Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation, infrastructure, and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles, GOOD, L.A. Review of Books, and beyond.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the city’s PR geniuses figured out that if people are going to roll their eyes, it’s best to be in on the joke.
Hark, a rare entry in the canon of decent city-branding efforts!
A new campaign out of Chattanooga, Tennessee dubs the city “Literally Perfect” with a series of delightfully demented mini-musicals. It’s PR that’s better than it ought to be, and it might have something to teach other cities scratching about for a tagline.
The latest production from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce follows a snooty tech executive from some unnamed Big City seeking revenge on the little Southern town that’s stolen her finest Millennial employees. Of course, she, too, is eventually won over by the pretty surroundings, affordable cost of living, and ultra-fast internet speeds offered by the “Tom Hanks of places,“ as one character calls it. (The town’s other tag, “Gig City,” was born of its 1-gigabyte-per-second fiber-optic network.) Chattanooga is “literally perfect for me,” declare workers explaining their defection from slave-driving coastal hubs. (We hear, elsewhere, that those places treat small companies “like a public toilet.”)
It’s hard to know when a branding campaign pays off for a place, since the price can wind up higher than the consultants’ fees. As CityLab has noted in the past, these things can go south fast. One recent example: Rhode Island’s “Cooler and Warmer” campaign, which died a brutal death by a thousand eye-rolls in 2016. The impenetrable slogan, a logo designed by an out-of-state firm, and the lack of much that was notably “cooler” (or, uh, “warmer”) about the state brought the multi-million campaign down in Twitter-fueled flames about as quickly as it went up. (Also not helpful: The promo video that included a shot of a coastal concert hall in Reykjavik.)
Chattanooga’s endearingly lo-fi song-and-dance solution features actual start-ups, people, and places around “Cha Cha Land.” Clearly, no city is perfect, literally or figuratively, but the video campaign knows what it is (silly) and who it’s speaking to (young tech workers), with a slender budget and over-the-top slogan, belted out with a wink. People are always going to roll their eyes at city PR campaigns (especially locals). At least Chattanooga figured out that it’s best to be in on the joke.