Big corporations use memorable slogans or symbols -- like the "swoosh" logo on Nike shoes or McDonald’s "golden arches" -- to establish positive identities and attract new customers. It’s called "branding." And now some of the fifty U-S states are searching for catchy new identities so that they, too, can increase their appeal to tourists, retirees, and new businesses.
Now Oregon -- the West Coast state known for . . . well, not much of anything, but now searching for an identity . . . has introduced a new theme: "We love dreamers." And the mid-South state of Kentucky has come up with a creative way to choose its new persona.
Joe Lilly, senior vice president of the New West advertising agency in Louisville, Kentucky, says most people around the world -- if they think of Kentucky at all -- think of the horse. His company is running the search for an image that goes beyond the famous Kentucky Derby horserace and the beautiful bluegrass on which the Thoroughbred horses feed.
Actually, LOTS of images come to mind at the mention of Kentucky. When we asked ten people here in the VOA offices, three said Kentucky meant "horses" or "bluegrass." Four instantly thought of the Kentucky Fried Chicken brand. One remembered the state’s famous bourbon whiskey. Another, the Kentucky long rifle. The tenth said nothing at all came to mind about the state.
Kentucky’s deputy travel commissioner, Terry Johnson, recognizes the problem.
"We were putting out very disjointed messages as to what the state of Kentucky is all about, what we stand for. We’re a little bit defensive. There’s a little bit of a self-esteem issue. And the governor agreed that we need to have a common message, and we really need to brand ourselves so that we’re all moving in the same direction -- much as a corporation will do to build equity in its image."
To seek that image, Kentucky is borrowing the techniques of the survival reality shows on TV. The New West agency came up with slogan possibilities, tried them out on travel writers and citizens meeting in small focus groups, and narrowed the candidates to four. Once a week since then, says New West’s Joe Lilly, people by the tens of thousands -- inside and outside Kentucky -- have been voting on their favorite slogans. The one getting the fewest each time is eliminated.
"We’ve had people do postcards and letters. We’ve had classes of students who have gotten involved. It’s really that level of participation that has showcased to us the passion that Kentuckians have for their state and why they want to be a part of the process."
The first slogan to go was "Kentucky: Limitless." Then, out went "Kentucky -- Make History."
There are two finalists, from which a winner will be announced this Sunday [Nov. 21] . The first is: "Kentucky, Where Legends Are Born."
One Kentucky visitor, Carol King, of Goderich, Ontario, Canada, likes that one:
"I think this is really where most legends WERE born for all of the United States, to be truthful. So that’s a good reason to have it on your logo. It really presents what I feel everybody thinks of Kentucky."
The second finalist: "Kentucky: Unbridled Spirit."
That one pleases Kentuckian John Ryan, who says, "Just turn us loose, and we’ll go do it! That’s what I feel like."
Nobody is saying that picking a slick new slogan and logo alone will inspire someone to rush to Kentucky or move a business there. But officials say "Kentucky: Unbridled Spirit" or "Kentucky: Where Legends Are Born" can create warm feelings both inside and outsiedc the state. Then it's up to this diverse state of Appalachian hills and hollows, horse country and river towns, Old South remnants and big - city sprawl, to seliver that unbridled spirit and legendary experience.