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Hal Licino

How Rockford, IL Went Viral through a One-Man Branding Project

Oct 15 2012, 09:28 AM by

The Great Lakes Midwest was once the economic engine of the nation, established on the navigability of cargo ships right to the edge of the fruitful Great Plains, and built on the broad shoulders of the people who achieved their American Dream through commerce and manufacturing. With both of those underpinnings of the nation being devastated in the past couple of decades, much of the region has suffered a calamitous downturn as cities empty out and the stubborn stragglers who stay behind are plagued by omnipresent decay and petty crime. Such a massive ruinous state of affairs would seem to be out of the control of any single person, but there is one who is making a difference through an unorthodox yet surprisingly effective method: Mini web documentaries on what’s great about his city.
Korona Committed to Rockford Being a Symbol of Hope and Rebirth
Pablo Korona grew tired of his beloved Rockford, IL being lampooned or derided on The Daily Show, the New York Times Magazine, and other leading media outlets. He did not believe that his city was to be a symbol of economic collapse and despair, but one of hope and rebirth. To that end he began to produce a series of 13 episodes to highlight all that is great about Rockford, the accomplishments of its businesses and the qualities of its people. His online project Our City, Our Story focuses on individual stories of achievements portrayed through short vignettes that allow the viewer an insight into everything that makes Rockford special.
Real Stories of Real People
One of his most popular and wildly viral videos outlines how a family-owned Rockford business manufactured all of the gearing mechanisms inside the Mars Curiosity Rover, but Korona finds inspiration everywhere throughout his city. His episodes feature stories dealing with the breadth of Rockford achievers: Sicilian immigrant tailor Vincent Chiaralli who graduated to launching a record label; renowned historian James Henry Breasted who provided new insights into human history; local mom Sherri White who began a baseball program for the city’s special needs kids; and the O’Keefe family which is now in its third generation of fighting Rockford fires. One of this most literally eye-opening videos tells the story of graffit artist Joe Goral who just a few years ago was imprisoned on a felony charge for his penchant for placing his art on the sides of buildings but is now in demand as a mural artist.
Breaking from the Bleak Rust Belt Tale
Tellingly, Korona did not name his project specifically after Rockford as he envisions that it could be expanded to any American city in the doldrums in order to improve its self-image and provide a spark of renaissance. Korona sees his mission as being designed to appeal to the current residents of Rockford to instill a sense of pride in their community; the Rockford émigrés who want to hear a story about their hometown which differs from the conventional bleak Rust Belt tale of wretched dreariness; and the entrepreneurs and adventurous individuals who may be tempted to move to Rockford to take advantage of its benefits and history.

Korona has been at loggerheads with the municipality as he doesn’t see eye to eye with their strategy of portraying Rockford in a slick, packaged manner. He maintains that this type of promotion that attempts to show Rockford in a completely unrealistic light as a progressive, thriving community on the go varies from reality too far to be effective. Korona maintains that the best way to promote Rockford is by shining a light on the city as it is and letting the audience make its own determinations, rather than creating a façade for the city that will collapse a few seconds after a visitor actually arrives in Rockford. It is Korona’s focus on telling the real stories of the real Rockford that has garnered his project such widespread acclaim across the internet and has provided such outstanding virality. He has been able to accomplish, on a shoestring budget and of his own accord, positive promotion for Rockford that many years of illusory rah-rah municipal promotion never could.

Posted in Online Branding, Current Events

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