If you’ve been out and about around the South Sound, you’ve likely stumbled upon at least one piece of a much larger community-centric guerilla marketing campaign.
Aspects of the campaign came in many sizes and shapes, all sporting a stylized Mount Rainier logo and the words “South Sound Proud” or “Live like the mountain is out.” It could have been stenciled chalk messages on the sidewalk, colorful bubble wands hanging from trees, cardboard sleeves on your morning coffee, an eye-catching billboard along River Road, or a large banner adorning the crane high above Point Defiance Zoo.
While social media participation was slow following the spring 2017 launch of the campaign, South Sound residents soon began to embrace the campaign in earnest, posting photos of themselves climbing, cycling, running, paddling, and enjoying the outdoors. Yet no one seemed to know exactly how the campaign started, or who was footing the bill.
It turns out some of the region’s most powerful and influential people were the “secret” benefactors behind the marketing campaign. A group of more than two dozen entrepreneurs and leaders from places like Columbia Bank, Bates Technical College, Metro Parks, Rainier Connect, and University of Washington Tacoma make up a group that calls itself South Sound Together.
Why all the secrecy? South Sound Together project manager Courtenay Chamberlin said the group hoped the mystery would help fuel the interest of the South Sound community. “We decided the best way to roll it out was to kind of take a guerilla approach to it and not tell anyone we were behind it — we really did want the community to embrace it and make it their own,” she said.
To further facilitate this mysterious aura, South Sound Together commissioned six unidentified artists from Rotator Creative’s roster to freely go out into the community and create something that they felt would further the “Live like the mountain is out” ethos.
“That was a leap of faith for a group of executives and CEOs to say, ‘Yeah, go spend some money and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be,’” Chamberlin said. “It was fun for us to watch that happen and roll out because we were as surprised as the rest of the community.”
At the same time, South Sound Together members involved in the planning of the campaign secretly made their own contributions, such as the aforementioned Point Defiance crane banner, which was the brainchild of Metro Parks’ chief communications and public affairs officer Hunter George.
South Sound Together hired a street team to attend local events, such as Taste of Tacoma and Art on the Ave., armed with games and branded swag, like buttons, stickers, and sunglasses, and a photo backdrop prime for selfies.
Judging by social media tags, locals have become quite taken with the campaign. Local photographer Ingrid Barrentine — who took over the South Sound Proud Instagram account at the end of August — is a transplant from the sunny Yakima area, and after eight years of living in Tacoma, she still had trouble adjusting to Pacific Northwest winters. Then she spotted the “Live like the mountain is out” chalk art during a run.
“The statement ‘Live like the mountain is out’ resonated with me — as it has been the mental philosophy I’ve used to help me adjust to living in a climate where rain comes more often than I’m used to,” Barrentine said. “I started tagging my social media posts about my sunny- and rainy-day South Sound adventures with the hashtags because I believe in the positivity and agree with the ‘love where you live’ attitude that surrounds the campaign.”
One Tacoma resident was even moved to action in the form of satire when he noticed the campaign. RR Anderson, the author behind 100 Tacomics: The Secular & Apolitical Cartoon Life of Tacoma and Her Moral People(s), posted many Instagram photos of hand-altered advertisements the campaign had run in The News Tribune. While Anderson said he liked the idea of living ‘like the mountain is out,’ he saw an opportunity to make a statement.
“I first encountered the campaign as large, black-and-white, full-page ads in The The News Tribune — usually a very big stock photo of a face and the ‘Live like the mountain was out’ text with very little explanation,” Anderson said. “People were mentioning it online, and the mystery left room for some culture-jamming pranks … a rude person could step in and fill in the missing gaps, but in complete subversion.”
Anderson cited human-caused climate change, volcanic eruptions, and mudslides as some of the content in his parodies.
“I see Seattle and Tacoma working together to become the last outpost of human civilization — we need to prepare to welcome the world’s climate change refugees,” he said. “So, yeah, the campaign fits. Enjoy it now because it might not be like this forever.”
While the folks at South Sound Together may not have had climate change and other wider issues in mind, they hoped that the community would take the campaign and run with it, spurring conversation and creativity. That is why, starting in September, the organization will be taking a step back from the campaign to see how it will continue to stand on its own legs.
“We have not planned beyond the summer as far as how to support it because we wanted to see how it resonated with people, and what they did, and what they liked, and what they wanted to see more of,” Chamberlin said. “I would love for people to contact us to tell us what they’d like to see. I don’t think we are done, and I think if there’s some great ideas, this group is really excited, just like the community is, to make this happen.” southsoundproud.org