Olive burgers. The giraffe on top of the West Side Meijer gas station. Ratchet's mysterious disappearance from the Lugnuts. If you live or work in Lansing, you’re likely familiar with some pretty iconic local lore. We’ve spent decades collecting quirky inside jokes (just ask Lansing Facts), and we are irrationally proud of our weirdness. Naturally, this led us at Redhead to ask: How can we leverage this in a creative campaign?
Currently, we’re working with our friends at Lansing 5:01 and Hundred Place on a talent attraction campaign for Lansing called “Be our neighbor.” In short, the campaign aims to share everything the Lansing region has to offer on a national scale, inspiring those beyond our region to consider Lansing as a potential place to live, work, or open a business. This national recognition will ideally amplify Lansing’s brand, boost the local economy, and get everyone holding hands and singing kumbaya in the long-run. But in order to appeal to outside audiences, we knew we needed to get locals on board first.
Sure, us locals know we love Lansing deep down. But too often, that appreciation can manifest as a sibling type of situation: we love to give them a hard time all the while knowing that — however brutally we may roast them at times — they’ll stick around. We genuinely want to see them thrive and improve, but we never say “I love you” to those that deserve it most. (Pretty deep for a blog post, I know. Just let it all in.)
Enter, the big ol’ list: “517 Reasons Why Our City is a Great City.” Our “I love you” to the Lansing region, shining a light on all of the places, accomplishments, and weird lore that we adore. This random, non-exhaustive list is now on Lansing 5:01’s website, and is promoted through local mediums like posters and CATA bus wraps around town as part of the campaign.
I would like to point out that, for the record, we knew this would be a big undertaking from the start. “517 is a lot more than you think it is” was a common phrase uttered around the office. But just like when I accidentally bought 15 bags of brown mulch from Lowe’s that one time, I didn’t realize just how much it would be until I saw it.
As Lansing-loyal as we are, at this point, we really wished we lived somewhere with an area code beginning with a 2 or even a 3, perhaps. Nevertheless, we persisted.
We started by brainstorming ideas around the conference table and jotting them down on my favorite collaborative platform, an overwhelmingly long shared Google Sheet. We had a lot of fun but, through these, we also kept our end objective in mind: to spark local affinity, inspiring every corner of the Lansing region to identify as “Lansing” regardless of location. We made a conscious effort to research and include little tidbits from surrounding communities, such as the in-store river at Playmakers in Okemos, the historic (and potentially haunted?) Eaton County Courthouse in Charlotte, and MSU’s legendary Midnight Scream during finals. We also aimed to shine a light on some of the potentially lesser-known pockets and “did you knows” that deserved some flowers.
Ultimately, the list serves as a love letter to the city, rallying Lanstronauts by taking ownership of the offbeat. For your enjoyment, a few of my favorites include but are not limited to: Local jingles for car dealers, Stoopfest and kooky Eastside culture, the Moist Towelette Museum in the planetarium at MSU, and the utter icon that is The Fledge.
Of course, this is hardly the first time weirdness has been celebrated in a city branding context. Keep Austin Weird formally pioneered this trend way back in 2000, leading to spinoff Keep [Whatever City] Weird campaigns across the country in the decades that followed. This led me to wonder: What is it about the weird that sparks so much pride? Could it be the general skepticism toward the role of ideology in maintaining political and economic power brought on by a rise in postmodernism in the late 20th century, or something more?
To me, the answer is pretty simple: weird = connection. Brought on by tiny observations that solidify over time, these inside jokes bring us together. When we bond over shared experiences like steak for sale in the mall parking lot and a certain taco place with hilariously unpredictable hours, we know we’re among friends. And when you’re marketing for a city, that’s just about the best non-quantifiable metric you can ask for.