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New tourism campaign aims to highlight Nanaimo’s ‘normal’

The idea is to put community spirit at the forefront of the campaign.
Images from the Nanaimo Normal advertising campaign, which is intended to highlight the city’s “eclectic character.” TOURISM NANAIMO

Try to put Nanaimo in a box and it will climb right out.

That’s what Carly Pereboom, executive director of Tourism Nanaimo, says in explaining the city’s new brand: “Nanaimo Normal,” intended to highlight the city’s “vibrant and eclectic character and unconventional style.”

“There’s quite a bit that sets us apart,” Pereboom said Monday. “Things that might raise an eyebrow elsewhere — like racing motorized bathtubs in the harbour and outlandish street names like Twiggly Wiggly Road — are simply the norm in Nanaimo.”

Bathtub races have been running in Nanaimo since 1967. This year’s event is set for July 26 to 28.

Nanaimo Normal’s campaign is about putting the focus on what really matters and is authentic, Pereboom said, “which is the people of Nanaimo. They’re high-spirited. They’re incredibly welcoming.”

The idea is to put community spirit at the forefront of the campaign, as opposed to being about a geographical location, she said. “We’re really saying: ‘This is a community of engaging locals,’ ” said Pereboom, likening the city’s lively arts and culture scene to a mini-Montreal.

Tourism Nanaimo will be staging a contest, with details coming on May 21, for residents to nominate others who reflect the spirit and character of the Nanaimo Normal campaign and who do good works in the city. The winner will receive $500 for the charity of their choice.

Pereboom said the brand has been developed over the past year through engagement with residents, the food and beverage, and transportation sectors, plus other business interests and organizations. It’s intended to evolve through local participation.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he had initial concerns about the campaign but has since embraced it. “We are not normal. We punch above our weight and we have a spectacular array of unique institutions and characters that make us worth visiting.”

He pointed to the annual Silly Boat races, launched from Maffeo Sutton Park, which raise money for the Nanaimo Child Development Centre. In that event, costumed builders construct their craft on the day of the race using their imaginations and a wide range of materials.

Silly Boats will be on the water on July 21.

Krog reeled off a list of features in the community, including a military museum, swimming in Westwood Lake, and a university that graduates about 90 students per year from other countries.

“Frankly, there’s a reason we’re one of the five fastest-growing municipalities in the country. We are not just normal — we are way better than normal.”

Nanaimo also has a waterfront walkway, an Old Town Quarter, heritage buildings and a variety of retail shops and restaurants.

It also has — along with other B.C. communities — a number of people living without permanent homes, social disorder and deaths related to illicit drugs. Unhoused residents are a frequent sight in the city’s core.

The city has a population of just over 100,000, making it the second-largest municipality by population on Vancouver Island.

“We’re seeing more and more young entrepreneurs and creators choosing to make Nanaimo their home, and contributing to a colourful and thriving culture,” Pereboom said.

“There’s been a steady reinvestment over the last two years in Nanaimo from restaurants, breweries, and some really cool boutique stores.

“There’s a community built on character and a being-yourself attitude, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

The new campaign provides a “refreshing alternative to the hyper-curated and perfected images that we’re used to seeing, not only in tourism, but in advertising and our social feeds,” Tourism Nanaimo said in a statement.

Marketing efforts are being directed locally, throughout the province and nationally.

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