Let me state this right up front: I dig Cleveland. If I had to be dropped into one city between the coasts and the Chicago airports were closed that day, Cleveland would be the easy second choice. The people are low-key and decent. The food portions are mountainous and blanketed with the finest pasteurized cheeses. If moldy stereotypes and associations still linger, they’re lost on me.
That’s why I beseech anyone thinking about spending a few days in/around “Barcelona on the Cuyahoga” to ignore the dickens out of “A Cleveland Anthem,” the brand-video centerpiece of a new campaign that attempts to paint Cleveland as Austin, Ohio. Thick with young people doing platonic-ideal-of-young-people things - smiling, laughing and otherwise interacting without the assistance of hand-held technology - “A Cleveland Anthem” manages to render the city more of a stereotype than it supposedly was during its long-ago era of flaming-filth waterways. Can an inaugural NxNE/Southwest gathering be far behind? Judging by the wealth of urban-hipster content crammed into the video, local organizers have already booked the bands and BBQ tents.
Designs on cultural credibility? “A Cleveland Anthem” has ’em, in the form of the Black Keys knockoff of an electro-blues soundtrack and the six or seven shots of musicians who might as well be named Authentic A. Authenticity. Attitude, conveyed via proud-talkin’ dispatches spelled out in blocky capital letters (“We never followed their rules. We made our own,” “You may have read the stories. Heard the jokes. But this isn’t the place for people who follow the herd.”)? In spades, man, in spades.
It’s those messages, in fact, that make “A Cleveland Anthem” feel so contrived and outdated. Cleveland may or may not suffer from low civic self-esteem, but the on-screen volleys have the effect of restarting a fight that ended two generations ago. Visually, the clip depicts Cleveland as a happening urban oasis, and still the messages seem aimed at fomenting grandpa’s grudge. “What they never understood is that while they were talking about us, we weren’t listening” - whoa, in your FACE, guy trying out new material at the Laff Shack in Pittsburgh.
While the on-screen text spews defiance and touts the city’s utter impermeability to overplayed trends (“World-class experiences without the world-class ego. It’s what happens when you’re not trying to be something you’re not”), the rest of the clip could double as a how-to manual for trend-raking commercial directors. “A Cleveland Anthem” flips between color and black-and-white and between still and moving images, throwing in some split-screen for maximum visual atonality.
There are the requisite still photos of interesting-looking people in interesting settings, like Bubble Gum Trinketeer, Smiling Person Behind High Countertop and Sandwich. There are skateboarders, vintage-clothing aficionados, pinball players and dogs skilled in the art of making bold eye contact. Unintentionally, this is the ideal of the modern urban landscape as seen through the eyes of an Onion parodist.
The best thing I can say about “A Cleveland Anthem” is that it’s easily ignored. It’s not clever enough to go viral for the right reasons or idiotic enough to do so for the wrong ones. It just depicts some ambitious marketing firm’s idealized version of a place that doesn’t need the made-for-TV sheen, and as such should not be permitted to influence your choice of leisure destination or place to offload your adult children. In a sad little nutshell, it is the Cleveland Browns of brand videos. (Sorry.)