Saint John — Mayor Mel Norton is being asked to explain how a new advertising campaign for Saint John not only failed to promote the city in a positive light, but ultimately ended up backfiring.
Last week, city hall launched a new campaign to reflect the vibrancy of the uptown region of the so-called “Renaissance City,” which is celebrating its 230th birthday this year. However, after only a few days the campaign has been mocked and distorted on social media to the point where the project is now considered a complete flop.
“Honestly, we didn’t see this coming,” said Norton. “We licensed the popular top 40 song ‘Uptown Funk’ to use in our campaign, at a substantial cost I might add. I admit that I’ve been mildly obsessed with that song since it hit the charts, and I thought it was a perfect fit here. Our goal was to educate Maritimers about the vibrancy of our uptown region. As the song says, ‘if you sexy then flaunt it; if you freaky then own it.’ Uptown Saint John is a popular, hip place and that’s a story that we want to tell to young people.”
Shortly after the launch of the campaign, it was mocked on Twitter and Facebook. Some commenters pointed out that Uptown Saint John is known for a different kind of “funk” — a putrid odour that originated from the huge amounts of untreated raw sewage that until recently was dumped daily into the harbour. One citizen tweeted, “That uptown funk gives me nausea. Julio! Get the stretch and get me out of here! #livelifeuptown.”
Historically, Saint John has had one of the oldest municipal sewage systems in North America, dating back to the 1880s. In 1993, 60 percent of the city’s wastewater flowing into the Harbour was untreated: 23,000 m3 per day. That amount was reduced to 44 percent (16,000 m3 per day) by 2010. “That’s a lot of fresh jars o’ Skippy,” said Norton.
The last piece of infrastructure needed to complete the $100-million project was commissioned on Oct. 31, 2014. Since then, no untreated sewage has been discharged into the harbour. Saint John is now preparing to experience its first hot-ish summer day without the smell of raw sewage wafting through the city core.
“Girls hit your hallelujah whooo!” exclaimed Norton. “After more than 130 years of pumping sewage directly from our toilets into the water outside our uptown homes, we were ready to dance and jump on it. We needed a publicity campaign to tell people that the uptown turned a corner and it was going to ‘funk you up!’”
However, after enduring decades of smelling sewage at low tide, Saint Johners still think of something else when they hear about ‘funk’ in the uptown. As the publicity campaign ramped up, incredulous citizens were not ready to forget the city’s not-so-hip “funky” past. The city was deluged by negative feedback via social media, and the campaign quickly lost its caché with the public.
Norton is crestfallen at the failure of his attempt to rebrand the uptown. “I was like, ‘Fill my cup and put some and liquor in it,’” he lamented. Norton has refused additional interviews about the unsuccessful campaign. Nevertheless, sources close to the mayor say he reportedly is still kissing himself because he is too pretty.