Toronto was a Top 10 finisher in our recent World’s Best City Brands ranking. Its latest ad campaign doubles down on the attributes that make Canada’s urban heart so alluring.
By Chris Fair
Tourism Toronto launched a new campaign this week, spearheaded by a 71-second video that builds on two leading indicators of a city long known as “Toronto the Good”—its size and its diversity.
The video refers to the city of 6.2 million as “Canada’s Downtown,” a bold appropriation of everything that’s urban, cultural and ethnically diverse in the Great White North.
The brazen campaign could very well elicit eye rolls from residents of other cities in the Great White North that also happen to have large, vibrant downtowns. Montreal, for instance, has more than four million people and a 375-year-old cobblestone European heart, for example. Vancouver is Canada’s densest urban center, with almost 5,500 people per square kilometre in its high-rise, “City of Glass” urban peninsula, according to the most recent Canadian Census.
Still, Toronto’s claim to quintessential Canadian downtown-ness rings true, effectively spotlighting the unique kinetic human energy and thick cultural stew that is the city today. This is certainly a departure from the long-running “City In a Park” campaign of the ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as the more recent “City of Neighbourhoods” tagline and logo.
Geared towards international tourists, the new campaign—a successful example of place branding—launched this week in the U.S. market.
“The campaign—and certainly this video—is trying to achieve two things,” Andrew Weir, Tourism Toronto’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, tells Resonance. “First, international visitors tend to think of destinations by country, so we had to connect Toronto to the Canadian story.” He says the sprawling, wild country is still generally known for mountains, forests and wilderness, and Toronto wasn’t connecting to that narrative. Enter the “Canada’s Downtown” identity as a way to both incorporate the destination in a national context and differentiate from it. “Toronto is home of the country’s stock exchange, the center of media, the big sports teams are here, we have the long-run theater productions,” Weir rhymes off. “It is the urban center of Canada.”
The second objective for the campaign (and one held high throughout the commercial) was to be unabashedly proud of the city’s unique alchemy, diversity and inclusivity.
“We’ve seen the foundation for local pride laid by people and brands like Drake and the Raptors and we wanted to build on that, to separate ourselves from other cities. We tapped into that energy that’s embedded in Toronto’s identity and sense of place.”
Pride—and a devotion to inclusivity and openness—jumps off the screen. Given the current political direction towards closed borders and suspicion, the goosebumps pop often while viewing.
But Weir was sure to add that the creative wasn’t designed to dangle the city as an inclusive respite from a divided America.
“To be a brand that stands out, we have to stand for something,” he says. “We planted our flag on what Toronto is today, what it was five years ago and what it will be in the future. We leaned into our truth.”
Still, the textual reminders that “ALL FLAVOURS ARE WELCOME” and “IN THIS CITY, IT’S OKAY TO LET YOUR GUARD DOWN” over a visual of a same-sex couple kissing certainly connect. It’s pitch-perfect, timely differentiation in the darkness of the news cycle.
The campaign doubles down on the indicators that powered Toronto to a Top 10 finish in our recent ranking of the World’s Best City Brands, a global index that benchmarks places using a unique combination of core statistics and visitor perception metrics from a range of social media. This helps global cities understand their strengths and weaknesses through the lens of the people who matter most—visitors and residents.
We noted how Canada’s largest city has always been a hedge for people and capital—from English companies moving here in the ‘70s from a separatist-leaning Francophone Montréal to immigrants seeking a foothold to start a better life.
The thing about welcoming everyone is that many appreciate the hospitality and never leave, creating a diversity of individuals that blends into a unified critical mass. With 46% of its population foreign-born, Toronto made it into the Top 10 based on its fifth-overall ranking in our People category, sandwiched between Miami at #4 and Singapore at #6.
The city’s open doors, combined with its financial density (with a Fortune 500 head office ranking of eighth in the world) has resulted in tight downtown density and local swagger, egged on by real estate wealth and whatever nickname Drake gives his beloved hometown this week.
Not surprisingly, Drizzy makes an appearance in the spot as well. Mercifully, any reference to “The 6ix” does not.
And although 2016 tourism numbers are still being finalized, Tourism Toronto is confident that they will top 2015’s record-setting 14 million overnight visitors. Given their timing, 2017 may be even better still.
Resonance is organizing the first-ever City Nation Place Americas summit in New York this June—and you’re invited. This is the must-attend professional development and networking event for DMOs, economic development organizations and real estate developers. Resonance will also be unveiling our America’s Best City Brands 2017. Where will your city rank this year?
Reserve your spot now for $100 off the delegate fee. If you need a bit more convincing, we’ll be featuring session overviews and speaker profiles in the coming weeks here. But don’t wait too long—a gathering this overdue should sell out quickly.