Haters love to hate, and haters particularly love to hate on San Francisco. So SF Travel’s first-ever commercial for the city—a component of its most expensive marketing campaign to date, costing $6 million—inevitably invited the haters to the yard. Jokes proliferated on social media about how the sun-splashed video, posted to YouTube on Tuesday, should have included images of drug use, encampments and feces on the streets with so much derision that the YouTube comments were turned off after only a day.
But San Franciscans are growing increasingly weary of the “San Francisco is a hellscape” narrative and are anxious to wrest back the story of what the city means from what’s often a conservative-leaning smear campaign. The “Always San Francisco” video is backed by an upbeat, earworm version of the song “San Francisco” made famous by Judy Garland.
Mission artist Sirron Norris, who has lived in San Francisco for 25 years, owns his role in the cheerful one-minute commercial, which showcases landmarks like the Castro Theatre, the Embarcadero and the Golden Gate Bridge. Appearing alongside local celebrities—think Lady Camden of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame or musician Mae Powell—Norris sees the commercial as a way to revamp the image of the city he adores. The ad will air on traditional television domestically from Boston to Houston and stream digitally around the globe.
“It’s a great responsibility,” he said. “And I was all in for it.”
Norris is famous for his colorful murals throughout the city—including the one in the pediatric emergency room at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital—and is the lead animator of Fox Network’s Bob’s Burgers.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more in terms of its professionalism, its beauty, its color, its pace,” Norris said of the commercial.
The 50-year-old artist runs a gallery in the Mission, his brick-and-mortar studio there a refreshing reminder that artists do still live and work in the city. He also runs kids’ classes and camps through the Sirron Norris Academy and sees inspiring the next generation as an important component of his work.
The commercial’s release was originally planned for February, according to Norris, but got pushed back to May due to funding delays.
“Look at what San Francisco has gone through since February to now,” he said. “We went through so much shit, and none of it was our responsibility, but we got blamed for it.”
Tourism has been on an uptick in San Francisco, and while it still hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels, it’s forecast to fully recover by 2026.
For Norris, being amazing comes easily to San Francisco—it’s something that naysayers could never destroy.
“We are a beautiful, amazing city that people try to emulate,” Norris said. “Nothing has changed in our city—it’s just all words from other people.”
Julie Zigoris can be reached at email@example.com