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Opening Arguments

Selling the sizzle

Everyone is probably going to have a lot of fun over Indiana's search for a new tourism slogan now that Illinois has swiped our "Enjoy Indiana." Taking Down Words, for example, lists some suggestions, including "Ohio's Best Friend  and "Welcome, Boneheads." The "Enjoy" slogan was said to be too neutral, which I take it is a polite way to say it was pretty lame. Even "Wander Indiana" was better.

If we're going to be honest with all those tourists, maybe we should adopt a version of something I saw on T-shirts in Michigan City (I paraphrase from memory): "Thanks for spending your money here. You can go home now." Michigan City, where I lived for eight years, provides an instructive example of why all this sloganeering is silly. The city is, in just about every way, a small, ordinary place in an ordinary state. Nobody visits Michigan City just to be in Michigan City. But lots of people go there -- some to try the Blue Chip Casino, some to visit the outlet mall with scores of stores, some to just hang out on the shores of Lake Michigan. For a while there, the city had a slogan -- something like "Gateway to the Dunes" -- but I can't imagine anybody ever went there because of it. If you've got the steak, people will want it. If you don't, selling the sizzle is just make-work for marketing drones.

Indiana University and Ball State University, meanwhile, have dueling slogans. IU is "red hot," but Ball State is "cutting edge cool." Suppose that leaves "lukewarm" for Purdue. This is, I'm sure, part of the universities' "branding" strategies, which I'm pretty cynical about. When people start talking about "branding" a company or institution, I figure they've lost their way and don't know what their mission is anymore; if you're providing what you're supposed to be providing and people like it, that is your brand. My brother was a computer programmer for Kmart back when that company went through its identity crisis. It spend hundreds of millions of dollars on changing its signs while Wal-Mart was muscling its way to the front simply by out-Kmarting Kmart, providing the most variety possible for the lowest prices possible.

Then there's this story about the Colts' new home, which will be called Indiana Stadium only until a corporate sponsor can be found who will be willing to spend millions of dollars a year for the naming rights. Maybe Indiana should become the first state to sell naming rights to a corporate sponsor. Our slogan could be "Indiana: The Real Thing," and Coke could put its logo on the State Seal. Or how about the McDonald's Golden Arches on the State Flag? Even tourists have to eat.

Posted in: Hoosier lore