No Plums Allowed

We challenged five local ad agencies to devise a campaign for marketing Cleveland. There was only one rule.

View the Marketing Campaigns

And don't forget to vote for your favorite!

Brokaw Agency's "The Clevelander"

Liggett-Stashower's Moses the Dog

Marcus Thomas' Explore Cleveland

Point to Point's "It's a beautiful day to do business in Cleveland."

Wyse Advertising's "It must be the water."

Looking back on it now, our city must have been plum crazy.

Sure, it didn't take long for the "New York's the Big Apple, but Cleveland's a Plum" advertising campaign to look ripe for the pickin'. Mock it all you like. Call it rotten. Call it the pits. Break out the prune jokes.

But back in 1981, with our civic insecurities running on overdrive (or maybe on a snootful of plum wine), The Plain Dealer and its ad agency, Nelson Stern Advertising, wanted to share the city's bounty.

And we ate it up.

There was a "Cleveland's a Plum" Week with a pregame ceremony at an Indians-Yankees baseball game. There were bumper stickers, T-shirts, posters (at Hopkins and New York's La Guardia airports) and tote bags. There were suggestions for how department stores, manufacturers, financial institutions, hotels and restaurants could tie their promotions into the campaign: "These include fashion shows, bakeoffs, recipe books and Jack Horner coloring contests for kids," observed the PD.

The campaign was so tasty that it took first place in a regional conference of the International Newspaper Promotion Association.

The Sheraton Hopkins Airport Hotel liked it so much, it sent sales representatives in 55 cities and Hawaii a three-phase campaign that included a basket of plums, plum wine and jar of plum jelly to woo convention business. Amazingly, the push actually bore fruit. "The new business results followed quickly," the hotel's general manager claimed in a September 1981 PD article. (What with all those plums, we can think of some other things that also probably followed quickly.)

But now, more than two decades after our brief obsession with the plum and its descent into the pits of mockery, we started to sense the ripening of an idea. At business events, cocktail parties and civic gatherings, we continued to hear murmurings that the city really needs a marketing campaign. Something fresh. Something that would put the plum to rest once and for all.

Naturally, this town has the creative talent to do it. So we put five of the city's top advertising firms to the test. We wanted the best they had to offer, so we placed almost no restrictions on them.

We asked for a three-ad campaign to market the city. Each agency could target its own audience.

What follows is their genius. We hope The Powers That Be in Cleveland like it (and may even deign to use it?), because we sure like what the agencies did. In fact, we like it so much, you'll see many of these ads in Cleveland Magazine and other Great Lakes Publishing publications throughout the year.

Don't just take our word for it. Click here to check out each ad, vote for your favorite and tell us what you think. And if you've got a better idea, we'd like to hear that, too.

Now, go forth and be inspired.

Concept: Cleveland. It Must Be The Water.
Agency: Wyse Advertising
Creative Team: Copywriter: Phil Sipos; art directors: George Vlosich, Steve Lageson; creative director: Sharyn Hinman

The Pitch: Let's face it. For so long, Cleveland has tried to be a big city. Maybe tried too hard to be a sophisticated, world-class, major market like the big guys. And, in many respects, we are.

But while we have world-class medical centers, a world-class art museum and a world-class orchestra, we'll never be a New York, Chicago or San Francisco. We're Cleveland. We are who we are. We're cool because we're uncool.

We're a quirky, wacky, wonderfully eclectic mix of cultures, customs and individuals. We're Parma, Kucinich, Ghoulardi. We're polka, steel, blue collar. The old Cleveland jokes aren't jokes. They're character references.

Our campaign strategy embraces that idea. The more we talked about it, the more stories about Cleveland we came up with, the more we realized the only way Cleveland can be explained and understood is by concluding: It must be the water.

We chose ironic, unusual, interesting people, events and situations — the flip side of what you'd expect in an image campaign. Because they reveal the true character of Cleveland.

Our pro football team leaves town but we get to keep the name and the colors?

A new corporate headquarters building that can't be taller than an old landmark building, so they cut the top off?

A 35-year VA hospital file clerk's autobiographical film wins big at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals?

It must be the water.

Concept: The Clevelander
Agency: Brokaw Creative
Copywriters: Mark McKenzie, Eric Schlauch, Erin Pollock; art director: Brian Gillen; associate creative director: Steve McKeown; creative director: Pat Pujolas

The Pitch: Almost everyone who lives in Cleveland has had the experience before. You're on vacation or traveling on business when someone asks, "Where are you from?" And before you even reply, you can almost anticipate the reaction: "Sorry to hear that."

These perceptions exist throughout the country. And so, the greatest challenge in marketing a city like Cleveland is to acknowledge those perceptions — without appearing defensive and without taking ourselves too seriously. Our strategy was to attack those perceptions head on, but without letting the reader know those perceptions had been attacked.

We started with some widely held beliefs about the city of Cleveland, then we warped those beliefs past the point of credibility. Our intentions? Get noticed. Second, shorten the distance between "them and us" and unlock the doors to receptivity. Last, and perhaps most important, we hope to make people smile. Offer them a positive emotion associated with our city. So that the next time the subject of Cleveland arises, the neural networks in their brains will fire just a little differently.

And isn't that the point?

Concept: Moses the Downtown Dog
Agency: Liggett-Stashower Inc.
Creative Team: Copywriters: Mark Szczepanik, Mike Rushing; art director: Josh Gerken; creative director: David Moore

The Pitch: When advertising the city of Cleveland, kids are typically left out of the marketing mix. They aren't shown what makes Cleveland great. And people are surprised when our college students leave upon graduation. Sure, they go downtown for sporting events or take field trips to museums. But those aren't truly unique. Other cities have sports teams and museums. It's time to show them what makes Cleveland different.

Meet Moses the Downtown Dog: Cleveland's new canine ambassador, named after the city's founder. His goal is to educate young Clevelanders (ages 12 and under) about what makes his town so great. Ads would feature Moses in various locations throughout the city (not merely tourist attractions). Signs would mark locations where Moses has visited, cluing people into something they may not have realized about our city.

This campaign would encourage youngsters to explore the city with their parents, creating low-cost outings families could enjoy together. You could either follow Moses' lead or discover new locations and suggest them on the Moses Web site. The Moses campaign would help create fond memories for our youth, which may make the difference when they are deciding where to call home. And while he's targeted at young people, Moses may end up teaching a few of you lifelong Clevelanders a new trick or two.

Concept: It's a beautiful day to do business in Cleveland
Agency: Point to Point Communications
Creative Team: Copywriter/creative director: Mike Hudock; art director: Jody Dana; production: Tim Page; photography (drizzle ad): Walt Seng

The Pitch: Over the years, businesses have been migrating to locales that offer sunnier skies and warmer temperatures. Atlanta and Charlotte continue to boom, while northern metropolitan areas such as Cleveland are taking the hit.

This campaign seeks to reverse the trend by showing business owners that Cleveland is an ideal location to grow their companies.

Cleveland has a lot to offer businesses. But its greatest feature is still its work force and its blue-collar work ethic. Workers who like to work are just what companies want. After all, when you're trying to turn a profit and satisfy shareholders, do you really want to a bunch of sunbathers and beach bums on your payroll?

Recognizing this fact, we created a campaign that highlights Cleveland's blue-collar strength by poking fun at the allure of a 12-month summer. "It's a beautiful day to do business in Cleveland" shows how Cleveland's bad weather might actually be good for business — by producing a more focused and dedicated work force.

Cleveland's typically inclement weather is juxtaposed with tongue-in-cheek copy that extols its benefits.

Intentionally irreverent, the tone suggests that while the weather might be depressing at times, the city's attitude is fun.

The net takeaway: When it comes to business, you need to think differently about Cleveland.

Concept: Explore Cleveland
Agency: Marcus Thomas LLC
Creative Team: Art directors: Jamie Venorsky, Jan Meissner; copywriters: Roger Frank, Jim Sollisch; creative director: Joanne Kim

The Pitch: When asked to promote Cleveland, it's easy to be overwhelmed. There certainly are tough problems that need to be solved by political and business leaders.

But we quickly got to the questions we always ask, "What is the problem advertising can solve?"

We can't instantly make this Silicon Valley or reroute I-90 and open up the lakefront. We can, however, ask Clevelanders to reconsider Cleveland. Take a look beneath the Cleveland found in the AAA guide. Find Cleveland's heart in its diverse collection of local haunts. Explore places off the beaten path. By finding and appreciating these places, Clevelanders can become better ambassadors to the outside world.

Our employees generated a couple hundred great ideas: handmade guitars, art galleries, antiques, record stores, restaurants, vintage toys, wildlife habitats, breweries or markets. Ultimately, we felt this is a campaign that could go on forever. We were sitting in Little Italy when the final idea struck. Yes, we were at the corner of Mayfield Road and Murray Hill, but we weren't in Cleveland, we were in Italy. Likewise, a trip to Larchmere Boulevard didn't just take us to a different place. It took us to a different time.

We'd love to see this be a campaign that all Clevelanders embrace. We'd like them — East Siders and West Siders alike — to determine what part of Cleveland is special. We'd like them to Explore Cleveland.

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