In an attempt to convince tech workers to leave the greener pastures of San Francisco for sunblasted Phoenix, representatives from Scottsdale's economic development department spent the past weekend at South By Southwest handing out promotional T-shirts that feature Saguarbro.
Get it ... it's a saguaro cactus ... who is also a tech bro.
Aside from the fact that it's not funny or clever and no one uses the word "dudette," there are two main problems with this advertising campaign:
1. The tech industry already has a serious gender discrimination problem, and the fact that the industry is notoriously awful to women has only worsened the fact that men vastly outnumber women in the field. In other words, bro culture is literally the reason why talented women are leaving their tech jobs, and implying that all tech workers in Arizona (including the women!) are "bros" is not helping.
2. Scottsdale's bro-y reputation is exactly why people who aren't total douchebags avoid it as much as possible, so this seems like a weird thing to promote.
The City of Scottsdale's economic development department, which is responsible for the ad, was promptly dragged on Twitter by members of Phoenix's startup community (who use #yesPHX as a unifying hashtag):
I'm pretty miffed at the #Saguarbro campaign -- I'm privileged to work alongside incredible people in the PHX area -- that INCLUDES women. Powerful, talented, high-earning, high-achieving, innovative, forward-thinking, INCLUSIVE women. https://t.co/xz2FyipKV6— Charissa Moore (@mscharissamoore) March 12, 2018
Umm @ScottsdaleEcDev what is this? I'm one of many #femaleentrepreneurs based in Scottsdale - I am not a bro. Nope, not a bro. @ScottsdaleChmbr what about your non-bro business-owner members, i.e. women?? #saguarbro https://t.co/cuDtxXGuMs— Melissa Kovacs (@FirstEval) March 11, 2018
I'm embarrassed for the rising startups and proud employers in #Scottsdale who are creating opportunity and delivering value in the marketplace—and not flaunting it in Austin at #sxsw.#Saguarbro makes us look amateur. Do better, City of Scottsdale.— Joe Manna (@JoeManna) March 12, 2018
Let's just say, I'm glad I live and work in #Tempe not in #Scottsdale.— Matt Simpson (@MattMeanders) March 12, 2018
We kick our bros out after they graduate from ASU. We don't invite them to move here permanently! @ScottsdaleEcDev @stephliebold @celebratewewill #yesphx #Saguarbro #SaguaroNO #sxsw
Despite SIGNIFICANT backlash from the entire #yesPHX community the @ScottsdaleEcDev team continues to hand out their #Saguarbro shirts at #SXSW. @scottsdaleazgov this is not okay. Someone should 100% be fired over this. #inclusionmatters and it is worth more than your $10 shirts.— Kristin Romaine (@Knromaine) March 11, 2018
This campaign does not accurately reflect or represent women's presence and impact in Scottsdale or Arizona as a whole.— Vincent Orleck (@VincentOrleck) March 10, 2018
So here's a thread that hopefully shines a light on just a few of them and populates the #saguarbro feed w/more accurate info. ##yesphx #sxsw pic.twitter.com/j1F4q4zGvy
On Sunday morning, Scottsdale's economic development department issued the following non-apology:
Our campaign is meant to be kitschy & fun - but it's obvious we whiffed. Scottsdale & the valley are strong because of our incredibly diverse & talented people. We didn't mean to imply otherwise and will recalibrate the message.— Economic Development (@ScottsdaleEcDev) March 11, 2018
The backlash continued, and, on Monday, the department put out a formal apology:
#yesphx we hear you and apologize for a marketing message not intended to perpetuate or promote bro culture in any way but clearly poorly conceived and negatively impactful; we truly appreciate your outreach and the opportunity to fix this— Economic Development (@ScottsdaleEcDev) March 12, 2018
and hope for your help in focusing on positive next steps, and… We humbly ask for your support during #SXSW to share positive messages about living and doing business in Arizona, and participating in next step discussions we are working now to schedule— Economic Development (@ScottsdaleEcDev) March 12, 2018
Danielle Casey, Scottsdale's economic development director, told Phoenix New Times on Monday that the campaign was "well-intended, but poorly executed."
"We removed everything [with Saguarbro] once we learned and understood that it was offensive," she said. "That’s the last thing we’d ever want in the world."
Casey said that when she and other city officials are promoting Scottsdale at SXSW, they ask people what they know about the region and usually hear some variation of "it's hot" or "there are tumbleweeds."
"We’re trying to change that conversation in a positive way and say there’s a lot of talent in the area," she said. "People don’t think of us as a place to have a great career — they don't understand the depth of the business growth, especially on the technology side."
So how did "Saguarbro" come about?
"We wanted to do kind of a cute T-shirt that people would want," Casey said. "People here really love T-shirts. We also know that just a boring government T-shirt with just a government logo is not exactly exciting, right?"
She added, "It was intended to connote a fun, playful, welcoming character and absolutely not bro culture. I take full blame on the fact that it was not a connection we had thought about or anticipated."
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The city has been working with a Denver-based firm, Atlas Advertising, to come up with marketing strategies, Casey said, "but ultimately we’re the ones who went with that idea, posted it, did shirts."
"The responsibility is on us, and more specifically on me," she said.
Moving forward, Scottsdale's economic development department plans to hold focus group discussions with people who'd criticized the ad, and come up with positive ways to promote the area, Casey said.
"I hope everyone understands that we want the best for our community, and wouldn’t be here if we weren’t trying to promote our community in a positive light," she said.