'Find your happy place in Baltimore'

Smile-themed marketing campaign to be launched

  • Sam Rogers, chief marketing officer at Visit Baltimore, poses with Baltimore-themed cutouts on view at the Baltimore Visitor Center.
Sam Rogers, chief marketing officer at Visit Baltimore, poses… (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
May 10, 2010|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore has been called Charm City and the City That Reads. Now boosters believe it's where tourists can find their happy place.

"Find Your Happy Place in Baltimore" is the slogan of a $500,000 marketing campaign that the city's tourism agency, Visit Baltimore, is launching this month. It's intended to play off the recessionary blues, with one early web spot asking, "Has the economy got you in a slump?"

Created by Baltimore ad agency Carton Donofrio Partners, the multimedia campaign aims largely to draw visitors from nearby states and the District of Columbia as well as other parts of Maryland. It will promote Baltimore museums, attractions, hotels, restaurants and other destinations from now until New Year's Eve, in print and on television, radio and the Internet.

Visit Baltimore plans to unveil the campaign at a National Tourism Week event Thursday and to begin the promotions around Memorial Day. As part of the unveiling, the agency will seek to set a Guinness World Record by gathering more than 250 members in orange and black ponchos outside the Maryland Science Center in an attempt to create the world's largest human smiley face. If the record is achieved, Visit Baltimore plans to release 19 dozen butterflies into the air.

"People are looking for joy. People are looking for happiness. People are looking for simpler pleasures in the climate we are living in," said Sam Rogers, chief marketing officer at Visit Baltimore. "The idea is to get people to move around town and go see and do things they wouldn't normally do."

The theme was inspired largely by an upcoming exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum titled "What Makes Us Smile?" that will be curated in part by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons TV show. The museum's national advisory committee for the exhibition includes filmmaker John Waters and comedian Rosie O'Donnell.

Planners hope the campaign will boost the local tourism industry. They say they wanted an overriding theme that any number of destinations could use to promote their exhibits and activities and a theme that's in sync with the times, as the economy shows some signs of recovery.

The campaign includes the website BmoreHappy.com, which will provide information about "happy stay" packages at hotels and an interactive "Bmore Happy Sweet-stakes" game that people can play to win prizes, including baseball tickets, art work, and trips to Florida and the Caribbean.

In coming weeks, Marylanders will be hearing about "happy" seats at Oriole Park where prizes will be hidden, "happy" tables at restaurants, and "happy" happy hours at bars.

"No matter what makes you happy, you'll find it in Baltimore," says one print ad that features a variety of Baltimore figures, from Divine to Babe Ruth to the Oriole Bird, with the downtown skyline in the background, sunbeams radiating outward and butterflies fluttering overhead. "Only Baltimore has this many unexpected things to see and do all in one place."

Target markets for print ads and TV spots include Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C. Some Happy Place promotions already have begun to appear locally, including an Internet spot that designated May 8 and 9 "Baltimore Happiness For Less Weekend." Life-size figures at the Baltimore Visitor Center depict characters from participating attractions.

For some observers, the marketing is reminiscent of promotional efforts by former Mayor William Donald Schaefer to improve the city's morale, from the Charm City moniker to "Baltimore is Best" to "Pink Positive." During the pink campaign, a former Schaefer aide, Pat Bernstein, had city street curbs painted that color in an effort to put people in a cheerier mood.

"Schaefer was a genius at putting a happy face on a situation that sometimes was not so happy," said Blair Lee, a political commentator. "This is right out of the Schaefer playbook. The problem is that Schaefer is not here. You have to have a Schaefer to sell it."

Others say they aren't sure about the campaign's tone.

"Isn't that what they tell women in childbirth, 'Go to your happy place'?" asked Marcie Jones Brennan, a Baltimore crime blogger and author. "It sounds like a pain management technique."

The eight-month campaign is the successor to previous cultural tourism promotions such as "Waterfront Invasion" and "Nevermore 2009, the 200th Birthday of Edgar Allan Poe."

The "Find Your Happy Place" concept stemmed from extensive research that shows people, more than ever, are looking to do things that make them happy after the long economic downturn, said Visit Baltimore president and chief executive Tom Noonan.

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