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Purely Upscale Grand Rapids

May 13, 2011

Earlier this year the Michigan Legislature voted to not only continue using taxpayer money to fund the Pure Michigan ad campaign, they increased it.

The funding was $15 million, but the state’s elected officials voted to add another $10 million bringing the total to $25 million, which Gov. Snyder signed onto in late March. This obviously raises numerous questions, particularly how the state can justify spending so much money to promote Michigan as a tourist destination, when so many public services and jobs are being cut.

Group Tour Magazine noted that much of the additional funding comes from Michigan’s 21st Century Jobs Fund, which again is taxpayers money being directed to benefit the private sector. The Group Tour Magazine article also noted that the TV ads will run 4,500 times just during this TV buying slot on numerous cables stations such as the Golf Channel, the Weather Channel, Fox, MSNBC and the Food Channel.

Just a few days ago the Michigan Policy Network posted a lengthy article provided some interesting analysis on the partisan aspect behind the funding of the Pure Michigan Campaign. The article acknowledges that there are differences between the state Republicans and Democrats, but the differences are only tactical in that both parties support using taxpayer funds to bankroll the ad campaign.

Pure Grand Rapids

The ads themselves focus on specific places throughout the state. One of the ads even features Grand Rapids and is worth deconstructing considering the content and representation of the commercial.

The GR Pure Campaign ad begins with a tight shot of someone playing the piano, which then cuts to a riverfront/skyline scene. From there we see people sitting outside on downtown Grand Rapids, followed by a tight shot of someone painting on a canvas and then a view from inside the public museum.

The next scene shows people walking in front of shops on Monroe Center, followed by an areal shot of downtown and then a couple dinning in an upscale restaurant. These images are followed by two different images of ArtPrize and then the commercial ends with video footage from Meijer Garden.

Like all the other Pure Michigan TV ads the voice is that of Tim Allen and the narrative in the Grand Rapids ad is positioning Grand Rapids as a place for “artful living” and “where food is art.” There are indeed some interesting things in Grand Rapids happening around both art and food, which has been the case for years. However, when the images of art are limited to ArtPrize or institutions such as Meijer Garden the commercial presents a very narrow view of the kinds of art experiments taking place in Grand Rapids. Why not highlight the Avenue for the Arts, ArtPeers, or the Festival of the Arts, which is celebrating 42 years in June?

Like the Fortune Magazine article on Grand Rapids from a year ago and many other promotional pieces about Grand Rapids, the Pure Grand Rapids commercial is focused on all things downtown and Meijer Gardens. Don’t these venues already have huge budgets to promote themselves? If people come to Grand Rapids and only visit downtown they would be missing out on the diverse neighborhoods in the city, all of which have interesting places to visit. Instead we get beautiful images of upscale people in downtown Grand Rapids……not exactly reflective of the majority of people who live in this community.

The focus on downtown GR in the Pure Grand Rapids commercial makes complete sense in terms of tourism promotion. Unfortunately, the people who will benefit from such tourism is a small sector of this community who are already well off while thousands of residents in this town are struggling to make a living.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 16, 2011 12:08 pm

    Crazy times we live in. The problem is that we as citizens can no longer tell what is real and what is not. We have eco-organizations sponsored by GE and At&t, Education organizations sponsored by religious zealots and national militaries run by private business’s. I can’t tell if Pure Michigan helps small business or not. Who can?

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