35th Anniversary: The Cleveland Joke

Poor us. The butt of one-horse-town jokes. The sad-faced clown of ridicule.

Once the best location in the nation, we have been mocked, badgered and beaten down from a plum to a mathematic symbol where one plus three is somehow so much more than four.

Oh, woe is our fragile ego. There must be something wrong with us. Why else would LeBron wear a Yankee cap to Jacobs Field after we rose up, after we cheered for him?

We must be the mistake on the lake.

Yet we possess this burning river of desire to overcome, to scream, “Go to hell, ‘Laugh In.’ Screw Johnny Carson and his ‘Tonight Show’ monologue,” to show the rest of the country we really are players.

Beginning in 1972 and again more than 30 years later, Cleveland Magazine’s premise was simple: Give the city’s best advertising agencies a chance to repair our psyche. Ask them to create a campaign to lift our self-image to heights not seen since the Terminal Tower was built.

“For years it has been the fate of Pittsburgh, Buffalo or Philadelphia to provide the punch lines. But lately the gag writers have discovered Cleveland,” declared Dix & Eaton’s 1973 ad. “We shouldn’t over-react. But the next time some network joker turns Cleveland into a punch line, let’s mail him a twenty-pound salami from the West Side Market along with instructions on what to do with it.”

We’re guessing there wasn’t a sandwich involved.

Dix & Eaton boasted of (what else?) the orchestra, the Browns, the art museum and the city’s “incredible scope.” Carr Liggett Advertising promoted our people: “At last count, Cleveland had 2,640,194 good things going for it.” (So what if we’ve lost more than a few of those reasons since then.) And Meldrum and Fewsmith urged “unity, optimism and determination” by replacing Cleveland’s “v” with a two-fingered peace sign.

In 2004, the good vibes had worn off. Cleveland seemed to be suffering from a late-’90s hangover.

The magazine jokingly blamed our bad rap on “the water” (Wyse Advertising) and our 50 years of sports failures on “unselfishness” (Brokaw). We realized the value of our unpredictable weather and declared it a “beautiful day to do business in Cleveland” (Point to Point). We appealed to our inner child and took a walk with “Moses the Downtown dog” (Liggett Stashower). We were transported in our travels around town and urged to “Explore Cleveland” (Marcus Thomas).

There is magic in the slogan, like the allure of the three-ring circus: If only we just believe in Cleveland, others will too.

Maybe that’s the real punch line.

Seriously, lighten up, people.

That salami sounds pretty good.
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