Using comic strips to sell the suburbs to millennials

A suburb south of Chicago has a new marketing campaign intended to attract millennial residents:

“Think Homewood” ads, which debuted this month and will run through May, feature three comic strips that focus on affordability, schools, parks, community and creativity. The village, which is about 25 miles south of downtown Chicago, is spending $20,000 on the campaign focused on appealing to millennials…

In those comic panels, two moms stress over registering their kids for schools and park district activities. “I have an alarm set on my phone,” one mom cries when discussing her anxiety about plans to register for a gymnastics class. “If I’m late 30 seconds and miss the window to get a space, I’m so screwed.”

In the other Chicago strip, a dad driving from the grocery store with his wife and toddler shouts, “Frak!” after forgetting avocados for dinner. The couple decide they lack the fortitude to fight traffic and find a parking spot for a return trip to the store. “Goodbye, Taco Night,” an exasperated dad laments.

Those are contrasted with the relatively idyllic “Somewhere in Homewood” strips, where a return to the store for avocados is easy, and the park district has room for another kid in gymnastics even though classes start the next day.

Here is the first strip from ThinkHomewood.com:

https://i1.wp.com/thinkhomewood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/CarCard_Homewood_Strip_1_FINAL-1.jpg

The comic strip seems to hit the right notes regarding one big reason many Americans head for the suburbs: they want a good place to raise a family. Emphasizing safety, lots of green space, good schools, and interesting activities fits into this category.

The strips also highlight a new dimension of suburbs: their growing popularity as cultural and entertainment centers in their own right. While a smaller suburb cannot compete with the restaurant or theater or sports scene in a major city, it can have more cultural amenities. These suburban pockets of fun help move communities past decades-old images of bedroom suburbs where everyone is inside by dinner and nightlife is non-existent. (Of course, most areas in suburbs are relatively quiet places and not every suburb can easily develop a thriving downtown like in Naperville.)

On the downside: many communities have such marketing campaigns. Do they really work? The article goes on to discuss several other Chicago suburbs that have mounted campaigns and the evidence seems thin about whether marketing really attracts people. It is difficult for a smaller suburb to stand out within a region like the Chicago area where there are hundreds of places to live. Would a comic strip be enough to convince people to look in Homewood rather than in dozens of other places?

Finally: do millennials read comic strips like this?

The same LA bridges in many car commercials

One interesting set of locations is fairly common in car commercials: bridges in Los Angeles. This is not what you might expect: how many people know that bridges are even necessary in Los Angeles? (The Los Angeles River does exist.) This has a long history: a 2004 New York Times story suggests the presence of production companies in southern California plus good weather leads to many shoots in Los Angeles.

One of the past bridge locations was the Sixth Street Viaduct which closed in 2016:

According to Film L.A., the organization that helps the film industry book municipal locations, over 80 movies, television shows, music videos, and commercials are shot on or underneath the Sixth Street Viaduct each year. That’s partially because of the bridge’s swooping metal arches, perched on an art-deco concrete platform; and partially because of the river underneath and that access tunnel: if you want to film something set in Los Angeles that makes reference to the city’s automotive culture, or if you’re just looking for a place to shoot a car chase that’s cheaper and more available than a clogged freeway, the channelized, concretized bed of the Los Angeles River is your best choice.

Except that the bridge officially no longer functions that way, as of last week. It’s going away completely. And the river? It’s on its way to becoming a river again.

Here is a short montage of the bridge being taken down alongside iconic images from films.

The Fourth Street Bridge is also home to a number of shoots and features Art Deco columns as well as views of the downtown skyline. Here is a Google Street View image:

FourthStreetLosAngeles

Are viewers of car commercials more likely to purchase a vehicle if it is shown in Los Angeles compared to other settings? Los Angeles has its own aesthetic which may or may not match with many other places. (In urban sociology, Los Angeles is often held up as the prime example of decentralization. Yet, it also does have a downtown as well as numerous other scenic sites such as the hills behind the city.) In the Chicago television market, we see some car commercials shot in Chicago. Might this help viewers envision themselves driving a new car when they see it in a familiar location? It would be more difficult to do this for all of the metropolitan markets in the United States.

Here are some other common car commercial locations with several more in the Los Angeles area.

A working life hints at the connections between sociology and marketing

An obituary for a pioneering female in the advertising industry provides a reminder of how sociology and marketing can be related:

A sociologist with a knack for market research, Ms. Ziff, who died on Nov. 11 at 92 in Jupiter, Fla., spent nearly four decades working her way up the ranks at big ad agencies.

Her work contributed to one of the most famous campaigns of the 20th century, the “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” toilet paper commercials of the 1960s featuring the fictional supermarket manager Mr. Whipple.

Ms. Ziff, then a vice president at Benton & Bowles, conducted research suggesting that consumers were more likely to buy toilet paper if they could touch it. Using her insights, her colleague John Chervokas developed the Mr. Whipple campaign…

Ms. Ziff earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the City University of New York, while continuing to work at Benton & Bowles.

Is the primary difference between these two fields that one aims to sell more products while the other hopes to better understand and explain social life? The two fields can use similar research methods and both want to know how people and groups operate.

I’m guessing it would be frowned upon in many sociology departments to make this suggestion but a number of students might be interested to know that training in sociology could be a great background for going into marketing.

Infrastructure Week in Illinois intended to sell needed repairs and funds

This week is one intended to help promote needed funding for infrastructure in Illinois:

With a new Illinois capital program delayed as the state goes 11 months without a budget, transit leaders have been sounding the alarm in both Washington, D.C., and Springfield about the dangers of waiting too long to invest in infrastructure. Business, labor and transit leaders will ramp up discussion nationwide Monday for the start of the thrillingly named Infrastructure Week.

It’s a tough sell — roads, buses and trains seem to work just fine until they don’t, and politicians don’t like to raise gas taxes or other user fees. Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Leanne Redden admits that funding for bridges, signals and tunnels is not a sexy topic, but it’s crucial to keep the system going the way it should…

The Metropolitan Planning Council, which consulted with RTA officials and other experts around Illinois, determined that meeting the state’s transportation deficit requires an additional $43 billion over 10 years — on top of what is already expected in terms of capital funding…

He noted that no system is going to be in perfect shape all the time — it’s like your house, you want to keep it in a state of at least 90 percent repair, with a few projects on a to-do list. But Illinois’ state of repair is currently below 80 percent and could drop below 60 percent in the next five years, Skosey said.

It is unclear from this article whether this week is aimed at the public – who often doesn’t pay much attention to infrastructure and generally doesn’t like paying increased taxes for public services – or state officials and legislators – who aren’t doing much of anything in Illinois these days. I assume the general goal is to raise awareness but what would they like the public to do? Call a political leader? Vote different in the 2016 election?

Thinking about the role of governments, the public tends to assume or hope that governments will do the prudent thing for the future. In terms of infrastructure, this usually means keeping up with maintenance and taking care of needed changes before the situation gets dire. But, given the short-term outlook of many politicians these days plus many competing interests, infrastructure needs are often kicked down the road. Yet, compared to other major issues that can continue to be kicked down the road, at some point roads, railroad systems, airports, electric grids, and other necessary pieces of infrastructure can and will literally crumble and will require immediate attention.

Indiana again takes aim at Illinois businesses

The Illinoyed campaign ended but Indiana has a new strategy to lure Illinois businesses. From the featured story on the A State That Works website:

The state of Illinois has been drowning in debt for years due to mismanagement, and their only solution is to keep raising taxes. Sound familiar? Illinois taxpayers have been picking up the tab for longer than anyone cares to remember, but it wasn’t always that way.

Ten years ago Indiana and Illinois had the same AA credit rating, but the unfunded pension debt crisis in Illinois has steadily deteriorated over the years, to the point that their current credit rating of A- is the worst in the nation.

Illinois is borrowing a staggering amount of money to pay for state services and they’re seen as a bad risk to keep making those payments, according to the rating agencies. In fact, the interest alone on Illinois’ unfunded liabilities is about $1.5 billion per year…

Indiana is deliberately making smart financial decisions and defining what a state can do to pass the savings of efficient government on to their taxpayers by eliminating debt, keeping taxes low and continually balancing their budget.  It’s a refreshing change from a state like Illinois that has taxpayers picking up the tab for a public debt-management crisis, and it’s what makes Indiana a state that works.

Such efforts have been going on for quite a while yet I haven’t seen evidence that shows a campaign like this works. I’ve long suspected this is more about scoring easy political points than anything else; “look at the good things happening in Indiana while Illinois languishes.” Yet, somehow the Chicago region with its 9+ million people hangs on and the city is continually ranked as one of the top 10 global cities in the world.

One side note: part of northwest Indiana is in the Chicago metropolitan region. According to this campaign, some might get the best of both worlds: the residents and businesses get the lower taxes, less political gridlock, and less debt yet get to take advantage of the jobs and other opportunities the Chicago area offers. In the long run, a significant decline in Illinois or Chicago’s fortunes probably would have some residual negative effects not just on northwest Indiana but also the entire state.

Chicago Epic marketing cut due to state budget

Chicago rolled out an “Epic” campaign this spring to attract tourists but it is now no more due to a lack of state funding:

Chicago’s latest tourism campaign, Epic, is about to end two months early thanks to epic budget cuts at the state level.

Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism program, is losing 40 percent of its operating budget in the latest set of state budget cuts, according to Crain’s. That means Epic, the (perhaps unimaginative) summer tourism campaign launched in April with a TV ad encouraging viewers to “be part of something epic,” would end July 1 rather than run through the summer. Unless they are talking about an epically rainy June, the campaign ending this early wouldn’t leave much sizzle in the summer tourism industry.

Choose Chicago CEO Don Welsh said in statement that the program will lose most of its funding, from the state hotel tax, unless there is a last-minute approval of the state’s 2016 fiscal budget—increasingly unlikely as the week progresses…

The loss of Epic could deal a blow to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vow to boost tourism to 55 million visitors by 2020. Crain’s says Rauner, who was once the chairman of Choose Chicago, believes tourism is a boon to the local economy.

Two quick thoughts:

1. If you go with a catch term like “epic,” it is bound to be used sarcastically if something goes wrong (like the campaign ends early). Not exactly epic…

2. How do we – the public – know that such marketing campaigns work? Even though the Epic campaign is ending early, did it have any influence? Did the slogan catch on? What does this mean for future Chicago marketing campaigns? Just because a big campaign was out there doesn’t mean that it did much in this media and advertising saturated world.