Scottsdale's #Saguarbro Promotion Leads To Controversy at SXSW

Scottsdale's #Saguarbro Promotion Leads To Controversy at SXSW
Scottsdale Economic Development
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):
On Sunday morning, Scottsdale's economic development department issued the following non-apology:
The backlash continued, and, on Monday, the department put out a formal apology: 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."

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.
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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.