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Say Wha?

They have ways of making you SayWA

Published April 2, 2006

Troubling news from the Great Northwest: Controversy continues to build over the state of Washington's new tourism campaign slogan ...


"What is a SayWA moment?" the state's tourism industry Web site asks rhetorically. "When jaws drop, that's a SayWA moment. When you collapse in a field of freshly fallen snow, with the stars all around, and the sound of laughter travels a mile, that's another. The SayWA moment is the moment when an experience becomes emotional. In Washington State, these moments form a plentitude, a series of endless discoveries, and each will make you SayWA in a new and different way."

The Web site claims SayWA "serves to keep Washington top-of-the-mind, on the short list when considering travel destinations." But some people dependent on Washington tourism have their doubts. "It needs too much explanation," Darrell Bryan, owner of a Puget Sound ferry service, told the Los Angeles Times. The general media reaction to the SayWA campaign was best expressed by the headline on an editorial in the Spokesman Review, a newspaper in eastern Washington: "Actually I'd rather not SayWA, thanks."

The negative response to SayWA already has prompted some serious self-examination among tourism marketing officials in Hawaii and Ohio, where SayHI and SayOH campaigns were in the works.

As you might imagine, the controversy also has prompted emergency staff meetings here at Say Wha? central, where our own painstaking branding efforts could be undercut if Washington's SayWA campaign becomes an enduring punch line like New Coke or The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.

In an abundance of caution, our marketing team is already working on ways to rebrand my column in case the fallout from SayWA causes Say Wha?'s good name to be compromised. Here are a few of the concepts they're testing:

I'm in a Bob's column state of mind

Bob's column is for lovers What happens in Bob's column stays in Bob's column I want to wake up in a column that never sleeps And the most patriotic of all:


Anyway, even if SayWA catches on, I have my doubts about how many tourists it will divert. It may keep Washington "top-of-the-mind," but how many people who were planning vacations in Tahiti or Tuscany will hear SayWA and decide to visit Tacoma instead?

Tourism marketing campaigns may not do much good, but bad ones can do plenty of harm. Florida officials have spent years trying to recover from the widespread ridicule generated by The Rules Are Different Here. Florida marketers still haven't found a slogan that taps into the motivations that lure millions of tourists to our public beaches, cheap motels and early-bird specials: good times at bargain prices.

Missouri gets to be the Show-Me State. Maybe Florida should market itself as the Shoney State.

Even institutions that would seem to have no need for marketing slogans insist on having one anyway. The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center's slogan is: "The end of cancer begins here." During my visits to Moffitt, I search for patients who originally planned to have their cancers treated at Johns Hopkins or the Cleveland Clinic but switched their business to Moffitt once they heard that catchy slogan.

Cancer patients make good guinea pigs for marketing campaigns. Those receiving chemo treatments are the very definition of a captive audience, hooked up for hours to tubes dripping poison into their veins. But each one gets a comfy chair and plasma TV to help pass the time. And at lunchtime, impossibly good-natured staff members come around and offer the patient-tourists a limited choice of sandwiches: canned tuna fish on extremely white bread, or processed luncheon meat on extremely white bread.

Since the chemo tends to produce an aftertaste that would make a catered meal from Bern's unappetizing, most patients don't express a strong preference. But if you find yourself faced with the choice, I recommend the tuna fish.

In fact, I can see the marketing campaign now ...

The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center: Come for the tumor - stay for the tuna.

[Last modified April 2, 2006, 01:24:20]

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