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Des Moines: The Ss are silent


Catch Des Moines wanted to come up with a new campaign to promote tourism in Des Moines, and marketing Vice President Ben Handfelt knew a few things coming in.

For example, every city claims to be:

  • Unique.
  • An unexpected joy.
  • A great place to dine, drink or see art or a sports event.

“Since I started this job over a year ago, we have talked about how to evolve our brand and infuse some personality,” Handfelt said in an interview. “Every city says they have great food and entertainment, but how do we show that?”

Handfelt, working with Catch Des Moines marketing contractor Strategic America, came across a headline in a previous, discarded proposal that caught his eye. “Des Moines: The S’s are silent. The city is anything but.” 

He loved it. And this week, Catch Des Moines rolls out a new multimedia campaign based on “The S’s are silent” that emphasizes the many ways Greater Des Moines residents enjoy themselves. Actor and filmmaker Scott Siepker — yes, the “Iowa Nice” guy, but he’ll tell you he has retired that character — is featured in videos Handfelt calls quirky, engaging and fun. 

It’s all a play, of course, on the fact that so many people from outside the area pronounced Des Moines as “dez-moyne” or worse, “dez moyNEZ.’

The videos take Siepker through the basics of Raygun, Fong’s pizza, the Iowa State Fair and other must-knows. They include hilarious outtakes. In one, Siepker struggles to gracefully butter bread with the camera rolling. In another, he explains the joy of a good steak de Burgo, and after it seemed like the spot was over, exclaims just how tasty the dish really is. 

Siepker had fun making the three videos and is working on a fourth. There may be more.

“The series is a bit quirky, weird, odd, but that speaks to me,” Siepker said in an interview. “I love Des Moines and living here.” The videos feature 40-some events and places around town. 

The videos are “a bit irreverent” and show that Des Moines residents can make fun of themselves, which is probably why Siepker — who grew up in rural Carroll County and got a psychology degree at Iowa State University — said he was allowed to let his “nerdy, geeky” side come out in the videos. 

Handfelt said the campaign beats the heck of the usual U.S. metro ads with wine and cheesy music and claims of having the corner on class. 

The print and digital ads — primarily aimed at the Kansas City, Omaha, Minneapolis and Iowa markets — all say “Des Moines. The S’s are silent.” Each one adds a message such as: 

  • “Our city is booming.” With art of downtown fireworks.
  • “Our sports fans get loud.” With a long jumper in view.
  • “The fun goes CLINK, CLINK.” Art of fun cocktail glasses at Fong’s.
  • “Our city just clicks.” People taking selfies.

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