New Orleans – the ultimate branding call

(This post is simulcast at the HenkinSchultz company blog: Post Haste)

It’s been over three years since I’ve visited New Orleans.

My wife and I went for our honeymoon. We had a blast. We fell in love with the city, reveling in its spirit and individuality. Nothing could bring New Orleans down. Nothing at all. It was untouchable – a solid force spewing out originality and style without fail, every hour, 365 days a year.

But something did bring it down.

For years, New Orleans was kept alive through tourism. It’s known as one of the universal party spots, much like Las Vegas, but with the added benefit of hundreds of years of interesting history and cultural power. You’d be hard pressed to find a city that can consider its connections as far ranging as Napoleon and Louis Armstrong.

That tourism, and the $5.5 billion that it brought in, was the lifeblood of New Orleans’ culture. It was a city always on display, always willing to show a little more and go a little further. Without tourism, New Orleans is just another southern city by the Sea.

Since Katrina, that tourism is down considerably. That’s pretty obvious, actually. People aren’t going as often. And really, who could blame them?

What can save New Orleans?

The perceived solution, it seems, is to advertise. Show New Orleans in a new light. Remind people of the city’s heyday, when beads flowed like water and fun sprung from every corner. Poke a little fun at the city and drive those fun loving tourists back into the French Quarter.

From the MSNBC article comes a few copy ideas:

One of the ads, to be used in outdoor and print campaigns, features an interior shot of the city’s Aquarium of the Americas with the caption, “This is the only part of New Orleans that is still underwater.”

Another series of images, including partiers on Bourbon Street and a chef kissing a fish, carry the message, “New Orleans is open — to just about anything.”

Funny. Clever. I like it. But can it work?

Personally, I’d love to go back. For all of the hardship still occurring in New Orleans, the tourism friendly parts of the city are up and running again, ready to receive tourism dollars. The shopkeepers and restaurateurs are ready to get the city’s budget back on track.

But I’m willing to guess that a large portion of the nation still sees New Orleans as they did on Aug. 29, 2005; torn apart and afloat – barely holding on, really, to the history that created it.

Many people still think New Orleans is barely alive. And I think it’s going to take more than some funny ads to make them think otherwise, obviously. But it’s a start. This is an endeavor that will take years – decades, I’d bet. Negative publicity, even if it’s without fault, is difficult to overcome.

All the television spots and newspaper ads in the world can’t bring New Orleans back to the forefront of convention booking and Spring Break tourism. There’s only one thing that will make people forget the tragedy and accept the fact that New Orleans is back:


This was lovingly handwritten on January 29th, 2007