Shed Self-hate Philadelphians Should Give The New Tourism Slogan - And The Brotherhood Behind It - A Chance.

Posted: February 22, 1997

Philadelphia's paid image-makers have just popped out a slogan worth remembering, which begs Philadelphians to get over their long-running date with self-hate.

Think about it:

``Philadelphia: The Place that Loves You Back.''

``Love'' has, of course, been put to work in hot tourist slogans ever since ``I love New York'' and ``Virginia is for lovers.''

Some may fear that this love angle has been sucked dry. After all, how many times can you crank up the love machine to sell a state or a city?

Well, by our lights, this is one more way to make it work.

This pitch promises to percolate subliminally in a way perhaps even

more ingenious than the other love slogans.

``I love New York'' - yep, just like the blustery Big Apple to begin with the self-centered ego. ``Virginia is for lovers'' - and all you losers still looking for love bought into that flimflam?!

Now, here comes a city, Philadelphia, making the promise (``We'll love you'') that all people want to hear - while implying subtly that people won't be able to resist loving it, too.

What a nice thought. It comes across not just as a brainwashing pitch, but as a promise.

A promise worth remembering when you're looking for a place to go.

But also, of course, a promise you'll expect to have kept.

And that gets to the difficult and tantalizing part:

Can Philadelphia keep this promise?

Given that a thousand self-help books advise that you can't love others until you love yourself, some other questions pose themselves:

Can Philadelphians learn to stop snitching on their city? Can the city's history of loving to hate itself be adjusted?

Can Philadelphians revise their cynical sense of their city's history?

This change in self-image will be the city's greatest challenge.

Doubt that? Well, sure as the sunrise, critics already are slamming the tourist campaign slogan created by Tierney & Partners of Philadelphia - even before the $2 million multimedia blitz gets on the air.

Bob Garfield of Advertising Age may not be a Philadelphian, but he sounded like one when he cracked: ``It's marginally better than: `Philadelphia: The Place that Bombs Your Roof' . . . but, to me, it's not the kind of thing that's going to get people to change their summer plans.''

A Philadelphia lawyer stated the problem more succinctly: ``It doesn't love you back.''

Well, is she right?

No doubt, the town is packed with folks who have great fun reminding the outside world that the city once bombed one of its neighborhoods, that its downtown once had a reputation as a very dirty place (which it isn't anymore), and that its politicians are Neanderthal pickpockets (change comes slower in some areas).

New Yorkers aren't renowned for harping on the swell chance outsiders have of getting robbed or murdered or for showing would-be visi tors snapshots of the South Bronx.

The first thing Virginians tell the world isn't that, for all the state's history, much of it sits cheek by jowl with suburban sprawl.

So what's our problem?

Is it really beyond the average Philadelphian to stop hating your city long enough to stop blabbing its most hideous secrets on every trip out of town, to start bragging on the place just a little?

You know, while we're vacationing in the Bahamas, Scandinavia or Arizona, it wouldn't kill us to mention stuff like: ``My hometown has the best-looking convention center in America. America really did start here. We've got more American history waiting to come alive to your touch than some whole states have. Hotel chains all over the U.S. are moving in. Up in King of Prussia, we have the hugest, plushest shopping mall of all. And if you want to see a real hockey team, come see the Flyers.'' (OK, so don't mention the Sixers.)

Former Inquirer columnist Steve Lopez, a born and raised Californian, said that after 12 years, he discovered the trick to becoming a true Philadelphian is to be ``proud enough of the city to defend it against outside criticism'' while continuing to scream at City Hall, demanding all the stupid things get fixed.

So it should not be such a monumental step to move from defending it to outsiders to showing them that this can be ``the place that loves you back.''

Who knows? One day, Philadelphians and their suburban neighbors, who like-it-or-not are in this tourism marketing business together, might even admit to loving one another just a tiny bit.

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