By Rachel Leingang, MSUM Journalism
Whenever I travel and someone asks where I live, I hesitate a bit to say Fargo. Inevitably, if they’re even slightly pop culture-savvy, they’ll say, “Like the movie?”
I know a lot of Fargoans like to think living here is nothing like it’s depicted in the movie “Fargo,” but there are a few similarities. A lot of older people still speak with the Minnesota accent (and I’ve known quite a few 20-somethings who do, too). For a majority of the year, it is as snowy and desolate as it looks in the movie.
But one thing I’m quick to note to people who aren’t familiar with Fargo is the revitalization of cool that’s happening here. We have an impressive amount of local businesses that offer delicious gourmet food, well-mixed drinks, trendy clothes and even eco-friendly home goods. And the best place to find these businesses is downtown.
However cool downtown may be, the current advertising slogan of “… downtown, baby!” makes Fargo look corny and overly Midwestern. I have no problems with corny and certainly not with being Midwestern (I carry my North Dakotan status with great pride), but it’s not helping to show new visitors how Fargo’s downtown is flourishing.
The aim of the “… downtown, baby!” campaign, according to the Downtown Community Partnership, is to “brand Downtown as a destination which consists of visuals of various downtown establishments and personalities.”
The campaign, the brainchild of the Downtown Community Partnership, Fargo Downtowner, Spider and Company, Kilbourne Group and Forum Communications Company, consists of print, radio and web spots, as well as window clings and buttons that are displayed in downtown businesses.
The problem with the advertising plan is that many out-of-towners won’t know who downtown personalities are. They don’t know the reputation of downtown businesses, and seeing the owners in a 30-second spot isn’t really enough to show what they offer to visitors.
At the beginning of each spot, a business owner makes a short pitch for their business and what they offer. Then, the commercial focuses on repeating the phrase “… downtown, baby!” over and over in the last 10 seconds, with varying levels of Minnesota-accented speech.
The aim of an ad campaign is to be catchy, and “… downtown, baby” IS catchy, but in the kind of way that makes people mock it. I’ve lived downtown for three years, and have never once felt the need to tell someone that I live downtown, baby! unless I was joking.
It’s also important for an ad campaign to accurately portray the people it represents. Fargoans don’t commonly say “baby” at the end of their sentences. The campaign seems like a forced way to make Fargo seem like a big city, but that’s not where Fargo’s appeal lies.
In order to attract visitors, Fargo’s niche should be a smaller town with an urban downtown feel. The people here are friendly, open and more than willing to share their passion for their businesses with visitors. They want tourists to come to Fargo to experience an upper Midwestern town that has gotten a bum reputation from a Coen Brothers movie.
The Downtown Community Partnership asks, “Where are you going to shop? Live? Get your hair done? Eat at a restaurant? Socialize with your friends? Visit art galleries? Catch your favorite band? Receive legal advice? View classic cars? Enjoy a parade?” And the answer IS downtown, but not … downtown, baby!