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Shuffling Past Indy's Super Bowl Shuffle
By: Elizabeth Friedland
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Indianapolis will be hosting Super Bowl XLVI this February, a big deal for the growing Midwestern city (which, in full disclosure, is the city in which I reside). Indy has hosted large conferences and events before, including the Pan Am Games and Big 10 championships, but the hosting win of the Super Bowl is the uncontested crown jewel in the city’s tiara.
Yet the city is facing a bit of a perception problem these days. The Indianapolis Convention and Visitor’s Association (ICVA) created a video spoofing the 1985 Chicago Bears “Super Bowl Shuffle.” In the video, various tourism and hospitality workers dance to the slightly modified Super Bowl Shuffle song, rapping while outfitted in sunglasses and sweatbands. The majority of the video takes place in a foggy ballroom and hotel lobbies. The dancing is unsynchronized. The lip-synching is off. It’s certainly no Broadway production — but then again, the stars are the average tourism industry worker. No one expects them to have the moves of Gaga.
The ICVA pushed the video out through their social media channels early this week, tweeting it to their nearly 7,000 followers and posting it on YouTube. It became clear very quickly that the vast majority of viewers felt it was an embarrassment to the city, reinforcing negative stereotypes people may have of Hoosiers, namely that they're dorky, lacking any edge, and perpetually behind the times. NUVO, the local alternative weekly paper, posted a link to the video on their Facebook page with the caption, “What were they thinking?” Eventually the video was picked up by national outlets, including Deadspin which called it, “The Spoof Indy Super Bowl Shuffle Video That Will Scare You Off Indianapolis Forever.” Do317.com, an event listing website, started a petition to get the video removed from YouTube, and a "Make the Indy Super Bowl Shuffle Video Go Away" group was created on Facebook.
The video, which winks at a meme nearly 30 years old, doesn’t do much to combat the misperceptions the rest of the nation may have about Indianapolis as a stuck-in-the-past, generic city without any flavor. Indianapolis is a great city filled with diversity, amazing cultural, art and community organizations, stunning architecture, impressive monuments, welcoming parks, a sophisticated bike trail system, and a booming health care, tech, and start-up industry. The city has been nationally recognized as the potential next Austin or Seattle, thanks to its talent.
With all of these great amenities to showcase, people are wondering why the ICVA -- which generally does a fantastic job of promoting the very best of Indianapolis -- choose to spend its time and resources on a video that fails to show anything unique to the city or combat these negative stereotypes of Indy and its residents. Did the organization's communications team plan for or anticipate a potential backlash? What exactly was the communications strategy behind the video?
Others cities have successfully battled misconceptions while also managing to be entertaining and funny. After Grand Rapids landed on a list of “dying cities,” it responded with a massive music video starring nearly 1,000 residents — and became a viral hit. The video showed a very much alive and beautiful Grand Rapids while still poking fun at itself and being silly. Should the ICVA have taken a cue out of Grand Rapids’ playbook?
Update: The creator of the video issued a statement on the ICVA blog, saying that the video was meant to be an inside joke of sorts, only to be seen by those at a Chicago event planners meeting. The statements goes on to say "locals got a hold of it" and the public has "failed to understand" its intended purpose. This statement seems to have only made the situation worse, raising questions about the ICVA's basic public relations and messaging strategy (or lack thereof). If the spoof was for a specific audience and not meant to be seen publicly, why did the ICVA itself tweet the video (with no reference to its private purposes) to its nearly 7,000 followers on November 29, well before the backlash hit, and encourage people to "share it" on YouTube? Rather than blaming the "locals" for not getting it, a better messaging strategy may have been to laugh it off: "Sorry, folks! Guess we're a little dorky afterall," or admit their marketing mistake: "We shouldn't have posted this publicly. Our apologies for the slip up." Many are wondering if the ICVA is now backpeddling because the organization hadn't anticipated the negative feedback. Last last night, the ICVA removed the video from YouTube.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Friedland in Senior Digital Strategist, specializing in PR, at Hirons Advertising & Public Relations. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about her, visit www.elizabethfriedland.com.
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