Stay Home, Save Summer campaign comes out of a frigid city that knows best
As the coronavirus made its way into Fargo, North Dakota, city officials wanted to deliver a stern, swift message to young people: stay home.
They didn’t have time for board approvals and debates over the right messaging. They needed it done well and done right now. So they turned to local artists.
In early March, Mayor Timothy Mahoney asked Fargo’s creative leaders to quickly launch a campaign that stressed how important it is to stay home. Yes, even as spring weather begins to emerge in one of the nation’s coldest cities.
The creative community responded with a resounding, “you betcha,” and got to work. Designers, writers, videographers, photographers and nonprofit leaders teamed up to churn out a colorful, blunt and clever campaign dubbed Save Summer. They’ve since created logos, videos and pithy slogans that illustrate the best of their pooled talents. They post new content every few days on their website, SaveSummerNow.com, plus their Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.
Their posts include several “tips” for saving summer, all paired with the line, “This should be obvious by now.” The first tip is: Stay the F*ck Home. The most recent is: Practice Safe Six, referring to the 6 feet we should allow between people.
Reaching the hard-to-reach
The artists behind the campaign recognize that staying home is a big ask. Fargo and its sister city, Moorhead, Minnesota, have roughly 25,000 college students, plus a few hundred thousand who settled there after graduating from one of the local universities. These millennials are the force behind downtown Fargo’s bustling restaurants, breweries, live music venues and art scene.
So catching their attention — and convincing them to stay home — was a must.
“The millennial demographic can be a hard audience to reach,” said Adam Wiedman, a designer on the project who owns Wiedman Design Co. “They’re smart. They’re great at identifying bull shit. So we needed a message that really resonated with them.”
“I’ve had a few friends who are older tell me ask, why don’t you talk about how this is actually killing people. Well, yeah, but what do we all selfishly care about? Saving summer.”
And in Fargo, where temperatures dip below zero far too often, summer is appreciated more than almost anywhere else.
“There are three to four months where we can actually be outside and enjoy our time without 37 layers of clothing on,” said Max Kringen, founder of marketing firm Tellwell and one of the leads on the Save Summer project. “Let’s make this sacrifice now, so we can enjoy those precious, precious few months.”
Designing without the red tape
Within a few weeks, the Save Summer campaign had reached far beyond the borders of North Dakota. Their posts have been shared throughout the U.S., with people from California to Texas, New York to Florida.
“It’s definitely reached beyond its intended audience, which is awesome,” Wiedman said.
Kringen pointed to two key reasons for the campaign’s success: it’s not caught up in governmental red tape and it’s fueled by generous people and businesses.
First, Kringen and others agreed to donate their time, talents and connections to the project on one condition. “We don’t want to be burdened by any approval channels,” he said. “There’s just no time for the approval process that’s usually associated with a government agency.”
City officials agreed.
The project’s other key ingredient was getting the right people, and organizations, behind it. In addition to several independent artists, the effort includes support from The Nice Center, North Dakota State University’s entrepreneurial center; Emerging Prairie, a nonprofit that supports small businesses and operates a coworking space in downtown Fargo; and Tellwell, Kringen’s marketing company. Plus, the City of Fargo, Microsoft and Xcel Energy donated money to push the campaign online, on TV and in local publications. Midco even donated time for spots on their cable network.
“It was great to see all this support,” Kringen said, “to get the most mileage out of our work.”
About more than snark
While the Save Summer campaign is snarky and at times irreverent, its goal is dead serious. The team of creatives behind it see the humorous posts as a way to catch young people’s attention. Once they have their attention, they want to equip them with information that will help them and their loved ones survive this pandemic.
Every day, Save Summer posts a daily press briefing on Facebook that captures up-to-date information about everything from national guidelines to number of local cases.
“Students are not purposefully being ignorant to the information out there. But the press briefings are an hour long, and every day there’s national, state, and local ones. In less than a minute, we boil it down to just the syrup of it. And we present it in a way that feels very organic and natural.”
The irony of artists donating their time and talents to create and push the Save Summer campaign isn’t lost on Kringen. The pandemic and sudden economic downturn has hit artists — from designers to musicians — especially hard. But they’re not the type to just sit back.
“A lot of artists were feeling like, what the hell can we do to help,” Kringen said. “Our work is slowing down. We know it will pick back up, but what is it we can do right now to actually help move the needle.”
Their efforts are working. Fargo has one of the lowest per capita infection rates in the nation. Why? Well, gosh darn it, Fargo wants to save summer.
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Journalist and author Danielle Nadler grew up in South Dakota, where a patient writing teacher fostered in her a love for stories told well. She's worked for newspapers in the Midwest, on the West Coast and the East Coast, and recently launched a storytelling company called Tales and Ales.