Q: Dear Ace, I went to the City’s website the other day and clicked on a new little icon that sent me to this page that had advertisements on it, but also informational tourist videos about Charlottesville. Whaaaa? Is it an advertisement or is it something relating to City government and tourism?—Trava Ling-Willberry
A: Your confusion is warranted, Ms. Ling-Willberry. Concerned for your concern, Ace took a gander at the City’s website. He clicked on the icon and was soon watching a video of scenic Charlottesville paired with a jazzy soundtrack of piano and electronic strings.
A main menu pops up announcing “Charlottesville, Virginia Online” in the hippest and most tasteful of graphics. The lucky Internet explorer can then choose from a variety of options to learn more about “the best place to live in America,” from “Health Care and Senior Living” to “Real Estate and Relocation” to “Arts and Entertainment.” Click on the “Welcome” icon, for example, and a creepily digital monotone male voiceover will say:
“Charlottesville, in Central Virginia, welcomes you to an autonomous city blah, blah, blah…” as yet another video of scenic Charlottesville plays on the screen.
Around the perimeter are icons that provide links to local businesses and organizations such as Oyster House Antiques, Four Seasons Realty and the Virginia Athletics Foundation. In a word: advertisers.
Luckily, Charlottesville’s Director of Communications, Maurice Jones, is back from his honeymoon (congrats from Ace & Co., MoJo, and for the record we are so glad to have you back!) and ready to explain everything.
The site is courtesy of a company based in Rochester, New York, called eLocal Link. The dealy-o is that they make promotional videos for city governments. The cities in turn post a link to the eLocal Link site for visitors to view the promotional videos. Jones assures Ace that there is no cost to the city and that the eLocal folks earn their money through advertisements, which run from $700 to $5,000.
“We consider it a service to the citizens of Charlottesville and to folks who are visiting Charlottesville’s website,” is Jones’ official word, while stressing that the eLocal Link Charlottesville page is entirely separate from the City’s homepage.
As for the prickly issue of running advertising on a government-related page, Glass-Half-Full Jones says, “Another way of looking at it is that even if a business doesn’t have the financial means to advertise on eLocal Link, they still reap the benefits of a tourist who decides to visit Charlottesville as a result of what they see online.”
While Ace is skeptical of eLocal Link’s ability to draw people to Charlottesville, Ace will let Jones off easy on this one. Charlottesville, a.k.a. “One of the Top 10 Digital Cities in America,” has a reputation to maintain.