July 13th 1977, New York was in the dark.

Literally and figuratively.

A massive storm struck the city’s power grid and chaos ensued.

New Yorkers began looting stores all around the city, an estimated 1,600 stores were broken into and ransacked, 3,776 arrests were made in ONE NIGHT, and $1B in damages occurred, the city was in a DARK place.

The rest of 1977 was rocky. The city faced financial insolvency, fired 50,000 city workers, and thinned up its police and fire departments. The cherry on top was a new “misdemeanor homicide” ruling that limited New Yorkers convicted of murder a maximum of 3 years in prison.

A city once embodying the American Dream was becoming a place where the American Dream went to die.

Residents began pushing campaigns AGAINST their own city, in a campaign called “Welcome to Fear City” media outlets talked about the risk of traveling in the subway and why nobody should stay in a hotel in New York. Even TIME Magazine was regularly putting out articles slighting the once iconic city.

The city reached an inflection point. The city council attempted to refresh the perception of the city in consumer’s eyes via a “Big Apple” campaign but that was met with a middling response from residents.

New York needed a hail mary, something to turn the fate of the city around, a new identity.

That’s when the commissioners of the New York Department of Commerce (DOC), John Dyson and Bill Doyle, both with decades of experience in financial Marketing came in guns-a-blazing.

The New York DOC was CASH-STRAPPED, limiting their options, but there was one way out.

The city’s annual tourism budget was only $400,000, for a city of 7M people that was crumbs, so John and Bill had the idea to shift some budget around to supplement the tourism budget heading into 1978.

In what would be one of the city’s last-ditch efforts, a massive financial risk, and BOLD move, the NY DOC increased the annual tourism budget to $4.3M, 10x what they spent the previous year.

The goal was simple: alter the perception of New York City for the better by launching one of the largest statewide tourist campaigns in United States history. The execution on the other hand was not as straightforward.

The NY DOC wanted New York City to become that once unifying and welcoming city again. The city needed a new rally cry, something to identify with, but to reach scale they needed something that transcended just New Yorkers.

John and Bill sat down and brainstormed. After a long day of trying to get the campaign off the ground, Bill was ranting to John about why the only words in advertising that matter were ‘new,’ ‘free,’ ‘improved,’ and ‘love.”

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And to that John proclaimed, “I Love New York!” Boom, 2 out of the 4 words right there.

Half coincidence, half GENIUS, the pair ran with it. “I Love New York” was their ticket to changing the city’s perception inside and out.

But the phrase alone wouldn’t have enough legs to save a city whose population was shrinking by hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Calling on New York icon Milton Glaser, the NY DOC pitched him the idea of a campaign to revitalize the city, and they NEEDED Milton’s help. New York born and raised, quoted on multiple occasions saying, “I think I am the city. I am what the city is. This is my city, my life, my vision”, I think the NY DOC found the right guy for the job.

(Brand and influencer partnerships need ORGANIC alignment. If the influencer wouldn’t use your product, service, or fight for your causes without a check, then find one who would.)

Milton lived and breathed New York, but even he didn’t know the answers to the NY DOC’s requests.

All of Milton’s initial ideas were simple. Sitting in the back of a cab on his way to meet with John and Bill he sketched out “I ❤️ NY” on a torn envelope.

He showed the concept to John and Bill, they were ecstatic, anything that Milton showed them they were emphatic about, but Milton still wasn’t sold.

Being the long-time Marketer he was, Bill decided to put the phrase on a t-shirt and wear it while on his vacation in Barbados. LOVE some test-Marketing LOL. On multiple occasions on his vacation, Bill was stopped and asked where he got his shirt from, THE IMMEDIATE proof the team needed to move forward.

The slogan transcended just New York, provided just enough visual identity, and wasn’t overdone, making it the perfect shirt to grab when stopping into New York for the weekend.

So the NY DOC new the path forward and began licensing “I ❤️ NY”, throwing the phrase on anything and everything. Mugs, flags, sweatshirts, and billboards. 

The approach was to get the phrase out and into the streets ASAP. The initial sentiment was great and within ONE YEAR the DOC credited the “I ❤️ NY” campaign with 3x’ing New York’s visiting spending revenue, from $500M to $1.6B. IN ONE YEAR.

When asked about why the campaign was so successful, Milton focuses on its importance to New York City residents. What we believe to be true, becomes our reality, and with shirts, hats, and signs throughout the city donning the “I ❤️ NY” slogan, the message began to be repeated internally by residents and ultimately became reality.

One of my favorite translations of this campaign is to the importance of internal Marketing at your company. On the surface you might face pressure along the lines of “How does this impact the bottom line?”, “What’s the ROI?”, and internal Marketing is hard to attribute, but it DOES have an impact.

Getting your team members excited about the products, campaigns, and goals you’re looking to achieve has network effects. This is EXACTLY what happened with New York City.

**Quick tidbit, here’s how to do internal Marketing:

1️⃣. A weekly internal Marketing newsletter: showcase ALL upcoming campaigns, pacing to goals, and past wins.

2️⃣. Weekly meeting with sales: present to sales all new initiatives, remember it’s OUR job as Marketers to make Sale’s job easier.

3️⃣. Consistent communication of company values and goals: WHY we do things can often get clouded, especially as your company grows, keeping this line of communication of the why behind certain tasks is a simple lever to pull to boost internal Marketing efforts.

The NY DOC got New Yorkers excited about what was in their backyard and it snowballed into New York City reclaiming its throne as the city with the most opportunity in the world.

The campaign was such a success that the only thing more popular in Times Square than street vendors is the “I ❤️ NY” phrase on a hat or shirt. They say the biggest compliment is flattery, and flattered must be New York, because EVERY city now has their very own “I ❤️[insert state]” line of merch.

I was going to buy this I love Washington shirt and add a selfie of me in it, but then I realized the shirt honestly looks like it says “Iowa”, so I didn’t LOL.

(If you’re from Iowa reply to this email!!)

Daniel Murray
Daniel Murray
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