Jul. 29, 2002: Testimonials to Polish Atlanta’s Tarnished Image

While I have been sitting around fretting about some big-shot CEO borrowing my stock portfolio to build a castle in the Alps or Arab terrorists hatching a plan to crash airplanes into all the tall buildings in Bogart or if America’s sweetheart, Rosie O’Donnell, will ever be allowed to join the Augusta National Golf Club, I find that Atlanta has been wrestling with a issue that makes my worries pale in comparison. Georgia’s beloved capital city has an image problem. Imagine that.

Happily, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau has announced an advertising campaign using local celebrities that the ACVB hopes will make you sit up and take notice of all the positive benefits the city has to offer. Hurrah!

When I heard the news, I was positive that the bureau would make me one of their first calls. The phone never rang. Maybe they don’t think I am a celebrity. That hurt. Then I remembered that I don’t live in Atlanta and they probably think I don’t care about the city. That hurt, too. But, hey, if I am anything, I’m a good sport. To show there are no hard feelings, I decided to whip up a few commercials on my own for the ACVB that I guarantee will have the whole world talking about the Next Great International City (after Charlotte and Orlando and Savannah and a few dozen others).

Before I go too far down the road with this project, I thought I should run these ads by you. You are now what the advertising pros call a test market, and when my commercials are a smash hit you can rightly take your share of credit for their success. Just one more reason to read this space every week.

Stand by for Commercial Number One: “Hello, I am Bill Campbell. I used to be mayor of Atlanta and under my leadership during the 1996 Olympic Games the city looked like a Third World flea market. Also, you should know Atlanta’s sewer system is so bad that when you flush a toilet, it blows all the manhole covers off the street. That alone is worth a trip to our fair city.”

Commercial Number Two: “Yo! I’m Reggie. I am a spokesperson for the homeless people, which is a polite term for those of us who hang around downtown Atlanta and harass you for money. Anytime some Chamber of Commerce type suggests we give the city a bad image and that we ought to get jobs, the do-gooders come out of the woodwork to defend our God-given right to be public nuisances. That scares the hell out of the suits. By the way, when you come to Atlanta, bring cash. No checks please. I just fired my bookkeeper.”

Commercial Number Three: “Hi, I’m Billy Payne. I brought the Olympics to Georgia and while I am too classy to say it, my friends will say it for me: Atlanta blew a great opportunity to shine before the world. The local government and the business community just wanted to make a buck off our efforts. The Atlanta newspaper worked tirelessly to make the world safe from Izzy, our woebegone mascot, and tried their damnedest to find us doing something illegal. They failed miserably on all accounts. Their efforts did cost the city a chance for an Olympic museum that you would have enjoyed. But don’t despair. You can still come to Atlanta and watch Reggie shake down tourists.”

Commercial Number Four: “Hi ho. My name is Elton John. I play the piano and sing and wear weird glasses. I am the closest thing Atlanta has to a real celebrity, which is kind of sad. I love everybody. I think that makes me ambidextrous.”

Commercial Number Five: (In unison) “We are the members of the state Legislature. If we are re-elected, we promise we will stay in Atlanta most of the year and do meaningless busy work. That’s the bad news. The good news is that while we are there, it should simultaneously raise the IQ level of both Atlanta and our respective hometowns.”

If you like these celebrity commercials, please let the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau know. Just be sure that you tell them the ads were your idea. Or Elton John’s. Otherwise, I have a felling they will never see the light of day.