designed to make us all feel better about living here. The tv spots included one featuring a young hipster on the phone bragging about his great, 500-square-foot, $1900 per month apartment in New York City, while stashing his worldly possessions in his oven, on his bed and anywhere else he could find a spare nook. A second promo showed us a couple of face-painted, sad sack Boston sports fans knocking back a few at their local pub, bemoaning their town's terrible teams.
Interestingly, the ads don't seem to have really caught on within their intended audience. They've become a hot discussion topic among the kind of folks you'd think would want to boost civic pride, but mostly because these folks are disappointed, perplexed or confused by them. None of these reactions was likely intended by the ads' creators at the Schupp Company, Inc., who donated their creative services.
So, what's the problem with these ads? Why can't we just accept them as a good effort in the war for St. Louis? Are we so jaded and cynical that we'll bash even something which seems so positive on its surface?
For starters, the ads seem not to have a clear audience. It seems a bit odd to direct a major marketing campaign for the region at, well, the people who have already chosen to be here. Sure, it's good to be reminded of the good things about your hometown, but the highlights (sports teams who sometimes win, traffic that's not as bad as it could be, cheap rent) seem too mundane to make most people think, "Wait! This is a great place!" The television strategy to compare us to other (and by implication, worse) cities is akin to making yourself feel better by cruising the bars with only your uglier friends. Finally, the print ads seem to not know who's the them and who's the us. The ad shown runs in, among others, the St. Louis Business Journal, whose readership is clearly a local one. Yet the ad would have you, the reader, think that "your" view of the Arch is only the surface, tourist-eye one, while the insiders' ("our") understanding is much deeper. Plus, does someone want to break it to them that a tuba is not visually able to carry on the Arch metaphor?
The underlying problem that's not easily addressed is the hard fact: the reason apartments cost more in New York, and people are willing to have their hearts broken repeatedly by losing teams in Boston, and folks will idle in hours-long traffic jams in Los Angeles is because people want to live there more than they want to live here. And they're willing to put up with a lot to do it. Low cost of living may be a happy circumstance that you notice along the way about your hometown, but it's not what excites the blood and makes for a vibrant city. We "got it good" in St. Louis for myriad reasons beyond the boring ones that are the subject of these ads; it's a shame that the well-intentioned and well-heeled supporters of the RCGA media blitz missed the opportunity to showcase what makes our city great, regardless of the competition.
Over Christmas, my super-chic cousin (who lives in Boston, and seems outwardly happy, although I'm sure she's just suppressing her true despair about the Red Sox) told me she had just talked to her college roommate, who has landed her first big-time job, as an attorney in New York City. The friend celebrated by signing a lease on a 550-square-feet, $3,400 per month apartment. It's expensive, sure, but she's young and crazy and having the time of her life in the Big Apple. Maybe when she's ready to pack it in and settle down, we can lure her here.