PR Stunt by Small Minnesota Town Generates Wide Press Coverage

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NEW YORK ( -- A carefully calculated public relations stunt that used newspaper ads to attack national retail brands has drawn wide press coverage and new
Like other small towns on the shoreline of Lake Minnetonka, Excelsior looks back to its tourist heyday in the 1890s for much of its identity. This is a poster sold in the local Captain's Cargo & Gallery on Water Street.
business inquiries for the small Minnesota town of Excelsior.

Provocative plan
The provocative ads declared that retailers such as Starbucks, Home Depot and The Hard Rock Cafe were not welcomed in the picturesque community of 3,000 residents on the shore of Lake Minnetonka -- even though there is no evidence that any national chain had any interest or plans to open a franchise there.

Chris Birt, executive creative director of the Andrews/Birt agency of Minneapolis that created the campaign, said he decided to use brand names such as Starbucks in the ads not because the retailers posed any particular threat to the town but because he believed they represented cultural conformity.

He said he intended the campaign to be controversial in order to draw press attention for the town, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this month.

'Was scared'
Linda Murrell, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said she "was scared" when she first saw the ads from Andrews/Birt. "It did raise eyebrows, but it was phenomenal," she said. "Our total input has been $7,100."

The ads, which came in the form of an open letter, explained that town residents rejected the kind of cultural conformity represented by the named national brands. The print ads, published in the local free newspaper The Rake, caused at least one member of the chamber to resign.

New business inquiries
Ms. Murrell said she is in talks with a bakery and a cheesecake manufacturer about moving to Excelsior. "Someone sent me a bumper sticker reading 'Shop for everything independently.' [The campaign] has really hit a chord with people."

Mr. Birt said he achieved what he wanted to achieve with the ads. He claims that National Public Radio recorded an interview with him; USA Today is planning a travel piece on the town; and that CNN came to visit a short while ago. Myriads of local media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune and a host of affiliates, have already written about the audacious advertising stunt.

A regional marketing manager from Starbucks is reported to have visited the Chamber of Commerce to explain its position. Starbucks said that they had no plans to open in the town.

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