Rival tourism marketing bodies promote ‘City Friends with Benefits’

Who: Destination Toronto, Ottawa Tourism and Tourisme Montréal, with Bensimon Byrne for creative (The French Shop for French creative), Pirate for audio, and Touché for media.

What: “City Friends with Benefits,” a “fun” and “flirty” collaborative campaign, suggesting that—after months of being mostly stuck in their own city because of the pandemic—it would be nice for people to take a break and visit one of the other cities and enjoy some of the benefits it has to offer. It arrived just one week after Destination Toronto introduced another cheekily named campaign, “Never Have I Ever, TO,”  which was inspired by the well-known drinking game.

When & Where: The campaign launched late last month and runs through Oct. 10 across social and digital out-of-home. There is also a push on Spotify, TikTok and YouTube, and a music video at CityFriendsWithBenefits.ca, which also features travel offers from Air Canada and VIA Rail.

Why: Destination Toronto and Tourisme Montréal had previously collaborated on a “Cheat on Your City” campaign about a decade ago, but Destination Toronto’s executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, Jon Mamela, said this is the first combined marketing effort between the three cities.

While ostensibly rivals on a number of fronts, Mamela and his counterparts in Ottawa and Montreal first discussed a collaborative effort addressing their shared challenges last year. “We said we’re going to go farther together and have an opportunity to break through if we’ve got a great creative idea, one in which there are not only cost efficiencies but the potential of a bigger story to be told amongst three partners,” said Mamela. “It was a long journey, but a worthwhile one.”

How: Developed by the team of copywriter Samantha Ramsay and art director Amy Fernandes, the campaign is intended to be “fun and flirty,” said Bensimon Byrne’s partner and chief creative officer, David Rosenberg. “The elevator pitch we made was ‘Three usually competitive cities are getting together in an unusually close relationship,” he said.

The campaign is highlighted by a nearly four-minute video showcasing a reworked version of Rupert Holmes’ 1979 yacht rock hit “Escape (The Pia Colada Song),” with actors/singers people from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal extolling the virtues of their respective city.

The original song’s lyrics were about a couple taking out classified ads seeking a romantic tryst outside their marriage, only to end up responding to their partner’s ad, but Mamela said that its positivity and generally upbeat tone was appealing to the marketing team.

“We went to the song almost immediately because of the literal nature of the word ‘escape’ and the optimism within the song,” said Mamela. “People have hummed and sung along with this song for decades without really knowing it’s about infidelity.” (According to Rosenberg, the song has been used only once before, in an early 2000s ad for Taco Bell  that also featured reworked lyrics.) “We were tipped that [Holmes] is protective of the song and he wouldn’t just release it for anything,” said Rosenberg. “It had to be something he was in tune with and agreed with.”

The code phrase for the work internally was “good vibes only,” said Rosenberg. The work is built around capturing the optimism surrounding opening up and the ability to eat at restaurants and stay in hotels again. “Yes, there’s a wink and a cheekiness to it all, but it really is grounded in sheer optimism,” said Rosenberg.

How did they determine which agency to use: There was some navigating agency relationships for this campaign since Tourisme Montréal and Ottawa Tourism have their own agency partners. “We leaned into the relationship we have with Bensimon, and my colleague Emmanuell [Legault, VP of marketing and strategy Tourisme Montreal] was familiar with the agency and had seen some of the great work in the past, and Glenn [Duncan, VP and CMO of Ottawa Tourism] was keen to go forward with it. We took Tourisme Montreal’s media agency and we led on the creative strategy with David and the team at Bensimon,” said Mamela.

And we quote: “The friendship along the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor is real, though the ability to catch up in
person has been challenged by the pandemic. If you’re looking for an escape from your day-to-day, or a fun flirtation with another urban centre, this campaign will provide all the temptation you need!” — Michael Crockatt, president and CEO, Ottawa Tourism.


Chris Powell