New Inclusive Boston ad campaign aims to change perception of the city

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It’s part of an ongoing effort to change Boston’s image as a racist city, a marketing campaign launched last year under the city’s first colored mayor, Kim Janey, which has now been inherited by her second, Michelle Wu. Even though the city has become increasingly diverse, with white residents now comprising only 45% of its population, Boston still carries its reputation as a bastion of white male leadership and structures of exclusive power.

Wu, who last year became the city’s first woman and first person of color elected mayor, said the new campaign is an effort to highlight the diverse backgrounds of Boston residents and the many cultural attractions that await visitors to the city.

“It’s a reflection of the voice that matters in our city – whose voice will be at the center of every process we organize,” Wu said at a press conference at City Hall on Monday.

The campaign will be featured on multiple local NBCUniversal TV stations, as well as social media, print and radio, in a nearly $1.5 million ad buy, officials said. from the city.

Tourism efforts here haven’t always been so focused on inclusivity. The Boston Globe reported in 2017 the area’s main tourist website featured a video of mostly white faces inviting visitors to the city’s top attractions. And his “neighborhood restaurant guide” featured neighborhoods with few black residents: Back Bay, Downtown, the North End and the Seaport. This sets Boston apart from Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, DC, whose tourism websites offer itineraries dedicated to arts, culture, food and black history.

In “communities of color, we never see ourselves represented in how we market our city,” said Segun Idowu, Boston’s chief economic opportunity and inclusion officer, who is black and grew up in the city. “That’s the really important element of this campaign.”

The “All Inclusive Boston” campaign follows market research commissioned for the city by former Mayor Martin J. Walsh, which found that Boston needed to highlight diversity and inclusion to combat negative stereotypes and stimulate tourism. The city’s top descriptors given by black residents were “white,” “rude,” “unwelcoming” and “arrogant,” research showed, and travelers unfamiliar with Boston said they saw the city in similar terms.

The first phase of the new campaign, launched last year, featured a wide cross section of Black, Asian American and Latino residents. It generated more than 4,000 new visits to the city, even amid the restrictions and travel removed from the COVID-19 pandemic, the city said. Officials hope this year’s efforts will further boost tourism.

Expanding the definition of the accent Boston is known for was “an opportunity to reintroduce the city,” said Daren Bascome, one of the marketing executives who worked on the campaign. Bostonians speak more than 140 languages ​​and have a wide variety of accents, he said. the announcement was an opportunity to highlight this diversity.

Some pundits said the campaign would be an important strategy to change the way Boston is viewed.

“People across the country have long viewed Boston as not being welcoming to black people or Latinx people in particular, Asian people as well,” said James Jennings, a professor emeritus at Tufts University who has studied racial disparities in the direction of Boston. “We still have challenges – big challenges – but it’s a big effort. It’s not a panacea, but it’s still a big effort.

The question of what constitutes a Boston accent and who counts as a Bostonian was a lightning rod during last year’s mayoral campaign.

When she won, Wu became the first Boston mayor in nearly a century not to have been born here, even after 33% of likely voters said in an October Suffolk University/Boston poll Globe/NBC10 that they preferred a Boston-born mayor. Wu’s rival was Annissa Essaibi George, a proud Dorchester native with a traditional Boston accent, which clearly resonated with her campaign promise to be “the didah, the motha and the mayah” to solve the city’s problems. .

Essaibi George’s accent became the subject of a Page One New York Times article, and critics, including a Globe opinion page columnist, suggested it was being used as a whistle to galvanize Boston’s white conservative voters. Essaibi George, who is Arab-American, dismissed that claim, saying she was proud of her accent but did not play it to flatter voters.

Wu said on Monday that she played no role in creating the ad campaign beyond encouraging it and supporting its funding.


Emma Platoff can be contacted at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.

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