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Visit Philly released a new series of promotional videos featuring a celebrity host: Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter of the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop band The Roots, founded in 1987 in the city by Trotter and Questlove.
In these videos, Trotter, a Philly native, shows off his city to visiting black influencers, taking them to well-known spots like Fairmount Park as well as black-owned businesses such as Cultured Couture, about which Trotter says in the video, “This would be my gigolo headquarters, like a speakeasy haberdashery.”
The intended audience might seem obvious — black millennials — but the videos may appeal to a broader audience.
Trotter is a fitting choice for tapping into the millennial-dominated black travel movement. The title of the campaign, We Got You, feels like a play on the late ’90s hit song, You Got Me by The Roots featuring Erykah Badu, though Visit Philly said that connection was accidental. However, the fact that The Roots is the house band on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon broadens the audience considerably.
Back to black millennials, everything about these videos speaks to this group: The hosts are young but old enough to be smart, the music is hot, everyone’s style is on point, and there’s swagger for days. But while the videos scream black millennial by taking the viewer shopping for Air Jordans, they also introduce an organization that teaches city youth to ride horses.
“Visit Philadelphia has never really focused on age,” said the company’s president and CEO Meryl Levitz. “We’ve always focused on trip types because you may be 35 years old, one day you may wanna see museums, another day you may want to get away from the city,” she said, suggesting that age is a less-effective indicator than actual desires.
Herein lies a valuable lesson: Stereotypes may be easy and tempting, but lazy marketing can backfire. Travel brands can’t afford to assume that older travelers don’t want to be active outdoors, or to assume that millennials aren’t interested in history.
Jenea Robinson, senior media relations manager at Visit Philly, said about reaching that broader audience, “We paired [Trotter] with these five influencers who have very different followings across different sectors.” Levitz also spoke about the city’s wide variety of offerings, which helps avoid being pigeonholed. “We’re not Disney World, which is definitely a family trip,” she said.
Alongside Trotter’s easy confidence, one of his guests — Dustin Ross, co-host of the podcast The Friend Zone — makes it seem impossibly cool to wander into Max’s Steaks and have no idea how to order. That’s no easy feat for a destination marketing organization. In many travel promos, that lack of experience comes off looking stiff, awkward, and undesirable, but here, Ross is a confident outsider and welcomes a broader audience of people who are nervous about appearing out of place when they travel.
Along similar lines, the Travel Channel show The Best Place to Be features celebrities like Queen Latifah and Anthony Anderson traveling internationally and sharing their top experiences. However, these videos fit an old, familiar mold and lack the energy and insider feeling of Trotter’s project.
For Visit Philadelphia, the use of a male host actually diversifies the audience further, as the black travel movement has long been female-dominated. Nomadness Travel Tribe, a leading black travel community, is approaching 90 percent female and the black travel movement is full of female founders and CEOs (unlike the broader travel industry).
According to Visit Philly, the target audience for this campaign is college-educated African American travelers who are interested in visiting an urban destination, earn more than $75,000 annually, and live in the New York, Washington D.C., or Philadelphia areas.
Regaining Market Share
In 2015, Visit Philly commissioned a study from Ipsos on African American leisure travelers from the Northeastern U.S. The study found that more African American travelers visited Philadelphia more than five years ago (33 percent) than in the past five years (25 percent), indicating that the city is losing market share, and also that this segment may have an outdated view of the city.
“People thought of it more as an American obligation rather than fun,” said Levitz of an image of Philadelphia she hopes to change.
Regarding the loss of visitation, Levitz said that “competitive destinations stepped up the competition,” citing Atlanta’s successful branding among other East Coast hubs.
Visit Philly also wants to increase the length of stay for this group, noting that the majority (61 percent) of African American travelers who visited Philadelphia in the past five years came only for a day trip.
A Cultural Movement
One of Visit Philly’s videos mentions a black renaissance in Philadelphia. “Like the Harlem Renaissance, it’s a resurgence of black art and black culture,” said Robinson. Mentioning the black travel movement, she noted innovation in sectors “from travel to television to literature. It’s an interesting time in our country.”
Many travelers associate Philadelphia with school trips and family outings in which they trudge through a familiar list of American history sites, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, which don’t really dig into black history. In these videos, the usual white figures in American history are traded for Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, and W.E.B. Du Bois’ time in the city’s historic seventh ward.
Philadelphia was also a crucial receiving station during the Great Migration, in which six million black Americans fled the Jim Crow South in the 20th century, which means the city has even more historical material to work with. FX is developing a limited series based on Isabel Wilkerson’s acclaimed book on the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, which could contribute significantly to the topic’s popularity and become a marketing hook.
Watch one of Visit Philly’s new videos featuring Trotter here: