Markham launches cheeky new ad campaign in bid to attract Amazon's 2nd HQ

City of Markham signs now have a little something extra - a smaller sign underneath proclaiming it the "Possible Future Home of Amazon HQ2."

GTA city wants to be home to Amazon ... and other tech companies

Markham has added a bit of cheeky self-promotion to its city signs. (Courtesy: City of Markham)

No question it's a gimmick.

Road-side signs as people enter the city of Markham now have a little something extra — a  smaller, bright orange sign underneath proclaiming it the "Possible Future Home of Amazon HQ2."

The word "possible" is made to look hand-written in a purposely harder-to-read lighter colour and smaller font, of course.

"Is it bold? Yes it is... because we are bold as a community," said Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti. "When I look at a company like Amazon, they've pushed the envelope in so many ways."

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti calls his team's ad campaign a 'bold' way to attract companies like Amazon. (John LeSavage/CBC)

The cheeky ad campaign comes as Amazon is expected to announce a new shortlist out of the 20 cities still in the running to host the company's second headquarters.

The unusual contest kicked off a fierce competition between North American cities vying for the big prize Amazon promises: a $5 billion investment and 50,000 jobs. The only Canadian bid that's still in contention is from Toronto and the surrounding area, including Markham.

According to the city of Markham, the cost of the signs was minimal, as they were produced in house, and it's still unknown how long the signs will stay up.

Shauna Brail, the director of the Urban Studies program at the University of Toronto, finds Markham's move an odd attempt to attract new investment, whether from Amazon or other companies.

Shauna Brail, the director of the Urban Studies Program at the University of Toronto, finds it unusual for one of 10 cities involved in the Toronto region bid to go out on its own with an ad campaign. (Submitted by Johnny Guatto)

Given that Markham is part of a group bid from the Toronto region made up of 10 cities, she wonders whether the other nine municipalities got a heads-up.

"It isn't really an approach that lends itself to a group collaborative activity," she said. 

"It's not exactly unCanadian," Brail said of the sign campaign, "but it's not really in line with the approach that Toronto seems to have taken in the bidding process."

'It's obviously a bit humorous ... I think it's a clever move.'

Sean Mullin, the executive director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Ryerson University's Brookfield Institute, is less harsh about the campaign.

"It's obviously a bit humorous," he said. "I think it's a clever move ... in order to attract investment in this climate, you've got to draw attention to yourself." 

Mullin doubts this could be taken the wrong way by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and his team. "Is it likely to have any sway on the bid? Almost certainly not."

Sean Mullin, of Ryerson University's Brookfield Institute on Markham's new ad campaign: 'It's got some of the personality of Amazon.' (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC News)

Brail doesn't see the signs having an impact on the bid, either, but feels Markham could have taken a different approach to boast about itself. 

"The notion that 400 Canadian head offices of tech firms are located in Markham is also a really compelling way for them to try and promote and to try to attract other new investment."

For Scarpitti, this is clearly just part of a larger campaign to attract business. The city began a sales pitch on social media Sunday night, using the hashtag #ChooseMarkham.

"We are part of the innovation corridor," he says, rattling off a number of technology companies based in Markham. "We are outperforming Kitchener-Waterloo in technology, we are outperforming Ottawa," Scarpitti said. 

"Markham is the heart of it all."


Lorenda Reddekopp

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Lorenda Reddekopp is a news reporter for CBC Toronto.