Monthly Archives: June 2009

My Giant Little Town

The joys of second guessing!

The Grand Rapids Press article by Troy Reimink about the new promotional video to promote our city (actually west Michigan….unless Grand Rapid’s urban sprawl has made it’s way to the lakeshore) is copied below.  But first, a little conversation among friends.

The video is OK.   It was commissioned by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.  Obviously it is meant to promote Grand Rapids and the lakeshore as a place to visit, spend some money and have a little fun.   As you can read in both the article and the comments (from the Mlive peanut gallery) it’s open to debate if this video really captures the soul of this area.

I know when I visit somewhere, it typically is because of a great, natural setting (Leelanau Peninsula), specific events (Memphis in May), specific attraction (Great Wolf Lodge, Cedar Point, Detroit Tiger game)  or world class attractions and restaurants (Chicago).

Which leads me to a question, is Grand Rapids at the tourist destination level yet?  It is a great place to live, work, raise a family, and play.  The quality of life is outstanding!  However, unless you are here on convention business, I don’t know if it is vacation-worthy.   Certainly, expanding Grand Rapids to include the lakeshore region, especially Saugatuck, Holland and Grand Haven changes the picture…those cities and surrounding areas are certainly vacation-worthy but I don’t really consider Grand Rapids to be lakeshore. (I know, it’s about marketing)

For what it’s worth, if I was responsible for promoting Grand Rapids as a tourist destination I would do whatever it takes to create, develop, promote “buzz-worthy, memorable, big idea” events and attractions.  As an example, here are couple of ideas in the pipeline:

ArtPrize. Love it, hate it, don’t care about it….it doesn’t matter.  If it can live up to it’s vision, and attract world-class artists (and hopefully thousands of subversives) to the city for a two-week period, this really will be something memorable and unique.  It will certainly generate a buzz.  It will be talked about.

Another project that could change the landscape is the Grand Rapids Whitewater initiative.  If you haven’t followed this very closely you should.    Without damaging the existing fishing experience, this project would create a stretch of whitewater that would attract recreational rafters, kayakers, and other water-loving enthusiasts to downtown Grand Rapids.  Although we might not realize lengthy stays in area hotels, it would bolster the experience of those who are staying here all ready plus attract the “day-trippers” who would probably be hungry and thirsty after a day on the river.

Back to the video. Call it second guessing or back seat driving. Call it whatever you like, but it is a great debate for anyone who feels that enhancing our city, for both residents and tourists is critical to the quality of life we enjoy in Grand Rapids.   What do you think of My Giant Little Town?

Does the ‘My Giant Little Town’ campaign with Brian Vander Ark capture the best of Grand Rapids?

by Troy Reimink | The Grand Rapids Press

A scene from the tourism video "My Giant Little Town" by Brain Vander Ark.

A scene from the tourism video "My Giant Little Town" by Brain Vander Ark.

My Giant Little Town ( < click on this link to view the video)

We’ll have a story up on this soon, but we wanted to share some video from a campaign to promote Grand Rapids, which features a song called “My Giant Little Town” by former Verve Pipe singer Brian Vander Ark.

As one of the city’s better-known musicians (assuming Anthony Kiedis was unavailable), Vander Ark is a natural choice for the clip, put together by the Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau as part of its “Michigan’s West Coast” campaign.

His track reflects the “big city but not” reputation Grand Rapids has managed to develop. Take a look/listen:

Brian VanderArk performs ‘My Giant Little Town’

Vander Ark last year provided vocals for a song titled “This Time,” which was part of a feel-good marketing campaign for Detroit (understandably a tougher undertaking) and for the Detroit News and Free Press newspapers:

But getting back to the Grand Rapids promotion, a lot of the images are obvious — city skyline, Meijer Gardens, art museum, etc. — and fairly generic. One (and by “one,” I mean “I”) can’t help wondering if the producers missed a chance to include some of our city’s more idiosyncratic elements.

I would have suggested some of the following:

• The fluoride monument

• Rob Bliss Urban Experiments (zombie walk, pillow fight, chalk flood), etc. On second thought, maybe portraying the city as overrun with zombies might not have the desired promotional effect.

• Adults playing kickball


• Outdoor events such as Festival of the Arts, Eastown Street Fair, the Local First Street Party, Avenue of the Arts, Founders Fest, etc.

• The thriving culture of bikes, scooters, mopeds and the like

• The weather ball

Any other suggestions for how to sell our city?

E-mail Troy Reimink:


  • Well Michigan is into cars. Get a race going like St Pete, Florida does. GR would have way bigger crowds.
  • Sell GR as the home of the two most successful con artists in history; DeVoss & VanAndel
  • This ad portrays Grand Rapids as a quaint, quirky, wannabe metropolis.
  • How about the visitors bureau makes an ad that portrays Grand Rapids for what it is truly: the most successful city in Michigan, the fastest growing in Michigan (in the country?), and the future of a state looking for its footing.
  • We are always going to be a “giant little town” unless we act like what we are trying, and want to be.
  • our Giant little Town, home of the Keebler elves.
  • The CVB should stop selling to the world that Grand Rapids has a CVB. Get rid of the logo and and CVB precense. Sell the city, not the CVB. It’s as if Meijer’s hired an ad agency to do a commercial and the agency put in their watermark at the trailing end. Now wouldn’t that be hysterical?
  • Walkable? Wow! Walkable… I want to go there!
  • Grand Rapids is also known for being a college town. I think if I was VanderArk I’d have dug into that culture a little more… and maybe the coffee shop culture a little bit, too. But then, I’m a recent college grad and current coffee lover, so I guess that makes me biased. 🙂

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Since I am from the East side of the state I am starting to explore all the great things West Michigan has to offer.  One of these places is Yesterdog, located on Wealthy Street. I went for the first time a couple weeks ago and it immediately became one of my favorite restaurants. Hot dogs are my favorite food so I might be a little biased, but its relaxed atmosphere makes for a perfect hangout at any hour of the day. There are a large variety of condiments and options to satisfy all. I had the Ultradog but other options include the Cheddardog, Killerdog, and of the course the Yesterdog.

Sometimes it’s the little places that have the most character and I think Yesterdog definitely fits into that category. This is definitely true if you just know the rules such as ordering your hot dog first before anything else and all orders are placed from left to right, which just adds to the character. Next time you are looking for a place with a little West Michigan flavor consider Yesterdog.

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