Last year, Jef Anderson of Yearbook Studios accepted the task of conceptualizing and designing the new brand messaging and banner system now hanging on the light poles along Madison Street and CTA stations throughout the Chicago area. In doing so, he resisted the tendency of many marketers to make the product they are pushing look like something it is not.

Instead, he followed the advice many of us received as adolescents when fretting about how we looked to others: “Just be yourself.”

The funding that the village of Forest Park provided to the Chamber of Commerce last year (and recently renewed for the coming year) was used to pay for all the elements beyond just banners, which became the “See Forest Park” marketing campaign. This includes banners, print advertising, billboard designs and a phase one CTA campaign. Anderson created four distinctive icons: a dinner plate, a shopping bag, a softball and bat, and a simple home, combined with the key messages: TASTE FP, SHOP FP, PLAY FP and LIVE FP.

There are no promises of finding your soulmate if you drink at one of the town’s bars, no implications that your business would become profitable within two years if you locate here, and no associating the town with famous historical figures like, say, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Instead, what Anderson did was recall his experience of doing business in town at Yearbook with co-owner Noel Eberline and what he learned by doing research to get the identity of Forest Park just right. What he came up with were words that “embody a lot of hard-working people, not pretentious, and a very honest sensibility.”

He decided to celebrate that vibe, if you will, by channeling the working-person aesthetic of the WPA posters of the 1930s, which promoted a “we’re all in this together” outlook as the whole nation worked to emerge from the Great Depression, somewhat similar to what Forest Park experienced in the late 1990s when this community worked together to pull out of a “shabbier” chapter in its history.

Taking the feeling of the WPA posters and using simplified imagery and messaging made the promotion instantly recognizable.

In addition to rooting the art for this project in the town’s heritage, Anderson was also aware that many of the customers shopping at Yearbook were young couples who loved the “edgier neighborhoods” in the city like Wicker Park and Logan Square, but who also were looking for a different type of environment to raise children and where there was relatively affordable housing. The 20- and 30-somethings coming into Yearbook were amazed at how “cool” Madison Street really is.

This observation had a great influence on the Chamber Marketing Committee’s strategy about where to place what they were creating. To reach young city dwellers and commuters who ride the Blue Line, they worked with the CTA to have the advertising posted in train cars and high-traffic el platforms on which they would display large format posters using the same icons and messaging used on the banners along Madison Street. To make commuters from the western suburbs more aware of Forest Park the simple, bold icons and messaging is displayed regularly on the huge digital billboard overlooking the Eisenhower Expressway.

They then ran ads and advertorials in West Suburban Living Magazine and Chicago Magazine to expand the messaging with a narrative describing Forest Park as an “up till now” undiscovered gem with unique shops and unpretentious people, where housing is still a good value.

Anderson’s goal as a designer is to celebrate Forest Park’s its uniqueness rather than by going negative and saying it’s better than other communities. He said many folks describe Forest Park as urban/suburban, but that description isn’t quite accurate. He emphasized that this town is “cool,” is walkable, has diversity like some neighborhoods in the city, yet provides a good environment to raise children like suburbs further west.

More like a borough in New York City, rather than an urban suburb. Forest Park has its own unique flavor. It stands alone.

Anderson and Eberline added that the new marketing campaign is directed toward Forest Park residents as well as potential shoppers and home buyers from the city or other suburbs. The Chamber of Commerce, of course, is always pushing the “shop local” message, but for the two business partners, it’s more than that.

 “We think that there is this need of bringing the pride of Forest Park more to the forefront,” Anderson explained, “and celebrating things like Showman’s Rest, Ferrara Candy Company and the Haymarket Statue. I think there is still a very honest sensibility in this village that visitors can really feel.”

But marketing can’t be a “one and done” effort, that it has to have long-run continuity to be effective. A fund-request letter was submitted to the Forest Park Village Council by the Chamber of Commerce, quoting a section of the village-commissioned Business Development Report, which stated, “Once Madison Street acquires additional brand equity, the goodwill associated with that equity can be leveraged in expanded efforts to promote Roosevelt Road. … These marketing efforts will, over time, burnish Forest Park’s collective image as a go-to place for entrepreneurs … and to attract new residents and families who prefer living within walking distance of high-quality shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations.” 

The funding request was approved by the Village Council at their May 22 meeting, pending appropriation of budget.

In experimenting with different icons for the marketing campaign, Anderson created a rendering of St. Bernardine Catholic Church in the style of WPA posters, which the few people who have seen it think is striking, which made him think about “turning the town into art.” 

“What if,” he wondered, “I made a limited edition series of renderings of, say, The Altenheim and the Haymarket statue and landmarks like that and sold them as art with part of the proceeds going to the Chamber and some to charities?” 

Stay tuned. Jef Anderson, and Forest Park, aren’t out of ideas.