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Advertising executive Carlos Alazraki told an audience at the Tijuana Innovadora conference on Tuesday that it needs to build a brand, and perhaps needs to build something big to change misperceptions about the border city.
Alazraki, who has helped sell Negra Modelo beer, the Sanborn's restaurant-store chain, and Institutional Revolutionary Party politicians such as former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon, said the brand is the most important attribute that an organization has.
He said Tijuana has to reinvent itself, while at the same not denying some of the negative aspects of its past and present.
Alazraki asked, "What does the name Tijuana mean?" and told the packed auditorium of Tijuana residents, "Your reality has nothing to do with perception."
He said, "Thanks to the gringos and their movies, Tijuana is 'drugs and prostitutes' ("drogas y putas")."
When he asked how many in the audience knew this perception was not true, many raised their hands. He took this to mean, "All of you."
He said these beliefs about Tijuana still hold sway outside the city "because we have done nothing to change the perception. Absolutely nothing."
This was an overstatement, as Tijuana and Baja California officials and other citizens, such as Tijuana Innovadora founder José Galicot, have been trying for years to change such perceptions.
But Alazraki said that while Tijuana Innovadora is fantastic and has been lauded across Mexico, "It is not going to change perceptions. It is not going to sell Tijuana."
He said there needs to be a grand plan, involving government and business and citizens all on the same page, to sell a brand.
He said Tijuana also has to define its market. Acapulco, he pointed out, knows its market: Mexico City residents who want to go to the beach. Los Cabos, he pointed out, knows its market: Gringos.
He said Tijuana may have to concentrate on a number of niche markets, such as people who want to come watch Mexican professional soccer games hosted by the Xolos.
He also said Tijuana could think of building something big that will bring tourists from all over the world. He said Bilboa, Spain, went from being a godforsaken port where there was nothing to becoming one of the country's top tourist destinations as a result of its building a world-class Guggenheim museum.
He pointed out that Tijuana has a similar opportunity, as San Diego does not have a museum on the level of the Guggenheim that would compete with any such museum that Tijuana chose to build. Galicot did say he has long had an idea for a "Casa de España" museum for Tijuana.
Alazraki said Tijuana should not focus its efforts on denying the negative side of the city. "We have good things as well as bad," he said. Instead, he said, the city should concentrate on marketing the positive things that will bring in tourism. He said he really liked Tijuana, not least of which because of his successul effort that led to the come-from-behind victory of Hank in the 2004 mayoral election.
Alazraki, who laced his talk with salty, biting humor, lampooned the advertising for Tijuana and Baja California that he saw in the Tijuana airport. He said an image of a Caesar salad, even if the salad was invented in Tijuana, is not going to do the trick. (Tijuana has developed quite a culinary reputation, however, and perhaps that could be a niche selling point. The Tijuana Innovadora events dealing with cooking proved to be quite popular.)
He said advertising for Baja California's wine country at the airport had an image of a vineyard, which he said was hardly something that is going to make someone visit. "It could be from anywhere," he said. He wondered why the photo did not have any people in it.
Still, he said the wine country could be a great selling point for Baja California. The Vendimia harvest festival held in the late summer could become a great draw with the proper marketing and the building of luxury hotels, he said.
The information he imparted was not all correct. Alazraki noted the problems the traditional media have been having, while saying both the Los Angeles Times and what he called the San Diego Union had undergone a suspensión de pagos, a suspension or moratorium of payments traditionally associated with receivership or bankruptcy. But while the Los Angeles Times did enter bankruptcy proceedings, U-T San Diego, previously the San Diego Union-Tribune, never did. U-T San Diego has changed hands twice in the last several years, and sold for what was considered to be a bargain-basement price in 2009.
He said traditional media is still highly important, just not as much as before. He noted that revenues are down dramatically for Mexico's two national TV networks, Televisa and TV Azteca. He said Televisa had 60% of the market, and TV Azteca 40%. He said the decline in viewership shows the growing importance of new media and word-of-mouth testimonials.