Cincinnati misses huge marketing opportunity with Western & Southern Open

The Western & Southern Open is taking place right now, and a men’s and women’s champion will be crowned this weekend in what has become one of the world’s top ten tennis tournaments.

Once finished, the tournament will have drawn hundreds of thousands of tennis fans to Mason, but more importantly, it will have given Cincinnati exposure to millions of television viewers around the United States and the world.

The tournament is a huge regional draw, and it gives the region an annual chance to make its pitch as to why people should visit, invest, or move to the region. This year, the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau decided to build off of Lonely Planet’s choice of Cincinnati as one of its top travel destinations for 2012. Unfortunately, however, the 30-second commercial does not come close to selling the narrative written by the independent travel guide.

There was no mention or view of the Contemporary Arts Center in the recent Cincinnati USA television commercial. Photograph by Thadd Fiala.

“Seen Cincy lately? The pretty city on the Ohio River – off the main cross-country interstates – gets bypassed by many road trippers, but it’s quietly transformed itself in the last decade into a worthy weekend getaway,” Lonely Planet wrote about Cincinnati. “Life centers around the river – much which can be seen by foot: river walkways are best on the Kentucky side, reached via a couple bridges including John Roebling’s Suspension Bridge (a prequel to his famous Brooklyn Bridge). Narrow, twisting (and steep) brick roads of the Mt Adams district lead past 19th-century Victorian townhouses and the free Cincinnati Art Museum, while the once-dangerous, emerging Over-the-Rhine, just north of downtown, is home to the Findlay Market and a sprawling collection of historic Italianate architecture.”

After reading that, someone unfamiliar with Cincinnati may be intrigued to visit the city to experience its architecture, waterfront, historic neighborhoods, and judge the stated transformation first-hand. What Cincinnati USA’s television spot showcases (see below), however, is the tried and true regional selling cards to families looking for an affordable weekend getaway.

There is nothing wrong with selling a good product to a captive audience, but if Cincinnati wants to start attracting new people and new interest, it will have to do something new.

If Cincinnati USA wants to build on the Lonely Planet mention, then they should sell the region on what Lonely Planet is pitching. Show the millions of tennis fans a scene from Over-the-Rhine on a Friday evening, Fountain Square on a Saturday night, the twisting streets of Mt. Adams, the University of Cincinnati’s Main Street, people biking across the Purple People Bridge, and shoppers at Findlay Market on a Saturday morning.

Fortunately, the Cincinnati USA commercial did pay attention to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center which was prominently mentioned in the Lonely Planet write-up.

“Best, though, is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, open since 2004, on the banks of the river where many slaves escaped to freedom in the 19th century,” concluded Lonely Planet’s writers.

Cincinnati has always been an affordable place and a great place for families. This narrative has been perfected over many decades. This strong calling card should not, however, preclude the region from telling the world about a new narrative that has come to life over the past decade. It’s a story about a resurgent city focused on youthful energy, innovation, independent thought, music, and a unique urban core that is hard to match anywhere in America.

  • heck, shots of Findlay Market and the museums interspersed with those of quirky OTR, Northside, Uptown and Mount Adams activities would do double duty. Issue is getting footage of the impromptu happenings in those neighborhoods that have been the hallmark of “youthful energy, innovation, independent thought, music”

    • I’m just glad they made sure to not only profile an obscenely happy couple with a home complete with granite countertops. More home for the money!

    • Not hard when you know where to look!

      Thanks for the CAC shout-out, Randy.

  • Mark Christol

    On a recent visit to New Orleans, I found a channel on the hotel TV (sattelite) that was nothing but 24 hours of local promotions. It had 10 minute spots on destinations/events/businesses, what looked like paid 1 minute ads for local businesses & 30-60 second spots with testimonials from politicians, heads of local cultural organizations & some celebrities.
    I got the impression it was sponsored by the city but I don’t know maybe the local chamber of commerce? Seems doable for the greater Cincinnati area and it could be done fairly cheaply using students for production. In one long spot the announcer promoted the hell out of herself at the end but what the heck? Why not?
    Having the 24/7 coverage there was lots of room to promote Hyde Park, Northside, Covedale, OTR as well as the usual suspects.

  • Well put, Randy. I’ve met a half a dozen arrivals in the last year who have come fleeing the high costs of the Northeast or more fundamental fears about the future of California all who had barely heard of Cincinnnati, but who have all come to the same conclusion that cincinnati has more to offer than many of the more shamelessly self-promoting metros. Before coming they had believed that Cincy, Indy, and Columbus were indistinguishable in their social/cultural offerings. They all know much better now and wonder why Cincinnati isn’t at least a little more shameless in its self-promotion.

    • And that’s the thing. While the attractions they highlighted in the video may be better than other places, they are attractions that can be found in virtually every city in America.

  • Randy this is a legitimate issue for the city. The Cincinnati USA branding and marketing have never had a selling point beyond a few specific attractions (mind you my recent exposure to their campaign has been through watching/listening to reds games, UC games etc, and about 3 visits a year). The funny thing about it is that they don’t even seem to focus on the unique regional attractions from beer tours, underground tours, to Playhouse or the CAC which are renowned regionally and nationally (respectively).

    —In all the dialouge really must change to selling the culture, the vibe of an area, in this respect it might be best to debut a series of commercials which would act to illuminate some of the many faces of the city and it’s many neighborhoods. This can be done via a web release the same way early political commercials are done, and then put 3-4 of them on air to really break the mold of what they have previously produced.

    • I think the web commercials are a great idea. You can test some new messages, and still get the word out. And you can do it all on the cheap as compared to running television commercials.

  • Zachary Schunn

    I have a feeling they chose the footage they did because they are targeting the proto-typical middle class family. If they are trying to draw families to the Open, shots of OTR and Mt. Adams wouldn’t have done it. But I share your feeling that these things should nevertheless be highlighted more often.