Bob Silbernagel Column May 03, 2009

A rose by any other name, may not attract as many tourists

There’s trouble in America’s Dairyland, the place where I grew up.

Part of the problem is many denizens of Wisconsin don’t want their state to be known primarily for bovines? Especially when they’re trying to attract tourists.

But it’s not just that. When the Wisconsin Tourism Department recently chose “Live Like You Mean It,” as its new slogan for tourism promotion, a few renegade cheeseheads pointed out that something very similar to that slogan had been used already — in an advertising campaign for Bacardi Rum.

This dairyland dustup was dutifully reported by Gail Collins of The New York Times, and I read the details in her column. It wasn’t a big enough controversy to merit any mention by my family members who still live in Wisconsin.

Still, it got me thinking about state slogans in general. Apparently, a lot of state officials are also thinking about them and continually revising their slogans — at least in the messages they send to potential tourists.

For instance, according to one Web site I found, West Virginia’s official slogan is now “Open for Business.” Former slogans, “Wild and Wonderful,” and “Almost Heaven,” have been discarded. I’m not John Denver’s biggest fan, but it seems to me that “Almost Heaven” conjures up much more exciting mental pictures of West Virginia than “Open for Business.”

Alabama has abandoned its “Heart of Dixie,” roots for “Share the Wonder.” It does make you wonder.

Idaho is now “Great Potatoes. Tasty Destinations,” not just “Famous Potatoes.”

Pennsylvania may have the record, having selected four different slogans over the years.

Its current one is, “State of Independence.”

And Colorado? It’s not “Colorful Colorado” anymore, according to this Web site. It’s “Enter a Higher State.”

Really? Sounds like we’re trying to attract more stoners to Colorado.

I called the Colorado Tourism Board and was told that is actually a Colorado Ski Country USA advertising slogan, not the state’s.

Whew! What a relief.

The above-mentioned Web site said our former state slogan was, “Fresh Air and Fond Memories Served Daily.” That suggests a great outdoor cafe, which isn’t all bad. But it’s hardly inspiring.

But then I found another Web site, The Greater Grace Daily Gazette,(http://www.townofgrace.org), which had more interesting purported state slogans.

For instance, it lists as Alabama’s slogan, “Hell Yes, We Have Electricity.”

And for Alaska, there is this: “11,623 Eskimos Can’t Be Wrong.”

Connecticut gets: “Like Massachusetts, Only the Kennedys Don’t Own It Yet.”
Kansas is: “The First of the Rectangle States.”

New Mexico’s slogan is, “Lizards Make Excellent Pets.”

And Colorado’s is: “If you don’t ski, don’t bother.”

We fared better than most states in that list.

I’m no marketing guru. I haven’t seen the research from focus groups that apparently tells the tourism touters which words work best to bring in visitors. But I’m pretty sure they don’t really change people’s perception of the place.

Why, for example, should we believe, “Virginia is for lovers”? I’ve been to Virginia a couple of times and I am fascinated by history on display there — from colonial Williamsburg to the homes of Washington and Jefferson to Civil War battlefields. But it’s not the first state that comes to mind when thinking about romance. Hawaii would top that list, followed closely by some mountain getaway in good old Colorado.

Virginia must like the slogan, however. The state has been using it for 40 years.

Illinois may claim to have “Mile after magnificent mile” (of what is not specified). But it will always be the Land of Lincoln to me. And now, unfortunately, the Land of Blagojevich.

It does have Chicago, a magnificent city. But if I want to see “mile after magnificent mile” of spectacular landscape, I guarantee I’ll be looking somewhere out West, not in a Midwest Prairie state.

And “Live Like You Mean It” for Wisconsin? I guess that can be translated to something like, “Live life to the fullest.” But, if you’re going to rip off somebody else’s words for your slogan, why not steal from the master?

How about “Merrily, merrily shall I live, when I visit Wisconsin”? My apologies to Mr. Shakespeare.

But even that won’t make a real difference. Wisconsin has some wonderful scenery: Huge lakes, wild rivers with granite cliffs, great forests. There are miles and miles of hiking and biking trails. There is beer, and bratwurst and the Green Bay Packers. Did I mention beer?

And there are cows. Lots and lots of dairy cows. For many Americans, no matter what slogan the tourism types come up with, Wisconsin will remain America’s Dairyland.

How’s this for a new slogan? “Embrace Your Inner Cheesehead.”


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