My state is prettier than yours


Our topic for today is state tourism slogans.

Perhaps that’s not what you had in mind. Perhaps you are from North Dakota (“Legendary”) or North Carolina (“Beauty Amplified”) and are already so self-satisfied you see no reason to worry about the subject at all.

But this is actually a deeply political matter. After all, it’s the states’ wildly different self-images and sense of specialness that makes places like Congress so interesting.

Consider Texas, which is currently bragging “It’s Like a Whole Other Country.” This is not the slogan of a place that prides itself on the ability to get along with others.

Neither is Montana’s “Get Lost.” This is actually supposed to be an invitation to come, not leave. But at best, it conjures up visions of helicopters and search dogs. Like many states, Montana plays around with several slogans. One of its newest, “Step Out of Bounds,” sounds a bit like a suggestion to walk off a cliff.

On the opposite side we have Washington (“Washington: The State”). These people definitely regard themselves as part of the group.

It’s sad that states no longer like to identify themselves with agricultural production, which always had a nice touch of down-to-earth practicality. Wisconsin has never been the same since it stopped being “America’s Dairyland” and rejected efforts by enthusiasts to adopt “Eat Cheese or Die.” While the state’s tourism website currently urges viewers to “Turn Up the Fun,” a spokeswoman denied that it now has any official marketing pitch whatsoever.

For a long and glorious time, Idaho’s slogan was “Great Potatoes. Tasty Destinations.” But I am sorry to say that the state has moved on and is now going with “Idaho: Adventures in Living.” Diane Norton, the Idaho tourism manager, said the state’s new sales pitch “was developed using attitude research which revealed that Idaho is viewed as being ‘an adventure' in and of itself.” Well yeah, when you hire people to do a marketing survey, they are not going to come back with a root vegetable.

Honestly, I’m not sure how useful brand research is in these cases. The consultants almost always report that their focus groups determined that the state’s most salient point is the great scenery. Or, in the case where there isn’t any scenery, the people.

Except New Mexico, where a focus group reportedly once described the state as boring and, on the positive side, “close to Arizona.” Who knew? Actually these days many Americans’ perception of the state is probably based on the series “Breaking Bad.” Perhaps the slogan should be: “Something’s Cooking in New Mexico, and It’s Not Actually Meth.”

Instead, they came up with “New Mexico True.” Honestly.

Connecticut is trying the historic route with a new tourism slogan (“Connecticut: Still Revolutionary”). This is something of a comeback attempt after the troubled “Connecticut: Full of Surprises” era, during which then-Gov. Jodi Rell failed to pay the state’s dues to a regional tourism-promotion group. Imagine everyone’s surprise when they woke up and discovered that Connecticut had been wiped off the map in the Discover New England website.

“There was no Connecticut there. We actually got kicked out of New England,” said Colin McEnroe, a Connecticut radio host and Hartford Courant columnist.

Connecticut’s problems stem in part from the fact that “Connecticut” is hard to put in a jingle. Think about it. If you want to refer to somebody as a Connecticut resident, the only noun you can use is “Nutmegger.” As part of the “Still Revolutionary” campaign, now-Gov. Dan Malloy’s administration unveiled a new song, “Better With You,” which McEnroe said was notable mainly for never mentioning the state’s name.

Every single state believes that it is meant to be a tourist destination. Nebraska, for instance, insists that tourism is its “third largest earner of revenue from outside the state,” although given the fact that it lists the first two as “agriculture and manufacturing” there really aren’t a whole lot of options left. Its marketing pitch used to be “Possibilities . Endless,” which is not to be confused with Delaware’s “Endless Discoveries.”

Then this month the Nebraska Tourism Commission unveiled “Nebraska Nice.” A spokesman announced that brand research had determined that “one of Nebraska’s strongest assets is our people.”

The “Nice” campaign irked Iowans, who resented the idea that Nebraska was trying to corral the humble politeness franchise. (“Nebraska: Nice Try” read a new Iowa T-shirt.) And they have a point. Nebraska should try to market something that it and it alone can lay claim to. I vote for “Visit Nebraska: We Have a Unicameral State Legislature.”

I’m sorry to say that I have never been to Nebraska. Long ago, during the Clinton administration, I wrote something about the state’s Sen. Bob Kerrey that ticked off his press office, and I was informed that I was barred from Nebraska forever.

I mentioned this once a few years ago, and someone from the office of Kerry’s successor, Sen. Ben Nelson, informed me that the ban was revoked. Which did seem extremely nice.

© 2014 New York Times News Service

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