Last September on this site, we mentioned the City of Montreal’s advertising efforts to stem the tide of people fleeing the island for the fool’s gold of the suburbs. It’s been eight months since then, and the city’s ads are still found all over Montreal. But have they been effective?
The idea itself if a good one: sell Montrealers on the virtues of living on the island and counter the overwhelming pressure on young people to find cheap property in far-flung places around the metropolis. The City of Montreal’s goals seem to include increasing the density of the downtown core for the benefit of sustainable transport, accommodations, and commerce, as well as, less altruistically, to regain some of its tax revenue lost to the suburbs.
In my mind, selling the virtues of living close to the downtown core of Montreal might be the easiest advertising job in the world, but I am heavily biased by my unconditional love for living in the Plateau. Still, objective advantages to living on the island are bountiful, including lower transportation costs, reduced commuting times, mixed-use communities that are walk friendly, immediate access to arts and entertainment, and close contact with the vast majority of Montreal’s historical, cultural, and geographic patrimony.
The City’s ads have done an admirable job of attempting to convey some of these advantages, but I still have to wonder whether they’ve missed their mark.
Ads like the one above could be less ambiguous, and I wonder if aiming for “high-concept” was a smart choice for a demographic that moves to the suburbs for extra space, safety, and lower property costs. I’m no advertising expert, but I don’t think this ad quite screams: “Stay on the island and your reduced transportation costs will more than make up for any higher property costs”.
I would keep it simple, and hit Montrealers at their Achilles heel: their civic pride. Instead of a a high-brow comment on the quality of life around the island, the City of Montreal should be treating this much like they would an ad for tourism in Montreal. Evoke the most celebrated parts of Montreal and make it clear that it IS an affordable option for anyone to live in these areas. I can’t count the number of young Montrealers who cling to the myth that it is too expensive to live anywhere on the island. The City comes closest to breaking this myth with the following two ads:
This one above may be the most effective of all the ads, because it evokes Montreal’s distinct architectural heritage while making it clear that there are options on the island for every demographic.
This second one above has the right idea in evoking civic pride, but it’s formulation is clumsy: are they suggesting that anyone with global ambition who leaves Montreal for another country or city has lost their claim to the title of “Montrealer”? The ad should make it more clear that they are contrasting those who stay on the island of Montreal with those who are fleeing to the suburbs, not those who stay in Montreal all their life with those who leave for other cities. And why not use some more poignant Montreal imagery?
Finally, though I have been adopting it myself, I’m not sure that we want to establish a dichotomy between the “island” and “suburbs”. Nobody would deny that much of West Island is one large suburb. Do we want to continue to encourage the type of development we see in the West Island? I think the city needs to be more surgical in its campaign, and target its true goal: sustainable, dense development around the downtown core. This kind of development should be contrasted against suburban sprawl, whether in be found in Laval or Pierrefonds.
What do you think: has this campaign be successful? Should it be re-tooled? Or should the city focus instead on concrete policies, be they taxing, zoning, or otherwise, which encourages high-density, mixed-use development?