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Jim Mullen: Sell the sizzle, not the city

Jim Mullen • Updated Sep 1, 2017 at 4:00 PM

I heard of a town that paid a team of consultants $50,000 to come up with a slogan they could use to “brand” the town.

After months of work, they came up with “A Nice Place to Raise Kids.” And that is probably true. But it must not be a good place to pay taxes if they’re throwing away $50,000 to come up with such a lame slogan. I think a group of underachieving sixth-graders could have come up with that one for only $5,000.

It’s not so much the money, or even the slogan, that bothers me; it’s the fact that the local politicians seemed to think they needed a slogan in the first place. Of all the problems in any town -- road repair, health, safety, fire, police, noise ordinances -- how does something like the lack of a slogan work its way to the top of the to-do list? How did the town get by all those years without one?

By the time people started calling San Jose “Silicon Valley,” it already was. “Hotlanta,” “the Big Apple,” “Sin City” and “the Windy City” weren’t names coined by focus groups and consultants. They were usually jokes made by sports reporters that caught on. For a while, New York tried to call itself “Fun City,” but no one who’s ever lived there called it that. It became a national joke.

But if it’s so important to the city elders to have a slogan, let me suggest a few. Your town can just send me a big fat check if you use one of them.

“Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out.” This is the perfect slogan for those cities where every other person you talk to seems to be moving to Florida or Arizona. As for the towns they’re moving to, their slogans could all be, “It’s the Same Urban Sprawl You’re Used To, But Warmer!”

Got a run-down neighborhood in your city that’s starting to attract hipster coffee shops and brewpubs? Wondering how to tell the world zipping down the interstate about your new gentrification? How about, “We Love Man Buns!” It tells the whole story in four short words. And hey, it didn’t cost $50,000.

Speaking of interstates, here’s one you can use if you see the traffic on the super-highway buzzing past your burg without stopping: “Last Exit Before Speed Trap.” It sure beats “Move Along, Nothing to See Here.”

A lot of smaller towns proudly proclaim things like “Home of the Fightin’ Wildcats,” but that really doesn’t mean much to people who didn’t grow up there. That town might want to spice it up a little. Add a sign that says “The Birthplace of Spam!” Sure, it’s not true, but who’s gonna know? Except for the real birthplace of Spam? And it’s not as if they’re claiming to have the World’s Largest Frying Pan or the World’s Biggest Haystack or something that could be easily checked. Maybe the World’s Oldest Woman invented Spam here and then left town. Who’s to say?

Some towns aren’t advertising their best features. While it may be a “nice place to raise kids,” that’s not going to attract many tourists. Why not take a liability and turn it into an asset? “Visit the World’s Largest and Longest-Burning Tire Fire!” Sure, it’s not something most people would brag about, but Sun City brags about sunshine, and what is the sun but a big ball of burning gas? 

Or give people something to do: “Come Shoot Rats at Our Landfill Before We Turn It Into a Sports Park That Definitely Won’t Smell!” Who needs a bunch of high-priced consultants when you can come up with something like that on your own?

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.

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