I have lived in New York City twice in my life and have had the great pleasure of living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn both of those times. In the two short stints that I have lived there, I have seen a numerous examples of the area’s rapid evolution (or as some like to call it, gentrification). Locals have let me know that the Williamsburg of today resembles nothing of the Williamsburg of ten to fifteen years ago and the area is now fully gentrified; the area has lost its ‘grit’ its ‘realness’.
As an outside observer, there’s not a lot from me to say on this issue. What I do find interesting though, is the way that huge corporate brands have made their way into Williamsburg. It is obvious that these brands had to tread lightly. Sticking up a huge Whole Foods in the middle of Bedford Avenue probably wouldn’t have gone down well, or at least not happened without some community protests about the commercialization and standardization of the area.
Here are three marketing examples of big brands trying to win over the Williamsburg locals by attempting to ‘take the man’ out of their brands:
- Attempting to instill a ‘local’ vibe into a big-brand store. Four years ago, there was a grassroots campaign to boycott Duane Reade opening a major store on Bedford Avenue. This store was opening up directly across from independently owned and Williamsburg-staple, King’s Pharmacy. King’s Pharmacy launched their own campaign against Duane Reade, asking customers for their continued loyalty and to ‘fight the corporate bully’. So how did Duane Reade attempt to win the hearts of the locals? Besides offering what the small guy couldn’t (24 hour opening times, cheaper items, a loyalty program and bigger selection), they attempted to put a ‘local’ feel into the store. When you walk into the store you see a huge sign proclaiming ‘Why we Love Brooklyn’ with a list of well-known and loved Brooklyn sights and institutions. Newly opened Starbucks on N 7th also tried to sway locals by offering a ‘local experience’ through regular coffee seminars, displaying work from local artists and having local bands play at the coffee-house. Similarly, when J Crew opened they had a grand opening with local food carts and also featured pieces from local artists.
- Putting the art back into advertising. You won’t find many story-high billboards around Williamsburg, shoving a brand name and model into your face. Many brands have opted to win over the local’s artistic sides by hiring artists to paint their ads onto walls around the area. They are usually quite creative and are never just a boring portrait of a product with the product name underneath. Dunkin’ Donuts on Bedford Ave even has its own deep-fried pastry themed mural painted near its entrance.
- Beer, beer and beer (and maybe a little more beer). Aforementioned Duane Reade and Starbucks have both utilized this tactic. Duane Reade decided to try to sway locals by appealing to the alcoholic in all of us. They offer a ‘Beer Bar’, which includes beer tasting, local, and hard-to-find brews available for purchase as well as a refillable growler beer service. Williamsburg’s Starbucks is also attempting this tactic, by serving beer and wine to customers, which is something only a select few Starbucks around the US does. Though this proposition is experiencing some backlash from locals and its implementation is TBD.
With huge corporations like Duane Reade, Starbucks, J Crew and Dunkin Donuts in the area maybe the final nail has been hit in the coffin that is Williamsburg’s gentrification. It will be interesting to see what other marketing tactics the big guys come up with to try to win the hearts of locals. Or maybe the success of the larger chain stores means that the opposition to the area’s commercialization is no longer in effect, or perhaps just weaker. Only time will tell.