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The History of the “Talking Proud” Campaign

This story originally appeared on Views of Buffalo

Buffalo’s Talking Proud campaign of the 1980s was a huge
booster for the city in a time where it was bombarded nationally with negative
comments, sometimes even coming from the city’s own residents. It took years to
develop and almost never happened, but thanks to the perseverance of Pat Donlon
the long road to actually launching the campaign was a success.

The concept for the Talking Proud campaign has its roots in
the late 1970s when Fred Dentinger had finally had enough about all the
negative comments about Buffalo. He served as chairman of the Buffalo Area
Chamber of Commerce between 1977 and 1978 and believed in defending Buffalo
against all criticisms. Dentinger never got a chance to start the campaign
because of his other duties, but primarily because he had to deal with the
Blizzard of 1977.

Dave Smith, who succeeded Chuck Light as the president of
the Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce, shared Dentinger’s defensive attitude and
sought to set the record straight. The board of directors instructed him to
create a program which would improve Buffalo’s self-image problem. Donlon, the
public relations director for the Chamber, was charged with creating the
Talking Proud campaign when Smith was recruited.

There had already been a pride boosting campaign for Buffalo
in the 1960s, but it had very little substance and was not effective. It was
primarily a “feel-good” campaign with a slogan stating, “Boost Buffalo: It’s
Good For You.” The campaign only ran for a few months and then faded into


Donlon used the 1960s campaign as a sort of template, but
injected more substance into the Talking Proud campaign to ensure it stuck. The
first attempt at gathering a group of agencies and creative people fell on its
face because people rarely showed up or sent their junior staff who were
unqualified to take on the challenge. Donlon informed Smith the approach wasn’t
working and suggested the only way to get traction was to make an initial
investment and assume the role of a client.

The change proved effective and the campaign was beginning
to finally move in the right direction. They assembled a plan and had a
competition between four finalists to determine which would be best suited for
the campaign. Ultimately, they settled on Alden Schutte who proposed taking a
survey of the Buffalo area residents to gauge their perception about the city
so an effective campaign could be created.

When the Talking Proud campaign officially launched in
September 1980 it was a huge success. Donlon remembers the launch well. “As we
were leaving the hotel, Dave Smith said to me, ‘A month from now we’ll either
be heroes or we’ll be looking for new jobs.’ Needless to say, we both remained
gainfully employed at the Chamber a month later.” There were radio spots,
commercials, and of course the famed Talking Proud jingle. There was also a lot
of different merchandise that followed including tens of thousands of Talking
Proud pins and the Talking Proud board game to name a few.

Even though the campaign was a success, Buffalo still faced
criticism. “In a morning show on CBS, Morley Safer took a shot at Buffalo along
the lines of questioning why anyone would want to build a new hotel [the
Hilton] on the waterfront. He cited Love Canal and made remarks that the region
was contaminated with dangerous waste chemicals,” said Donlon.

Stakeholders, news reporters, and residents were outraged at
Safer’s comments. Roger Parkinson the publisher of the Courier-Express extended
an invitation to Safer to come to Buffalo to prove him wrong. Safer obliged,
but stated he stood by his comments during an impromptu news conference upon
his arrival. Donlon remembers, “Out of earshot of reporters, Safer noted that
he was impressed with the treatment he was being accorded. He added that there
might be something valuable in knocking other cities; perhaps he would turn his
attention to Paris or London next time, in anticipation of red-carpet treatment

After his stay in Buffalo, Safer publically admitted that he
was completely mistaken in his previous comments and retracted his initial
statement. He was gracious that residents treated him well despite his comments
and had a wonderful time taking in the sites and enjoying the city.

Another crucial element to the success of Talking Proud was
the Buffalo Bills. “Thanks to the Bills, Talking Proud achieved national
exposure in TV coverage,” said Donlon, “We received inquiries even from cities
in other countries, especially Canada.” The jingle was played at the end of the
first quarter at a Bills game and the fans went wild because just before the
quarter ended the Bills quarterback completed a touchdown pass. From then on,
the fans associated the sound clip with the team’s success and it was played
regularly at the games.

The Talking Proud campaign was recognized with the top award
from the American Chamber of Commerce Executives Association’s Communications
Council in 1981. Syracuse and Rochester used Talking Proud as a model for their
own self-image campaigns and were similarly recognized the following two years.
It lives on today, more than 30 years after its launch. Drivers along Delaware
Avenue can see advance-warning street signs bearing the Talking Proud logo.

Entry image: Pat Donlon proudly sports his campaign polo shirt and the Talking Proud board game 


Talking Proud song played over new commercial for Buffalo

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Written by Mike Puma

Mike Puma

Writing for Buffalo Rising since 2009 covering development news, historic preservation, and Buffalo history. Works professionally in historic preservation.

357 posts


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  1. For the thousands of times it aired in the 1980s, the Talking Proud television commercial is considered the holy grail for the WNY/Southern Ontario aircheck crowd. While one can view any number of unforgettable, run-of-the-mill local ads from the 1980s on Youtube, the sight of a strutting young woman in a red suit leading a growing group of people as they march through downtown Buffalo is nowhere to be seen.

  2. That’s true. I’ve looked for the original on YouTube many times with no success.
    In my opinion, giving the “Talking Proud” treatment to the most recent Buffalo CVB promotional video was cheesy and lame.
    Let the negative votes on this comment pile up. The video was awful.

  3. > Let the negative votes on this comment pile up. The video was awful.
    No downvote here, although I understand how your opinion might go against the hive mind. The “Buffalo For Real” videos seem no different than the “Pure Michigan” commercials that saturated television in Cleveland, one promoting Detroit as being “authentic”, “a real city”, “not sanitized”, and so on. Sound familiar? (Go to, and scroll down to “Color My World – Detroit – TV”) It’s just one reason why I’m so skeptical of such labels being used to describe Buffalo; they’re what you use when there’s so few other positive qualities to draw on for inspiration. Buffalo’s better than what the usual “positive spin on Rust Belt grit” cliches would have others believe.
    Talking Proud was delightfully cheesy, and the city’s English teachers hated it, but it had staying power.

  4. It’s time to mega bump and pump it up, again!
    Intense concentration on Buffalo’s good things needs to be continuous and stupendous.
    A good wager is the people that created the recent spirit of Buffalo video (i.e. Buffalo for Real) would be good candidates for a new boost song. (They used the “15 miles on the Erie Canal” music, commendably.)
    It could be played at the metro train stations and possibly at the airport. (Currently, classical music comes over the stations intercoms. Noticeably, those high-brow offerings are in contrast to the stations shabby conditions. Oops! I digress . . . )
    Get the youth on-board! Play it in Buffalo’s schools after the morning announcements and at their sports games. Include the public access channels in the mix (as introduction to CitiStat airings, etc.).
    Perhaps there could be theme-decorated cars or a trolley driving up commercial strips and through neighborhoods playing the song to garner citizens buy-in and to keep the movement memorable.
    A dedicated “accent Buffalo’s positives only” organization would be beneficial. Businesses hopefully also would rally behind updated talking proud efforts.

  5. You can call it cheesy but for some of us it’s very sentimental. I’m the one that actually mixed the sound and video on this video and just did it for a lark. The beautiful imagery of John Pagets video with the classic song gives me a sense of pride and pleasure. Not sure why you hate on the Talking Proud song. For me it’s a very special song that reminds me of the old days, my grandfather used to take me to Bills games and they would play that song before the “Shout song”.

  6. You misunderstand me.
    I too am sentimental about “Talking Proud”. I am part of the generation of WNYers who have that jingle burned into their collective memory.
    My point was that the jingle doesn’t go well with the video. It’s too frenetic and fast-paced for the imagery. For me, it was painful to watch, and I stopped it after a few moments.
    You took two things I personally think are pretty cool, and combined them into something that I personally think sucks.
    Just giving you the proper context for my opinion dude.

  7. I can understand that, but I disagree, I like how some parts work, it makes me happy, that’s why I did it, don’t like it don’t watch it? Sure some parts don’t work, it’s looped for starters, so not really supposed to watch the entire thing.
    It was just for fun, and I didn’t mean to offend your sensibilities. This is in no way an official video, I never even linked it to anyone, people just found it. Just adding context for you too. Check out my other videos, you’ll probably like them a lot more.

  8. > You can call it cheesy but for some of us it’s very sentimental.
    I said the song was cheesy, but I also said it worked. It didn’t necessarily lift up the city from the doldrums of the time, but it wasn’t intended as part of a tourism campaign; rather, as something to make people feel a little bit of hometown pride during an time when every day bought Irv Weinstein announcing five more house fires, three or four shootings, and another factory closing.
    30 years later “Talking Proud” is solidly entrenched into the collective memory of practically everybody that lived in the region at the time. You can’t say that about later campaigns like We’re Looking Good (


    ) or Buffalo USA (

    (Really? People saved videos of those campaigns, but not Talking Proud? Seriously?)

  9. As much as I’m a fan of the city’s architecture, the juxtaposition of the Talkin’ Proud song over the new video really highlights what’s missing from the new campaign: PEOPLE.
    We certainly haven’t cured that original problem of our own residents lacking pride in their city (and perhaps it’s even gotten worse). But the old campaign showed people full of energy and pride… we’ve replaced that with static images of beautiful scenes devoid of human interaction, people living ordinary mundane lives instead of moving forward with anything resembling excitement.
    What does that tell people who see this ad? What does it tell ourselves? That we’re a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live here? If so, the new campaign falls horribly short of the original… both in educating our visitors AND OURSELVES.

  10. I remember “Boost Buffalo: It’s Good For You.” There was not even an exclamation point after “you” to equate to a cheery lol or a 🙂 !!! That slogan might as well have been Boost Buffalo, OR ELSE.
    “Talking For Real Proud” and “Buffalo for Real” are a miscarriage of English.
    Although the voice in the theme song connected to the above video is clearly saying “Talkin’ Proud” and sounds sincerely, deeply proud–and that is how most of us actually would sing it out anyway–at least writing out “We’re Talking Proud” doesn’t mess up the carriage of English usage. The way this new version is done, we sound proud AND educated!
    That video is a foot stomping, hand clapping treasure, but why is it so long? Since there is a pause somewhere about the middle, is it meant to be two different pictorial versions of the same music?
    As far as the video keeping up with the fast pace of the lyrics and music, gosh, what a clever idea NOT to ALSO cause flashing-by visual incomprehencibility for a change!!!

  11. Fair enough sir. Perhaps I was a bit harsh. My sensibilities were not offended, but the video was not my cup of tea. I will look at your other stuff on YouTube.
    (See BRO??? People CAN disagree and be somewhat civil.)

  12. My best friend said that he vaguely heard there was controversy over this new slogan, but didn’t know what it was. Then he heard the song on the radio, and chuckled over it, because he could understand the controversy. He thought they were singing, “Buffalo’s got the spirt, f***king proud, f***king proud!”
    I explained that the words were “talking proud.” We all laughed.
    But to this day, I think his interpretation would actually be the better one, and certainly more in character with the city.

  13. Hopefully someone can get the original commercial on youtube. I would think Visit Buffalo Niagara would have it. I can still picture that woman and the people leaning back and walking (very proudly), and was expecting someone to fall over.

  14. Ah, yes. Talkin’ Proud! From the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce (later weasling itself into the “Buffalo Niagara Partnership”, complete with bow-tie) which abandoned its own office building, forcing the City to pay to have it demolished. Then they hired an out-of-town (Toronto, as I recall) producer to make the ridiculous ads with which they tormented us for months. And to what end? WHY show us the stupid ads? Why not show them to people OUTSIDE of this area? Oh, but it surely accomplished a TON of good – just look at how far Buffalo’s economy and population have prospered, since the “TALKIN’ PROUD!” campaign. Talk some more, please.

  15. Ha! That reminds me of a friend who was a member of B.F.L.O (Buffalo Fetish & Leather Organization). When out of town and meeting with people who were unfamiliar with the abbreviation of Bflo for the city, he would tell them it stood for Big F****** Leather Organization. He almost always got the response “No way! That is SOOO cool!!!”

  16. If I remember right (I was probably 10 when that commercial was out), the commercial featured that ugly lighted sign across the street from the convention center that was finally torn out. I think that commercial was the last time the thing actually worked!

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