Inspired by the 14 missing Wisconsin Democrats, Illinois city begins promotional campaign ‘Hideaway in Rockford’

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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Rockford, Ill., is eagerly using its sudden presence on the national stage to promote the city’s lesser-known qualities: a great nightlife, a bush-league hockey team, the birthplace of Cheap Trick and — until recently — the perfect place to hide.

Only in America could you turn 14 on-the-run Democrats and a union-smashing Republican governor into a potentially profitable boon. And not just because it’s the only country with those political parties. Not long after The Wisconsin 14 crashed the Chocoholic Frolic — “Rockford sweetest night” — last week, the city found a way to use the commotion to its advantage. Don King would be proud.

Eight days after The Wisconsin 14 first crossed the Illinois border as political fugitives, the city’s promotional arm, Go Rockford, launched a fantastically clever ad campaign called “Hideaway in Rockford!”

It also includes this great video in which … actually,  just watch:

“I have said before and I’ll say again: we’re not making a policy statement, we’re making lemonade,” said John Groh, president of the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“[The video] was never meant to be pro-Republican or against the Democrats that were hiding,” he said. “I think the right’s picked up on it more than the left but it could have just as easily been something that we were extolling the virtues of the 14 Democrats. If we can take the opportunity to focus that message of hiding away on Rockford, that’s what our intention was.”

Groh said the reception of the video has been wonderful, with 80,000 views on YouTube, e-mails and calls from all over the country, and a Facebook page that has “exploded.”

Apart from the video, the promotional campaign has also included working with local merchants to offer “runaway rates” and special offers at “hideout hotspots.” The video, of course, features some of Rockford’s most memorable monuments, particularly Rick Nielsen, the lead guitarist of Cheap Trick (and actual ROCK monument). For his part, Groh is pretty open about the tourist bureau’s motivations.

“We’re not taking a position,” said Groh. “We’re just taking an opportunity.”

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