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'I Love New York:' The Story of the Most Famous Slogan Ever

James Logie

New York City is facing a lot of scrutiny recently.

Concerns that the pandemic will cause it to never recover have been making the rounds.

It took one of the city's great residents — Jerry Seinfeld — to set people straight and let them know, yes, New York will recover.

New York has faced extraordinary setbacks, as we all know, and it has always bounced back.

One such trial it faced was in the 1970s when it wasn’t the tourist destination we know today.

It took an advertising campaign to lure people back to the city after most of the nation had largely dismissed it.

This is a look back on the most famous tourism campaign in history: “I Love New York.”

An Advertisement Campaign Claimed by Many

With anything successful, many people chime in saying they were responsible for its creation. The “I Love New York” campaign is no different.

Several people were involved, but despite the dozens of men who claim its creation, the marketing campaign came down to two women.

The first is the godmother of advertising, Mary Wells Lawrence. But the one who really nurtured and grew this campaign is Jane Maas — the real-life inspiration for Peggy Olson from Mad Men

Maas has written several books on advertising, but her book, “Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the 60s and Beyond,” is a brilliant look into the Mad Men culture, along with the story of her famous campaign.

Why Was New York in Such a Bad State?

New York has gone through many ebbs and flows over its history, but in the ‘70s, it wasn’t exactly a shining beacon of light emerging from the East Coast.

In 1975, the state, and the city, were nearly bankrupt. The city was seen as dirty, expensive, crime-filled, and a dangerous place to visit.

To avoid bankruptcy, the city turned to president Gerald Ford, who famously told New York to “drop dead.”

The city and the state panicked and scrambled to improve their image and reputation. In order for New York to survive, they needed to increase tourism.

The Department of Commerce decided they needed an advertising agency to sell the state, and the City of New York, to a nationwide audience.

Many agencies turned down the opportunity for this project, but one ended up taking it: advertising agency “Wells Rich Greene.”

Thinking of New York as a Product, Not a City

This was the key idea behind the success of the “I Love New York” campaign. Even though it was an overwhelming project, Maas states how they had to think of New York like a bar of soap.

The client knew they had a dirty and difficult to use product, but they had to sell people on the virtues of the state and the city.

The agency decided that they couldn’t start with advertising, but rather market research instead.

They needed to find out what brought tourists to New York, and more importantly, what kept them away.

The research showed that people view the state and the city as two entirely different products.

New York State was more about families, nature, and summer vacations, and the city was more about culture.

Manhattan appealed to older, more educated tourists with money to spend.

And there was one big thing that attracted tourists to the city and kept them constantly coming back: Broadway.

Putting the Campaign Together

“Wells Rich Greene” now had to put all this information together into an effective marketing campaign.

New York had been horrendous at promoting itself and had the lowest marketing budget per capita of all 50 states.

The Department of Commerce finally allowed a $4.3 million budget for an advertising campaign — but they had to get it out quickly.

New York City was hanging in the balance. To get the summer vacation crowd, they had to advertise months beforehand as most people make summer plans in the spring.

The first campaigns featured TV spots that showed people from other states coming into New York State and enjoying it. The commercial would feature lines like:

“I’m from Cape Cod, but I Love New York,” or, “I’m from New Hampshire but I Love New York.”

The ultimate tagline for the commercial was “If you love the outdoors, you'll love New York.”

Two Critical Components of the Campaign

The campaign looked good, but a few more things were critical in its success.

They created a jingle for the commercial, but instead of going with the initial tagline, composer Steve Karmen simply called it: “I Love New York.”

The iconic “I Love New York” logo would be the last piece of the puzzle. Designer Milton Glaser took his approach from the newly named song and used that for his famous logo.

The simple but effective logo has become a pop culture icon and inspired imitations in every part of the world.

The Department of Commerce made one specific demand, though: They wanted the logo to be in the public domain so that any attraction throughout the state could use it without charge.

The use of the logo over the years is worth untold millions, but Milton accepted a one-time fee of just 1,000 dollars. Ouch.

The Rapid Success of the “I Love New York” Campaign

Once the commercials started airing in 1977 — and people heard the jingle and saw the logo — it caught on quick. Maas explains how the agency used an advertising technique called “roadblocking.”

They made sure it ran during the evening news, and since there were only three networks then, anyone watching would see it.

The campaign worked so well that overnight gas stations were selling out of New York State maps. “I Love New York” bumper stickers started showing up on cabs all over the city.

The research conducted by “Wells Rich Greene” showed that 90% of people in the target markets were aware of the campaign.

The other half of the campaign — New York City — was also seeing results. Since Broadway was the big draw, they created theater packages that included tickets and a hotel room.

The package also included a sightseeing trip, transportation, and even meals.

This unique tourism package took away all the concerns for the out-of-town guest and made the purchase of it a simple decision.

Final Thoughts

The “I Love New York” campaign captured the spirit of the city with perfect promotion.

The city alone couldn’t have managed this, and it was crucial to involve an advertising agency. Advertising New York like a product was also critical to its success.

The logo is one of the most famous in history, and everyone who sees it instantly recognizes it.

The campaign worked so well that New York didn’t even have to advertise anymore. In 2018, New York welcomed 65.2 million guests, generating $623 million just in estimated hotel occupancy tax revenue.

No one thought New York would recover from the turmoil it faced in the 1970s, but it did — and it always will.

Even though the city is down, it is never out.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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