Marietta Square gift shop owner Johnny Fulmer, who is helping to spearhead the effort, says downtown antique shops commonly become what they sell - things of the past.
"We're not old and dusty any longer, and it's time to move forward with new ideas," he said.
The idea for the project came from merchants like Fulmer after they were slammed last winter by not only a bad economy, but bad weather and road construction that kept shoppers away.
"Merchants were just, 'we need help, we need help, we need help,'" said Donna Krueger of dk Gallery. "I'm relatively new here. We've just been here since '08, but I think everybody comes and says, OK, where do you go for all our marketing and advertising support, and we don't have that," she said.
So with $2,000 in seed money from the Downtown Marietta Development Authority last spring, the shopkeepers united to form an eight-member non-profit board called The Branding Project to brainstorm ways to attract visitors to downtown Marietta.
Visitors to Disney World know of the Disney brand, just as soda pop drinkers know the Coca-Cola brand. The merchants said it's high time to start promoting a historic downtown Marietta brand.
"What we thought we would try to do is organize the city's advertising campaign, try to work with the Welcome Center on their advertising and maybe the museums and individual merchants, so we put out the same message, the same image, so we know exactly where we're going and how we're doing to get there," said Fulmer, who serves on the DMDA.
Krueger said they want to reach out to east and west Cobb residents before targeting metro Atlanta.
"It's almost like the campaign should be, 'I love Marietta. I just don't go there,'" Krueger said.
Bonnie Reavis of Zenith Design Group, the marketing firm the group is using, said the strategy is to make the old image of downtown Marietta a more contemporary one.
"We're trying to really promote that there's a lot of really cool, current, hip, cultural, immersive, tons of restaurants, impromptu blue grass gatherings outside of the Australian bakery, tours on pedicabs, trolleys, museums. So we're really trying to come out with a bold message of what's here and now, and that's actually the title for the campaign which we're unveiling Thursday," she said.
Board member Cassandra Buckalew, owner of the Historic Marietta Trolley Company, said the campaign is meant to complement, not supplant, the city's historic past.
"There still will be the aspect with the historical element of the city," Buckalew said. "We're not getting rid of that. That's why we put 'historic downtown' in the name of this, and that's what we do with the trolley is tell the story of this town. So that's not something I'm trying to shy away from, but we do need some new people to be in the area because there is so much here."
Reavis said the goal is to usher in people who will sustain the area long term.
"We're wanting to pull the Decatur crowd and pull some of those OTP folks up here, not only to come for a play or coffee shop or jazz celebration, but to say, 'boy, I could get this similar kind of experience, pedestrian friendly, and I could live in a loft environment, and I could spend 60 percent for what I'm spending now for my lifestyle,'" she said.
They look to roll out advertisements on billboards along I-75, place ads in tourist-related periodicals and start a website to market the downtown in the near future.
The group hopes to rely on three sources of funding. It is charging annual $100 membership fee to the 650 stakeholders, from churches to restaurants, that are located within a three-block radius of Glover Park. It plans to hold fundraisers during the year, such as a jazz celebration and displays of university student art work. The group also hopes to get funding from the city and DMDA.
Thursday's campaign rollout begins at 6 p.m. in The Brickyard behind the Historic Marietta Trolley Company on Church Street.