The city of Scottsdale’s Economic Development office is conceding that a marketing campaign it brought to the South by Southwest technology conference in Austin, Texas, last week was a flop.
The office handed out T-shirts with an image of a saguaro with a man’s head and the text “Saguarbro (urban definition) A dude or dudette who is part of the sharp, creative workforce in trendy Scottsdale, Ariz.” The same image was posted on social media.
The response was quick and negative, with many people calling it sexist.
“Wow! This is truly truly disappointing!” Shatha Barbour wrote on Twitter. Barbour is the CEO of Hera Hub Phoenix, a female-focused coworking space. “We have over 200,000 women business owners in Phoenix!”
The phrase “bro culture” has been used to negatively describe the technology industry, particularly in California’s Silicon Valley, and to highlight unequal treatment of women in that field.
In fact, a book titled “Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley,” was released last month by author Emily Chang.
Some observers on Twitter noted that use of the “bro” phrase seemed particularly poorly thought out.
On Sunday, the Economic Development office acknowledged the backlash.
“Our campaign is meant to be kitschy & fun — but it’s obvious we whiffed,” the office wrote on its Twitter account. “Scottsdale & the valley are strong because of our incredibly diverse & talented people. We didn’t mean to imply otherwise and will recalibrate the message.”
That didn’t pacify many of the critics.
“The message doesn’t need recalibration,” Joe Manna, a Phoenix digital marketing professional, replied on Twitter. “I think you should provide the creative brief for this since the city of Scottsdale spent taxpayer funds on this campaign. I suspect the campaign is flawed at its core, not only the execution. In the real world, we would scrap bad ideas.”
Danielle Casey, director of Scottsdale’s Economic Development office, said Monday the office was treating the misstep as a learning experience. She said the office was reaching out to several of the Arizonans who spoke out on Twitter and are setting up meetings to discuss how to better promote the Arizona technology industry.
She also said the office was no longer handing out the T-shirts and deleting any social media posts that used the offensive Saguarbro message.
“It was a message originally created to try to be creative and fun and playful,” she said. “It was absolutely not at all in any way to lend credence to or to cannote a bro-type culture.”
The message was created by a Denver advertising company called Atlas, she confirmed, something first pointed out by Twitter users who were criticizing the ad.
“Ultimately it was our team that moved forward with the concept,” she said. “I would not put fault in the group that brainstormed the idea with us. Ultimately, whatever we decide to put out there we are responsible for, and that is why we are correcting it. It is not a good campaign or T-shirt.”
She could not provide an immediate estimate on what Scottsdale spent on the creation of the T-shirts, but said a few thousand dollars were spent on the booth at the trade show, plus travel for three Economic Development officials to travel to Texas.
She said the office hoped to use the opportunity to help convince technology workers to move to Arizona or company founders to launch or grow their business in Scottsdale.
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