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Houston, You Have an Image Problem
By: Jeff Louis
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I've lived in Texas a couple of times, and if you've not been there, I suggest you go. Texas, like Alaska and Hawaii, seems to be a "country within a nation."

From the hill country to the Gulf Coast, Texas covers a wide expanse that encompasses several states. From San Antonio to Houston and Port Arthur to Sabine Pass, I've spent about seven years in the largest state in the contiguous U.S., I've driven across Texas more times than I care to remember; it's a long damn drive no matter which way you cut it. 

Being somewhat of a native then, I have to question the 2010 "My Houston" 2010 Tourism campaign, and especially the use of ZZ Top as some of the city's "spokespeople." Released by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau (GHCVB), the campaign uses local Houston celebrities in an effort to reach travel planners and tourism companies and increase Houston's awareness as a destination. After all, Houston is the largest city in Texas, and the fourth largest city in the U.S., ranking behind Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.

The GHCVB teamed with Zenfilms to create several spots. ZZ Top, Chandra Wilson ("Grey's Anatomy"), and the Houston Ballet are featured in three of 10 commercials extolling the benefits of visiting Houston from a resident's perspective. The problem with the campaign is that it's almost too local; ZZ Top and Chandra Wilson are the only two names known on a national level, and ZZ Top is pretty much a has-been outside of Texas' borders.

I'm not trying to pick on ZZ Top, but the spot highlights this problem. The band may have a lot of loyal fans, but the chance of hearing ZZ Top playing on modern radio playlists in anywhere but Texas is slim. The Texas trio is now classic rock, aka, yesterday. Houston is a city of great resource and technology that should be looking toward tomorrow.  

Zenfilms is great, and they've got a well-defined client roster, but being in Houston puts them too close to the problem. What might seem cool to Houstonians isn't necessarily something most tour groups or businesses would travel to see. The other spots depict the Mark "Scrapdaddy" Bradford (he makes interesting cars), Sugarhill Studios, the Houston Dynamo (soccer), and Chloe and Sydney Dao (local designers). Somehow, I'm not too excited. 

What does excite me about Houston? Houston is a beta Global City or is home to the top-ranked port in the United States for unloaded tonnage due to the Houston Ship Channel. The fact that Houston boasts NASA's Mission Control ("Houston, we have a problem) and the Johnson Space Center are reasons to visit. The Texas Medical Center -- the world's largest concentration of health care and research institutions -- is based in Houston. Plus, in addition to their soccer team, the Dynamo, Houston offers several better-known professional sports teams: the Houston Rockets (NBA), the Houston Texans (NFL), and the Houston Astros (MLB). 

Why conduct business in Houston? Houston is recognized worldwide for its energy industry, particularly oil and natural gas, as well as for biomedical research and aeronautics. The city is also a pioneer for renewable-energy sources, including wind and solar energy. Houston is considered as the energy capital of the world, with five of the six major energy companies maintaining large operations in Houston. The international headquarters of ConocoPhillips, U.S. operational headquarters of Exxon-Mobil, US headquarters for Shell, and the US headquarters for BP are all located in Houston. Chevron also operates within the city. 

Houston also offers families and tourists a plethora of choices: a theater district, a museum district, a zoo, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Astrodome (eight wonder of the world), the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, and the Williams Waterwall. If you're a shopper, Houston is home to Texas' largest shopping mall, the Galleria. Plus, Houston is just 45 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico (Galveston, Texas).

While the commercials do talk to some of these attractions, I'm not left with the impression they depict the Houston I know. For a person who's never been to Houston, I have to wonder if he or she has been left with any impression at all.



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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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