Chicago launches 'Epic' national TV campaign

Chicago, city of the big shoulders, is getting a head-to-toe makeover in a new national television campaign launching today.

Forget about hog butcher, tool maker and stacker of wheat. Chicago is being depicted as a hotbed of music festivals, hipsters, fine dining and shopping, a bold recasting of the city's image in a bid to boost and broaden tourism.

The campaign, dubbed "Chicago Epic," features a visually diverse 30-second TV commercial and far-flung ambitions. Target markets include San Francisco and Denver, but viewers throughout the country will likely see the spot over the next six weeks. Whether it changes minds about Chicago, or travel plans, remains to be seen.

"We think this spot, when you see the geographic beauty and the action and all the different elements, it will probably change people's perceptions," said Don Welsh, president of Choose Chicago, the city's convention and tourism bureau.

Choose Chicago is funding the summer campaign with $2.2 million, up slightly from last year. About half of that budget will go to TV and online video. The rest will go to digital advertising, social media and paid search, hoping to sway online travel bookers as they plan their getaways.

In the past, advertising focused on regional tourism — reaching out to visitors from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and St. Louis. To stretch the budget beyond the Midwest, the TV campaign will run exclusively on satellite provider DirecTV, employing technology to serve ads only to households that have been identified as potential urban travelers through data analysis. The Chicago ads will appear in those homes only when the TV is on, during unspecified programs or times.

The ads will play for DirecTV subscribers everywhere in the country but Chicago, with guaranteed airings in San Francisco and Denver — the two distant cities identified through research as most likely to produce Chicago visitors. Regionally, the campaign will continue to target Detroit and Indianapolis, annual mainstays in the Chicago tourist pipeline.

"A lot of San Franciscans will think nothing about flying to New York for a long weekend," Welsh said. "We have a destination that's worthy of their consideration and it's a lot closer, and in many cases, a lot more affordable."

Created by ad agency FCB Chicago, an 80-second long-form video was whittled down to a 30-second spot for the TV campaign. The spot features a distinctively Chicago voice urging visitors to be "part of something epic," incorporating scenes of Divvy bikes, Lollapalooza, North Avenue Beach, Wicker Park and Alinea, recently named the best restaurant in the world by Elite Traveler. The forearms of renowned mixologist Charles Joly, which feature a tattoo of the Chicago flag, also have a starring role. Michael Jordan, the Chicago Theatre marquee and even the Chicago skyline ended up on the cutting-room floor for the edited TV spot.

A 15-second version of the spot will be used for online video.

"We think the story of the city of Chicago is not yet correctly told to the world," said Michael Fassnacht, CEO and president of FCB Chicago. "That's our challenge and that's our opportunity."

Fassnacht said the campaign pays tribute to Chicago's heritage, but presents the city as "relevant, interesting, exciting and cool." He has high hopes that the "Epic" branding will resonate across the country.

"I think we'll make 'Chicago Epic' as famous as 'I Love New York,'" Fassnacht said. "That's one of our goals — we have to make this iconic."

Chicago crossed the 50 million visitor mark for the first time last year, up 3.5 percent over 2013, officials said. And while Chicago continues to lag other major U.S. cities in international tourism, it saw domestic visitors reach 48.6 million, topping New York by more than 4 million, according to the city.

Re-elected last week to a second four-year term, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has set a goal of 55 million visitors a year by 2020, touting tourism as an economic boon and job creator for the city.

To help achieve that, the city will extend its new advertising campaign overseas. Translated versions of the spots will run online in China beginning in May. The $780,000 digital campaign will be funded by the Illinois Office of Tourism and Brand USA, a public-private partnership promoting international travel to the U.S.

"They are the gateway into the state," said Cory Jobe, the new director of the Illinois Office of Tourism. "Having Chicago take the lead in the China market was just a smart way to go."

China represents the largest inbound overseas tourism market for Chicago, with more than 128,000 visitors in 2013, Welsh said.

Welsh also is looking for additional media exposure with an idea that came out of left field. He would like to see the long-form commercial find its way onto the new 4,000-square-foot video board at Wrigley Field, as well as at other sports venues in Chicago.

"The 80-second spot has a visual of Wrigley, it's a got a visual of Michael Jordan, it's got a visual of (Jonathan) Toews holding the (Stanley) Cup," Welsh said. "We'd love to see our partners at Wrigley Field and the United Center, as a public service, potentially considering running that."

The new campaign launches just days after Chicago took a one-two punch to its image. "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart railed on the city Wednesday for re-electing Emanuel despite ongoing financial problems and high crime rates. That same day, it was reported that filmmaker Spike Lee has signed a deal to shoot a movie in Chicago called "Chiraq," a title equating the city's gun violence with the war zone in Iraq.

Welsh shrugged off the slams.

"In all due respect to what they are saying about our city, it's not impacting us, it's not stopping us," Welsh said. "People understand these issues are part of a lot of urban cities. But they realize that Chicago is a great, vibrant, healthy, clean city."

rchannick@tribpub.com

Twitter @RobertChannick

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