Ad Funded by Travel Portland in The New York Times Raises Eyebrows on Social Media

“We’re a place of dualities that are never polarities. Two sides to the same coin that keep landing right on its edge. Anything can happen. We like it this way.”

downtown mural Sketching a mural on downtown Portland's plywood. (Brian Burk)

A curious ad for the city of Portland appeared in The New York Times on June 20.

“You’ve heard a lot about us lately. It’s been a while since you heard from us. Some of what you’ve heard about Portland is true. Some is not. What matters most is that we’re true to ourselves,” the ad read on a sparse page of simple black text.

It continued: “We’re a place of dualities that are never polarities. Two sides to the same coin that keep landing right on its edge. Anything can happen. We like it this way.”

This is Portland Ad in the New York Times on Sunday, June 20.

Travel Portland, the agency that placed the ad, explained in a June 21 statement that the ad is part of a wider campaign to right Portland’s reputation nationally and “to inspire overnight stays at Portland hotels and short-term rentals.”

One of the building blocks of the summer campaign is a video, which Travel Portland says “gives consumers the opportunity to see past the negative news headlines of last year into the lives of some everyday Portlanders right now.”

“It shows visitors will find a city that is evolving as it works toward the advancement of an even better and more equitable version of itself—a move toward a new normal instead of a return to the pre-pandemic past. The voiceover for the ‘This is Portland’ anthem celebrates and embraces the contrasts that Portland has in abundance: fine dining and food carts, luxury boutiques and used record stores, street art and forested trails,” Travel Portland said in its statement.

Travel Portland hired a minority-owned ad agency called INDUSTRY to produce the campaign.

Travel Portland tells WW that the campaign was paid for by the Tourism Improvement District, a program created in 2012 that places an additional 2 percent fee on overnight stays at hotels and vacation rentals on top of the existing 11.5 percent tax. The money garnered from that 2 percent additional fee is used by Travel Portland to promote the city as a vacation destination.

The ad in The New York Times, which Travel Portland says also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and The Seattle Times, seems to be an effort to dispel Portland’s image in the national spotlight as the country’s chaotic and violent epicenter of racial justice protests, an image fueled in part by former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

The printed ad was addressed “Love, Portland.”

As things tend to do on the Twittersphere, the ad received a swift and merciless backlash on the platform—mostly from Portlanders taking issue with the ad assuming a unified voice for all of the city.

After all, some other dualities that may come to mind when people think of Portland are competing opinions on whether police conduct during the George Floyd protests was appropriate, clashes where far-right protesters and antifascists use bear spray on each other, and bitter arguments about whether sweeps of homeless camps are cruel or necessary.

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Travel Portland’s ad.

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