'A Cleveland Anthem' Is The Cleveland Browns Of Brand Videos

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It’s those messages, in fact, that make “A Cleveland Anthem” feel so contrived and outdated.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.)

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6 comments about "'A Cleveland Anthem' Is The Cleveland Browns Of Brand Videos".
  1. David Vawter from Doe-Anderson , March 20, 2014 at 4:15 p.m.
    "Bucatini pasta" kinda says it all. If you're the kind of person who isn't sure what bucatini is, Cleveland is your kinda town! Trying way too hard to not try too hard.
  2. Jeff Williamson from TBWA WORLD HEALTH , March 20, 2014 at 5:08 p.m.
    Check out another video about Cleveland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8aEOoq0ygc.
  3. Mike Marn from SIU , March 21, 2014 at 3:29 a.m.
    Sure, it's a little tired to throw rocks at Cleveland, so let's throw rocks at Cleveland's attempt at a promotional video. I don't think this is nearly as bad as your critique suggests. Yes, it does come from a slightly dated "chip on the shoulder" perspective, and Chrysler's Motor City spots did it with a bit more grit. But I don't think Cleveland's image has yet changed much, even in the progressive minds of those who might drop in if Chicago's airports were closed. Shallow as they are, those folks (though they'd hate to be called "folks") have just drifted off to find other shiny things to lampoon in order to stamp their own "cool" tickets. The video could use a little more structure, and maybe a little less food. And I don't love the track. But as a native Clevelander now in another land, I don't mind the portrayal of a population merrily thriving while ignoring the low-information critics (who are still) hurling barbs. The oh so witty "Cleveland Browns" reference reveals you as ONE of them! The Browns are (and will be) no worse, say, than the Jets and Geno will be this year! And you sure don't have to go back as far as flaming-filth waterways to find Browns teams that could have kicked YOUR team's butts from SoHO (or NoHo, or HoHo) to the East River. Late-night monologue writers have to aim for the lowest-hanging fruit. Columnists don't. Video gets a B. Article about it? C+, tops. Oh, and I had no idea what bucatini pasta was until I just looked it up. (Not that I noticed anything about it in the video.) Ahh, such a rube I am - no wonder I like Cleveland. I'd never survive the pace and the chic atmosphere of beautiful downtown Louisville. Cleveland Rocks and Go Tribe!
  4. Brad Harbison from GIE Media , March 21, 2014 at 10:54 a.m.
    I think the author is unjustly harsh here. I'll concede that the cliched “dispatches” were a bad choice, but on the whole I think it works as a promotional video showing “slices of life” in Cleveland and promoting some (not all) of the city’s assets, including its world-class dining scene. Cleveland has, to an extent, become a destination for people looking for a Chicago alternative. Why shouldn’t the city promote itself as such? And what’s wrong with appealing to hipsters? Aren’t they the ones spending their disposable income?
  5. pj bednarski from pj , March 21, 2014 at 12:30 p.m.
    As a Cleveland native, now removed, let me get all defensive too. The marketers said it's as much a video for Clevelanders as for would-be tourists because residents' negative views are off the chart. Indeed, how could they not be? Cleveland has gotten slugged for decades. It's trying really hard to shrug that off and pretend it doesn't hurt. This video says it's not going to BS people about being something it isn't. The real slogan should be "Cleveland: You've Got To Be Tough," which was a popular t-shirt back in the 70s, when the city defaulted and the river burned. That WAS 40 years ago. Back when the Bronx was burning, too...
  6. Jim Irwin from Jim Irwin Inc. , March 23, 2014 at 1:44 a.m.
    We Clevelanders are nothing if not self-deprecating, so to me "A Cleveland Anthem" suggests a dismaying scenario: It wasn't produced by Clevelanders. That affected self-realization may have come from someone who himself was surprised to encounter Cleveland's coolness. Yes, we've "known it all along," but anybody who thinks it needs to be validated by a video, Clevelander or otherwise, doesn't get it. And what is the objective, anyway? To get folks in Chicago and Detroit and, yes, Pittsburgh thinking, "Hmmm. Cleveland. We should go there for a weekend. Looks kind of cool." But which tourists are going to spend a quick-cut weekend hitting four or five restaurants and night spots, after seeing the obvious high spots such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the museums and whatever else can be sandwiched into 48 hours? (Oh. Wait. Forgot to mention the casino.) Tack it on to a day at Cedar Point, maybe. And as far as escaping vs. embracing its past, well, there's a brewery that makes Burning River. Which kind of encapsulates the Cleveland mindset: We are masters not only of self-deprecation but also of irony, which is a step up the emotional well-being scale. So instead of trying to tell folks how misunderstood we are, and if only they'd come see for yourself, it might be more honest to say, "Yeah? So what? Hall of Fame's right off the Shoreway. Lock your car."