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“That’s So L.A.” -- the ad campaign

January 9, 2009 |  6:09 pm

Angling for tourism dollars that could help Los Angeles bridge its $433-million budget gap next year, city officials launched an advertising campaign today to attract visitors, targeting in-state residents who might consider vacations closer to home in the economic downturn.

The city’s image makers are seeking to turn what is typically a jab at L.A.’s culture — “That’s So L.A.” — into a a tongue-in-cheek slogan for the city’s new $2-million campaign.

Replacing the celebrity-driven “See My L.A.” campaign of the last five years, online ads and print ads in local editions of such magazines as Architectural Digest, Vanity Fair and Gourmet Magazine will showcase L.A. landmarks from the city’s beaches to the Universal Studios lot to Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers.

“Dancing to your own beat,” says one ad with a picture of a woman dancing on Venice Beach, “That’s So L.A.”

A number of the ads will draw on the star power of local celebrities, including Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, soccer star David Beckham and clothing designer Lauren Conrad, star of MTV's “The Hills.”

Says the ad with a photo of Hanks and Wilson onstage at the L.A. Greek Festival: “Celebrating your inner Zorba ... That’s so L.A.”

An image of Conrad at what appears to be her fashion show appears beneath the script “Making it big, then making it bigger ... That’s so L.A.”

City officials are asking residents to submit their own ads at www.discoverLosAngeles.com for a chance at prizes that include in-city getaways and spending money. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stressed that a fresh approach was needed during the economic downturn, even though the past three years set records for tourism in Los Angeles.

About 26 million people visited L.A. and the surrounding county in 2008, spending an estimated $14.2 billion, according to statistics from the city’s convention and visitors bureau. But, as in other cities, officials saw a drop late last year as the economy soured.

“We’re in tough economic times, we certainly need to be very aggressive about competing for a limited tourism dollar, and we think that after five years there was a need to kind of add a new flavor or new energy to the campaign,” Villaraigosa said. “One thing we’re trying to emphasize is just the diversity of L.A.” Larry Kurzweil, president and COO of Universal Studios Hollywood Mark, praised the campaign as finally differentiating Los Angeles’ vibe and culture from those of other hot tourism destinations across the country.

“We haven’t seen the likes of this business challenge since 2001,” Kurzweil said, noting that in October “we started seeing us getting close to a cliff” in tourism numbers. Though city officials are targeting international tourists, a major thrust of the new effort is to draw tourists who might otherwise go to nearby destinations including Las Vegas, San Francisco and San Diego. “We used to just rely on the sunshine –- ‘Go west, young man, go west,’” said Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes Hollywood. “Now everyone is in competition.”

Las Vegas saw its tourism numbers slide in 2008 but drew an estimated 34.7 million visitors by the end of November. San Diego County drew 28.8 million visitors last year over the first 11 months. Spending by tourists amounted to about $7.3 billion in San Diego County, according to its convention and visitors bureau.

New York City has launched an aggressive campaign to attract 50 million visitors annually by 2015. Like Los Angeles, that city also saw record visits in 2007 -- 46 million visitors spent $28 billion, according to that city’s visitors’ bureau.

--Maeve Reston

Photo credit: L.A. Times file