fightin' words

Easier than WHAT?

Visit Jacksonville marketing campaign raises questions

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“It’s Easier Here.”

That’s the new marketing slogan from destination marketing organization Visit Jacksonville, one that makes confident assertions that may or may not survive actual scrutiny.

Jacksonville, of course, is known for its slogans.

“Bold New City of the South” was a reference to the model of consolidated city/county government, a radical charter revision that still hasn’t fulfilled promises made 50 years ago.

If you need proof of that, just look at local infrastructure. Just last week in a City Council committee meeting, those who theoretically lead our city were somehow surprised that, even though city ordinance required undergrounding utility lines in post-1970 developments, jackshit was done for those areas built out before 1970.

The result is tragicomic, obvious after any major storm. After Irma, the streets of Avondale and Riverside, Arlington and Southside—and on and on—were festooned with downed wires.

A week later and everything was fixed, more or less. But the fact that the city couldn’t figure out a way to do anything to remedy the issue of outmoded architecture in the previous half-century raises questions about how bold the city has really been.

And then there’s “Where Florida Begins,” another milquetoast formulation that lays bare the real branding issues Jacksonville faces.

The very phrase was a contention that there was nothing here but the beginning of the sentence. If you LOVE Miami, if you dig Ybor City and Orlando then, well, you might think Jacksonville’s OK. At least certain parts of town, the ones that aren’t an endless trek of bombed-out-looking strip malls and tumbledown shacks and moldy apartment complexes from the Lou Ritter era.

“It’s Easier Here” is just another “Where Florida Begins.”

The press release from Visit Jacksonville starts off with an amazing farrago of folderol and quarter-truths.

“The campaign highlights Jacksonville’s relaxing nature and positions it as a destination where visitors won’t have to deal with overcrowded beaches, long lines and unbearable traffic; instead, they will be able to experience an easier vacation, one that’s rich with art and culture, history, exciting outdoor adventures and thrilling sporting events, but at a slower, more relaxed pace.”

Are you kidding me? As I type this, it’s a weekday morning, so I am probably not drunk—but I should be if I am supposed to take that seriously.

The idea that there is not “unbearable traffic” holds true only if one doesn’t have to get on these shit shows we call interstates, where every voyage is a death ride because Jabba the Hutt can’t put his phone down while driving his minivan, or some fool decides that merging into traffic is a zero-sum game.

It’s not so bad if you’re driving a tank or a larger SUV; god help you if you’re in a compact. Especially since half these fools don’t have insurance—or legal licenses, for that matter.

It’s easier here for visitors at resorts, maybe. For the 850,000 or so of us who live here, we know that it’s easier only if you’re trying to push financial incentives through City Council; for them, it’s easy like Sunday morning.

But “easy” and “accessible” are among the buzzwords animating the copy and the ad campaign.

Locally, much of the activity of the last two decades has been this city attempting to overcome historic perceptions.

We saw it with the HRO expansion passage most recently, but there’s still a yawning gap between branding and what’s really here.

The greatest example of recent vintage was the pitch to Amazon for the HQ2.

Amazon didn’t buy it; we didn’t make the second round of consideration.

The pitch video deemed Jacksonville as “Amazon-centric” with a “one-of-a-kind urban core campus and transit,” and an “inspired year-round coastal lifestyle.”

What was notable about that pitch video: It depicted a Jacksonville that doesn’t exist, that couldn’t exist beyond an ad agency’s conception of what could be here if what is here weren’t.

This principle undergirds “It’s Easier Here” also. For those in the top 10 percent of income, sure, it’s easier here. For the 90 percent who aren’t, it’s definitely not.

Branding initiatives undeniably have their place. But the gap between this one and the day-to-day experiences people actually have is wide, and getting wider every day.

We know marketing a concept like this is meant for people from elsewhere—the kinds of folks who, when someone mentions Jacksonville, say how much they like golfing here.

It’s for external consumption, and whether it works or not is debatable. But for those who live here, amid crumbling roads and rusty pipes, in squalid apartment complexes where air conditioners can’t be fixed but the security is ready to stop and frisk them once they leave their front door, it’s another fiction designed to line the pockets of those who own us and call the shots.

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