While Chicago continues to hemorrhage residents for a third consecutive year, a small community 25-miles outside city limits has unleashed an innovative marketing campaign, using comic strips to lure in city dwelling millennials.
In a new comic-strip ad campaign, Homewood, Illinois, promotes itself as a “hip, diverse, urban neighborhood that Millennials can afford,” said CityLab. In total, three comic strip stories are depicting “actual Homewood residents and events.” Homewood’s own Marc Alan Fisherman of Unshaven Comics embeds avocados and affordable housing into the comics to influence the millennial audience by presenting facts selectively to encourage the perception of a utopian hidden hipster gem.
In one comic scene, a Caucasian Homewood mother and a multiracial resident chat in a park about the great schools in the small community.
“Zen gets to be with the same kids all the way through high school,” she says.
Meanwhile, Citylab explains how “dramatic gentrification and zooming housing prices” in Chicago, are the primary reasons why the artist portrayed two anxious mothers fretting about school options for their children.
“Somewhere in Wicker-Humboldt-Pilsen”—Chicago neighborhoods that have experienced dramatic gentrification and zooming housing prices in recent years—two anxious moms in a city park talk about school options for their kids. “Have you started figuring out the schools yet?” a Janeane Garofalo lookalike asks her companion. “No … I’m so overwhelmed with all the options,” the other mom says. “I’m just pretending like it’s not happening.”
“We found the Millennials [in Chicago] are prone to looking to the north suburbs and the west suburbs, and rarely look to the south,” Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld. “We have all the amenities that a family could ask for. And on top of it, as far as the housing stock goes, it’s affordable. We feel those are good sells.”
The brainchild behind this idea to sucker in broke millennials into suburbia is Mary Jane Maharry, a public relations consultant to the town. Maharry hired Fishman, a comic artist, and presented the marketing campaign to the community’s board, whose members were ecstatic about it, the Homewood Mayor added.
The ad campaign will be featured on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) trains, CTA stations, and billboards across Chicago through the end of May. As far as digital advertising, the campaign will include social media and radio ads.
Citylab describes how Chicago suburbs like Homewood now have to “work to attract the cohort they were built for.” What does this mean? Well, an era of informational warfare between cities and suburbs in Illinois has begun — to attract the next generation of homebuyers. The era of easy money is over and the comic advertising campaign from Homewood’s officials shows it.
“The ads evoke a bougie paradise with as much tongue-in-cheek detail as an episode of Portlandia: avocados, kombucha, farm-to-table brunch, street fairs. In the one with the tattooed mom, she’s joined by a guy (her partner?) who’s looking at his iPhone and wearing a t-shirt that says LOCAL FOOD. But there’s a twist: Here, the people living out this progressive urban cliché are suburbanites.In Homewood, we’re told, people walk to the farmer’s market, keep chickens in their yards, and hang out with friends of different races and sexual orientations. By contrast, their urban peers come across as either a bit square (see the first ad above), or just stressed out from having to deal with school bureaucracy and oversubscribed city services, like rec classes that fill up immediately. Who’s the sucker for moving to the suburbs now, eh?, the ads seem to ask. But the characters are more or less interchangeable; the implication is that if they move to Homewood, those tightly wound Chicagoans will chill out and name their kids “Zen,” too.While they might seem suspiciously like they were generated by an algorithm fed with marketing data and New York Times trend pieces, the comic-strip Homewood denizens are based on real residents and real events, according to Maharry (who lives in Homewood herself). In fact, “Think Homewood” reveals just how much the old dichotomy of city vs. suburb is blurring. It proves a fact that would have been unthinkable 20 or 30 years ago: Suburbs now have to work to attract the cohort they were built for. As certain cities become more sought-after and lively, suburbs can no longer just sit back and wait for the inevitable stampede of first-time homebuyers and new parents. They have to convince skeptical young folk of their essential urbanity first. (Another Chicago suburb, Berwyn, is running ads on city billboards proclaiming that it’s “nothing like a suburb.”)”
“They also have to offer a competitive advantage vis-a-vis the city. In Homewood, that advantage is affordable real estate and good public schools. The median home value in Homewood is a reasonable $149,800, according to Zillow. The area high school, Homewood-Flossmoor, is well regarded. And the K-8 schools have a streamlined structure, which the ads dangle in front of Chicago parents as sweet relief. Even as school choice brings more educational options to Chicago and other U.S. cities, it can be a gamble, and a fragmented school landscape can be difficult and exhausting for parents to navigate.”
Hilarious: Another comic storyline shows a Chicago family in traffic, who forgot to grab avocados at the store, which the father stated: “Goodbye, Taco Night…” Meanwhile, 25 miles outside of the city, the Homewood Dad saves taco night by hopping back in the car with a smooth 5-minute commute to the store. Everything is better in Homewood!
As quoted by Citylab, here is Dr. John Schlichtman, an urban sociologist at DePaul University’s reaction to Homewood’s advertisement campaign:
“In the view of sociologist John Joe Schlichtman, Homewood is basically promising gentrification without the guilt. Ditto for guilt-free driving: The ads promise easy car trips on traffic-free streets along with (limited) walkability and Metra rail service into Chicago. This “car-light” lifestyle is portrayed as the best of both worlds.
Mayor Hofeld told Citylab that in Homewood, “the glue that really binds [the] community together is a series of annual festivals, including a chili cook-off and a rail fest.” Millennials, he said, “have enjoyed living in the city, and the features the city might afford. But they’re getting a little bit older, thinking of raising families, and looking around for a stable community that has a lot of amenities. And that’s what we are.”
Citylab then asked the mayor, who is 80/silent generation and has been the acting mayor for over twenty years, if “Think Homewood” reflects the town as it is today. “Very much so,” he said. “This cartoonist and MJ [Maharry], they really nailed it down. There are choices here. And that’s what’s nice.”
The era of easy money is over. Some of America’s inner cities are imploding. In return, smart community leaders in suburban regions have recognized this trend. The era of informational warfare telling millennials where to live based on affordability has started. Millenials fleeing the city life to suburbia destroys the mainstream narrative. Most do not realize, but this shift is another example of living standards being ratcheting down.