Buffalo For Real, Part 2, Electric Boogaloo

24 May

I thought it might be time to break up the constant NY-26 updates with something completely different.

A couple of weeks ago, Visit Buffalo Niagara (formerly known as the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau {CVB}) unveiled their new branding slogan, entitled “Buffalo. For Real.”

It was released with an accompanying video that generated lots of buzz.


Shortly after its release, Alan Bedenko and I began a light-hearted Twitter contest to solicit suggestions for a better slogan.  That contest caught fire and dozens of parody videos started popping up on YouTube, like this one:


In the aftermath of the story, we were dismissed as naysayers because we deigned to criticize what we saw as a fundamentally flawed marketing campaign. We thought the video was too focused on the built environment and we resented the Sarah Palin-ish conceit of “Real America”. We also opined that the video lacked an overall sense of fun.

Supporters of the marketing campaign countered by stating the video was designed to attract “bifocal cultural tourists”…much like the three previous marketing campaigns from the CVB. We thought that maybe, just maybe, they could broaden their scope a bit and appeal to people who don’t really care who H.H. Richardson was or why he is important to Buffalo.

We eagerly awaited the opinion of an impartial third party to evaluate the merits of the campaign. Clearly, any objective analyst or critic would see that this beautifully shot video and marketing campaign designed for free by volunteers was an absolute homerun. Right?

Last week, Advertising Age Magazine issued their opinion on the campaign in an article titled “Buffalo’s New Tagline Highlights The Worst of Tourism Marketing”:

Tourism slogans are reliably corny, but last week New York state took the grand prize for “Huh?” with a newly anointed slogan for its fair city to the north that’s best known for its proximity to Niagara Falls and everyone’s favorite 25-cent bar snack.

So, there’s that.

However, something that has stuck with me for over a week was an exchange on Facebook between a few WNYMedia writers and one of our readers. You know this reader as “STEEL”, a reliably liberal voice in our daily political threads. He is properly known as David Steele, a Buffalo Expatriate who lives in Chicago.  Dave is also the author of “Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land“.

Dave is a middle aged guy who likes architecture.  Unsurprisingly, he thought the “Buffalo. For Real.” video was the bees knees.

Dave operates under the illusion that the primary obstacle to progress in Buffalo is our defeatist attitude. If only we were to stop with all the complaining and negativity, we might start to make some real shit happen right here in Johnson City!  Also, he detests sprawl and people who don’t live in the City of Buffalo. Ironically, he doesn’t live here either.

However, as we have detailed over the years on this website, no matter what you think the most important problem in Buffalo is, it’s not THE problem. Sprawl, poor zoning, absentee landlords, deteriorating infrastructure, UB in Amherst, the Skyway, the 190, inaccessible waterfront, house flipping, redlining, terrible schools…no matter what, the problem is political. Each of those problems has a distinctly political cause and requires a distinctly political solution. Political leadership is required to solve any problem in Buffalo as it is a town designed by and ruled by politicians. However, that leadership is sorely lacking.

Until we change THAT problem, the private and non-profit sectors will be forced to to hoard the crumbs on the table while the rest of us wish for a distant, more prosperous past. A time when our fortunate location at the end of the Erie Canal created the economic and geographic accident that we now know as Buffalo. That past is prominently featured in that video and frankly, we’re bored with it. Dave, being the smart guy that he is, had a suggestion for us.

So, when will we be releasing that video?  When someone hires us to do it. We’ve released hundreds of videos over the years that shine a positive light on our community and those working to make it better. However, what Dave doesn’t know is that we actually made a proposal to the CVB about 18 months ago to help market Buffalo and WNY.

Prior to the hiring of Dottie Gallagher-Cohen as the CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, Drew “Wing King” Cerza served as the interim CEO. During his tenure, the CVB received increased funding from Erie County and Drew put out the word that he was looking for some cool new ideas to market the region. We approached him with a proposal marketing campaign that would begin during the World Junior Hockey Championships and continue on after the event.

We (along with a marketing partner) proposed the following:

  • An iPhone/Android App that would feature links to all Buffalo restaurants, clubs, cultural attractions along with location aware directions and maps
  • Each listing would have a basic profile page featuring some business basics, but each listing had the opportunity to upgrade their default profile with video/audio/time sensitive specials and coupons. Upgrades would be paid for with donations to the CVB.
  • A recommendation engine featuring well known locals who would give their tips on where to go and what to do.
  • A mobile trip planner that would organize a full list of activities for each day based on a chosen starting point.  “Here for a Bisons game?  Here’s five other places you might enjoy!”
  • Marketing videos for each tourism “vertical” in Buffalo and WNY.  Cultural, sports, family, shopping, dining, hotels, architecture, theater, etc.
  • An umbrella marketing video featuring outtakes from each of the “vertical” videos which presented Buffalo and WNY as a four seasons destination for everyone.

There was more to it, but you get the point

As we’re a small company that cannot perform work for free, we also presented the CVB with a pricetag for the project.  The CVB decided to wait until Ms. Gallagher-Cohen was hired to make a decision. She never got back to us. No big deal, we moved on to other clients and other projects and we’re doing quite well, thank you very much. Over the next 18 months, Ms. Cohen took the organization in a new direction and we wish her the best of luck.  She’ll need it. Especially if she is again forced to “crowdsource” regional marketing campaigns for free.

The reason for sharing this is that I’m tired of this obsessive accusation that we’re “naysayers”.  We are realists, we see this city and region for what it is, warts and all.  To simply assume that we are absolute cynics is to either be grossly misinformed…or to be nuzzled in a Chicago bungalow ignorant of the reality on the ground in a city 600 miles to the east.

We deal with the political realities around us and we love our city as much as anyone else here. We choose to live in WNY and raise our children here. We choose to pay our taxes, vote in local elections, volunteer for organizations we believe in, and organize people to support causes and politicians we believe in.  We support local business and we hire local vendors. We advocate for political solutions we think practical and assail, with malice, those who advocate for harmful policies and causes. We’re confident in our choices to live here and we’re not going anywhere. We put our skin in the game and we’re here, making a difference. It’s who we are, it’s what we do.

Because of all that, we’re entitled to some self-deprecating humor and we have a right to criticize how we are marketed.

So, don’t ever challenge me or anyone on this website about our love for this city and region. For Real.

12 Responses to “Buffalo For Real, Part 2, Electric Boogaloo”

  1. Jeremy at 8:26 am #


  2. Alan Bedenko at 8:44 am #

    I am waiting for the David Steele commitment to bettering Buffalo and ending its sprawly sprawl by actually coming to WNY to design things for a local architectural firm which would enable him to live within the city of Buffalo (and send his kids to the excellent public school system there (97th out of 97!), pay taxes and fees to the State of New York, County of Erie, and City of Buffalo, and enable him to do more than post to Buffalo Rising or hawk self-published books of photographs of architecture and actually put hands on the problems that he has identified. 

    We might complain, but we do a lot more than that, too. He fails (and refuses) to see that because it doesn’t fit in with his prejudices. 

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go vote, participate in the local economy by buying goods and services, and pay some taxes. Then I’ll pick my kids up from public school after doing GOTV for Kathy Hochul this afternoon. 

  3. Bills Fan at 9:20 am #

    OMG, you guys are going to “participate in the local economy by buying goods and services and pay some taxes.” I love it when people pat themselves on the back for involuntary things – are you going to breath too? You live here so you’re going to buy goods and services. And you’re going to pay taxes if you don’t want to go to jail. So let’s go ahead and save the accolades for something genuine. 

    As I’ve read a number of criticisms of the CVB promo video, I haven’t seen a single person quantify the matter. How big is the architectural tourism market? How much money comes into WNY as a result of architectural tourists now? How much does that have to grow to justify this campaign? Not surprisingly, armchair critics don’t want to bother to research those details so, instead, they just whine about it more generally. 

    And while you seem a bit jilted that the CVB didn’t hire you for marketing help, I’m wondering what sort of marketing resume you actually have. One of you has a full time job for a computer company, it seems, and another is a lawyer. You have a website that doesn’t draw more visitors than any other notable website in the area (at least according to quantcast and compete) so why would should taxpayer dollars be spent on your marketing ‘expertise?’

    • Alan Bedenko at 9:25 am #

      OMG, you guys are going to “participate in the local economy by buying goods and services and pay some taxes.” I love it when people pat themselves on the back for involuntary things – are you going to breath too? You live here so you’re going to buy goods and services. And you’re going to pay taxes if you don’t want to go to jail. So let’s go ahead and save the accolades for something genuine.

      Living here is voluntary.

      Where do you live, Bills Fan? What’s your real name?

      I’ve come to the conclusion that anonymity is best reserved for legitimate commenters, and not trolls. (Which is what you are). Ask “Steve”.

  4. Bills Fan at 9:43 am #

    Oh I see, we’re going to commend everyone who lives here for living here as if that is worthy of commendation. And if that in and of itself is doing something to help the region. It’s very fitting with today’s American culture – everyone gets a participation medal just for showing up. There are no ‘winners’ and ‘losers,’ we’re all just different in our own unique ways. 

    Who is “Steve?” Or Steve? Or which “Steve” are you referencing? Also, I live in Amherst contributing to suburban sprawl and feeling guilty for it. 

  5. Christopher Smith at 11:36 am #

    We’re not feeling “jilted” in the least.  Our proposal had nothing to do with the “Buffalo For Real.” campaign.  Yes, we’re a small shop, but we’ve handled social media, video and multimedia campaigns for many large local companies, organizations and political candidates. While we’re certainly not as established or acomplished as many other local agencies, we’re proud of our experience and work.

    The point of the story was not to say our idea was better (it was just different) it was to counter the talking point that we’re unwilling to participate in positively marketing our region.  We are, we just have a different idea about how it should be done and we need to be compensated for the work.

  6. RaChaCha at 12:47 pm #

    Here’s a way better troll picture: http://archives.buffalorising.com/story/troll_patrol I understand copies of this pic are being sold to hang in bedrooms as a cheap form of birth control.

  7. lefty at 1:39 pm #

    That app is a pretty cool idea.

    Another neat idea would be to do something similar to a CityPass.  I have used on in NYC and it was a pretty good deal.  You guys are on WordPress and I _think_ there is a printable Gift Card plugin with QR codes.  

    Check that – here is a plugin


    Since the zoo or ABK is open regardless if there are 100 or 1000 people, it might be a great way to help bring in money up front and encourage locals to visit a place because it is already paid for.

    Funny ass video by the way.

  8. Ethan at 1:54 pm #

    There is no “Silver Bullet” to Buffalo’s myriad woes, that’s true.  And you rightly implicate our lackluster (to be charitable) leadership; I can’t but agree.  When I put those two things together, I don’t know why, but I just keep coming up with “electoral reform.”  

  9. Mike in Florida at 6:16 pm #

    I really thought it was a drag when the (typical?) floodgate of critics opened up on this effort.   At the same time, I don’t think a lot of folks wanted to get put in the position of defending the thing as some kind of masterpiece, but it seemed as though the intentions were good, and the alternatives were limited – for whatever reason.   

    So, it seemed like a false choice to have to say the video was great or not …. I was more under the impression that it was an effort made in a situation where there really wasn’t otherwise going to be one at all.    Under that set of facts, I’d prefer to see folks give support and/or constructive (productive?) criticism or – better yet – their own offering.

    But, is that wrong – i.e. was there actually a reasonable budget available for this project and it simply was internally hijacked by someone who perceived their talent level higher than it was?  


  1. Market Buffalo By Dissing Cleveland? Brilliant! « WNYMedia.net -

    […] aside how conceitedly horrible the “Buffalo: For Real” introductory video was – the video that was designed specifically to define the underlying “marketing” campaign, denigrating another rust belt city seems hardly […]

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