New tourism campaign shows off Toronto's 'civic swagger'

The views are different here in "Canada's downtown," says a new campaign from Tourism Toronto.

Just released on Monday morning, the ad spot features ballet dancers riding the TTC, a kid flipping his bat like José Bautista, the vibrant energy of Chinatown, a Raptors game, a Drake concert and Pride weekend — all crammed in to just over a minute.

- VIDEO: Vintage Toronto tourism ads from the '80s and '90s

Andrew Weir, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Tourism Toronto, says the new campaign taps into the city's growing "civic swagger."

"I think we've seen a change in our civic psyche over the last three to four years, with the 'We The North' campaign, how Drake has built Toronto into his DNA, even the Toronto sign... we've given ourselves collective permission to be more proud," he says.

The city's multiculturalism is on full display in the ad, which also features LGBT couples and the catchphrase, "All flavours are welcome" — conscious choices that Weir says are meant to reflect Toronto's "idealism and diversity."

'One of the best ads I've seen'

"It's one of the best ads I've seen — ever — for a city," says advertising expert David Soberman, a Rotman School of Management marketing professor.

The spot was developed in partnership with marketing powerhouse J. Walter Thompson and a variety of Toronto-based actors, models and post-production houses.

Geared towards international travellers, the campaign is launching first in the American market.

Soberman says the vibe could appeal to a younger American demographic, thanks to familiar imagery like Blue Jays right fielder José Bautista's meme-inducing 2015 bat flip.

"That's who the message is going to resonate with," he says. "Not the people voting for Donald Trump."

So was the video meant to be a response to the current state of affairs in the U.S.? Weir says no.

The campaign was actually developed last summer, with video shot in October, he explains. "It's not a response to any particular political personalities or administrations."

Marc Gordon, a Thornhill-based customer experience and marketing expert, praised the ad's "fantastic" production and says it could be a polarizing conversation-starter south of the border.

"The ad is not subtle when it comes to conveying our openness to the LGBT community, to multiculturalism, to immigration," he says.

Sure, a chunk of the American population might not embrace those messages, but Gordon says an even bigger portion could see it as a "breath of fresh air."

"I don't know if the ad is going to get people rushing to the airport to come here," he adds. "Having said that, I do think it could lead to a lot of dialogue."

Toronto portrayed as 'Canada's downtown'

But not everyone thinks the campaign hit the mark.

Toronto-based copywriter and marketing and branding consultant Debra Stuart says the video's key messages are "lost on the viewer," thanks to the rapid cuts and changing viewpoints.

"There is not one tagline or positioning statement to unify the message, make it memorable and help the viewer connect the dots," she says.

But to Weir, the key theme is that of Toronto being "Canada's downtown" — a vibe that differentiates the city from Chicago, New York, Miami, or any other American hotspots.

"It's about being a big, global city with a distinctly Canadian feel and perspective," he says.

City likely broke tourism record for 2016

The campaign comes at a time of booming tourism in Toronto.

While Weir says the final 2016 tourism numbers are still being tallied by Tourism Toronto, the city was on track to top 2015's record-setting 14 million overnight visitors, thanks to steady growth from the key markets like the U.S., the U.K., China, Germany, Japan and Mexico.

Funded by the Greater Toronto Hotel Association's Destination Marketing Program, the international marketing efforts will roll out online through the spring with more videos and digital ads, reaching consumers through "sophisticated behavioural targeting," says Tourism Toronto in a press release.