Minnesota Town’s Ad Campaign Takes Aim at Chains

Date: 1 Sep 2003 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

“Secede from Starbucks Nation” is the tagline of a new advertising campaign by the small town of Excelsior, Minnesota. The tongue-and-cheek ads take jabs at chain stores and promote Excelsior as a place where one-of-a-kind, locally owned businesses are embraced.

The ads consist of hand-written letters to Starbucks, the Hard Rock Caf’, and Home Depot. The one to Home Depot reads, “Thank you for your interest in our fine lakefront town. . . But with all due respect, we think we have it covered when it comes to home improvement. You see, we already have a few hardware stores of our own and even our own paint shop.”

It goes on, “We know you have shelves stocked up to the ceiling. . . But, no offence, you’ve never seen where we live. Chris at True Value has and knows exactly what we need.”

Excelsior sits on the shores of Lake Minnetonka about 20 miles west of Minneapolis. A lakeside resort in the 19th century, the community has maintained a lively downtown of locally owned businesses, including clothing stores, a florist, printer, barber, ice cream parlor, and music shop.

“The only brand-name you’ll recognize is Pizza Hut,” said Linda Murrell, director of the Excelsior Area Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the ads with the goal of drawing people tired of cookie-cutter chains to downtown Excelsior.

The ads caused quite a stir when they first appeared in a regional magazine in June. Murrell heard complaints from several of the Chamber’s members, including a few independent retailers who said the ads would deter new businesses and make the town appear arrogant.

But the complaints disappeared once the ads started attracting shoppers and media attention. Stories have aired on several local radio and television stations. Both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Minneapolis Business Journal gave Excelsior front page coverage. “I’ve never seen as much return on so little investment,” said Chris Birt of Andrews/Birt, the firm that created the ads. The Chamber has spent a total of $7,000.

Activity in downtown Excelsior has increased noticeably. Several entrepreneurs are now interested in locating new businesses in Excelsior. “They all say, ‘What a great ad campaign,'” Murrell noted. “I have said many times that advertising Excelsior as ‘a charming little town on the lake with nice merchants and cute gift stores’ doesn’t grab anyone’s attention.”

The New Rules Project has begun to assemble an on-line “slide show” of advertisements, bumper stickers, and other items that encourage people to support locally owned businesses. So far, our collection includes 19 examples from around the country. We hope readers will send us more (contact Stacy Mitchell at smitchell@ilsr.org).


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Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.