by Winona Post Publisher Patrick P. Marek
It started a few weeks before Christmas. Word spread like wildfire that there was going to be a major national commercial shot in Winona. Then, when people discovered that it was going to be a Super Bowl commercial featuring Winona Ryder and a lot of local residents who were actually going to get paid for their talents, the excitement built to a fever pitch. Now, after all the screen tests, streets being closed off, fake storefronts and billboards created, and Winona Ryder sightings, the finished products have been released online. Ouch! They spent over $5 million to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear.
The commercial is for a company called Squarespace that provides templates that allow customers to create their own websites and whose slogan is: “A website makes it real.” The ads showcase Winona Ryder traveling to her namesake city to “find the true Winona.” Unfortunately, her GPS must have had a major malfunction because the 30-second ad that is going to run in the Super Bowl makes it look like she landed in the movie “Fargo.”
In the ad, Ryder is reclining in a snowdrift under a made for television “Welcome to Winona” highway sign. She is surrounded by a desolate winter landscape of flat dormant cornfields. At first it looks like she is going to make a snow angel, but when a policeman clicks his siren and asks her what she is doing, she reveals a laptop and explains that she is building a website for her hometown called WelcomeToWinona.com.
The cop, who is a professional actor who sounds like he just transferred from the Fargo police force, never gets within 100 feet of Winona, which actually is a metaphor for this whole project. They communicate by shouting about how much they both like pictures. Yikes. This commercial is designed to rotate with another 30-second ad shot in Mickey’s Diner (renamed the Winona Diner) in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood that features Ryder with a paid actress playing a waitress, and Winona resident, and latest member of the Screen Actors Guild, Rhett Zenke in a non-speaking but memorable role. Both ads were created as teasers for a three-minute web commercial and link to the WelcometoWinona.com website.
That’s where things get murky. When I first heard that Winona Ryder was coming to town to film a commercial, I joked that if we thought that was big deal, try to imagine the commotion if “The Simpsons” were to shoot a commercial in Homer. I know this sounds mean, but now that I have seen the finished products from Squarespace, and the appropriately named “Anonymous Content,” that produced the commercial, I have to say that at least “The Simpsons” characters would be animated. Ryder spent most of her time buried in a parka trying to look thoughtful and contemplative. Unfortunately, she comes off looking mostly distant and confused.
However, you can’t really blame her for being confused, because she wasn’t really born in Winona. That’s right, according to Winona County birth records, there is no evidence that Winona Laura (Horowitz) Ryder was born in Winona County. Lately she has been saying that she was born “on the outskirts of Winona,” and that her pregnant mother was in a Winona laundromat, looking at a “Legend of Winona” pamphlet when she went into labor. Ryder’s Wikipedia entry has been recently edited to show that Winona is her birthplace. Seems like a lot of work for a lousy Super Bowl ad.
Speaking of lousy Super Bowl ads, both Ryder and the city of Winona deserved better. Ryder wanders through town brandishing a camera, bundled up beyond recognition and showing no evidence of the sparkle, talent, and vitality that she has exhibited in her best movie roles. She seems like she is in on the joke, and is along for the ride … as long as it is a short one.
As for the city of Winona, it took a lot of work to rub the luster off of one of the most beautiful cities in America. There were no panoramic views of the bluffs or the Mississippi, no glimpses of our distinctive architecture (except for limited shots where businesses had Winona in their signs), hardly any speaking roles for Winona residents in the primary ads (with the exception of the guy who asked if Winona wanted him to smile or something … of course she said no), no view from Garvin Heights, Levee Park, or lake Winona, and not even a picture of the Princess Winona fountain, the legend that inspired her name. It would have been nice to have quick shots of our world-class Marine Art Museum, distinguished universities, Great River Shakespeare Festival, Beethoven Festival, or Winona’s vibrant art culture. They also could have at least shot the bowling alley scene in Westgate Bowl, instead of having to travel all the way to the Twin Cities to film it. However, as many people smarter than me are quick to point out, it is not the city of Winona’s commercial. Squarespace paid millions for the ads, and they want to convince people that it’s cool to build their own websites.
But aren’t websites supposed to make their subjects look good? In an attempt to look edgy, Squarespace and Anonymous Content created an image of Winona that looks shabby, urban, run-down, or just plain strange. They didn’t do their homework, and instead of polishing up a brilliant jewel for millions to see, they created a disingenuous stereotype of a faltering small town in flyover country that Winona Ryder should be glad to be from … far away from.