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‘Cripes!’: Superior leaders approve contract with Charlie Berens to draw tourists

Superior hopes to leverage Wisconsin comedian's fame to spur tourism

Charlie Berens holding an Old-Fashioned
Charlie Berens, the mastermind behind the viral comedy series, “The Manitowoc Minute.” Photo courtesy of John Hartman

Oh my gosh! The Superior City Council has approved a $120,000 contract with social media influencer Charlie Berens to promote the city and attract tourists.

The Wisconsin comedian and creator of social media content “Manitowoc Minute” and “Cripescast” has attracted millions of followers for his irreverent tone and Wisconsin accent with familiar catchphrases like “Keep ‘er Movin.’”

Under the contract, which the council approved Tuesday and has not yet been signed, Berens would produce 10 pieces of content, photos and short videos during the 90-day term beginning in June. They include two 30-to 60-second pieces that would be posted at least once on his Facebook and Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, TikTok and X accounts. The content could also be posted on Superior’s social media channels during that time.

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Superior City Council Vice President Lindsey Graskey, who chairs the city’s tourism development commission, said it wants to leverage Berens’ more than 9 million followers across various platorms to endorse the northern Wisconsin city and draw visitors.

“I think it’s just going to reach a lot of people and be a really huge stepping stone for exposing the beauty of Superior and kind of getting us known in the state of Wisconsin truly,” Graskey said.

Under the contract, Berens would not conduct any work for competitors, including the city of Duluth and its tourism board.

Prior to the voice vote, some city council members, including Brent Fennessey, expressed concern over what the city was getting in return for $120,000, which will be funded through room tax revenues.

“We think we’re going to get our money’s worth out of that?” asked Fennessey.

While the amount seems large for the contract term, Graskey said the exposure could “put Superior on the map” as it seeks to attract visitors to the city’s businesses, restaurants and  natural areas.

Even so, Superior City Council member Garner Moffat said he was voting against the contract, saying the city should focus on building attractions for residents and visitors. Despite Berens’ large following, Moffat said he felt the investment was too high.

“I think we have to recognize that a lot of those (followers) aren’t within our target audience — like they’re not within a drivable distance, or people that are going to be thinking about making a stop in Superior,” Moffat said.

Superior City Council member Mark Johnson said the contract is the tourism commission’s experiment in spending money outside of its agreement with Swim Creative, a Duluth marketing firm.

In 2022, the commission signed a three-year contract for the firm to market Superior in exchange for $250,000 annually through the end of this year. The agency developed the city’s “Gotta Be Superior” travel campaign that targeted Madison and Eau Claire areas with short videos and bus wraps touting the city as “The Paris of the North.”

Superior Mayor Jim Paine
Superior Mayor Jim Paine outside the city’s government center during Gov. Tony Evers stop in Superior on June 20, 2023. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Johnson said he felt there’s value in the city’s experiment with Berens. Superior Mayor Jim Paine said the hope is that the content has the potential to go viral, but he acknowledged there’s no guarantee of success.

Superior City Council member Tylor Elm agreed it’s something the city hasn’t done before compared to traditional media marketing models.

“Charlie is a quirky person,” Elm said. “I think the notoriety that it will bring to the city, especially from the mid to southern part of the state, would be incredibly valuable.”

Graskey said Berens hasn’t done similar work with cities in the past. Even so, it’s not the first time public officials have sought to leverage the comedian’s popularity.

Berens previously produced a video with former interim Universities of Wisconsin President Tommy Thompson during the COVID-19 pandemic in a “smash off” contest, urging residents to get tested for the virus.