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The trouble with slogans

Skewered by criticism, Wisconsin finds it isn't easy to pick a winner.

Wisconsin's new tourism logo.

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Wisconsin's 2009 logo and theme, "Live Like You Mean It,'' goes with the brand "Originality Rules.''

In 2009, outraged Wisconsinites attacked the state's expensive new slogan like rabid bulldogs, but they overlooked one thing: There have been worse. Much, much worse.

The fun began that March, right after then-Gov. Jim Doyle unveiled the theme "Live Like You Mean It,'' to be used with the state's year-old brand platform, "Originality Rules.''

A Milwaukee radio host immediately pointed out that the original new slogan has been used to sell Bacardi rum, energy bars, diet books and motivational programs.

Readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote hundreds of critiques, from "I don't get it'' to "It sounds like we just got diagnosed with something, as in, 'There's not much time left.' ''

Jesters adapted the slogan for St. Patrick's Day: "Drink Like You Mean It.'' The tax-weary protested its $50,000 cost.

The next morning, NPR "Morning Edition'' host Steve Inskeep suggested that perhaps the state could borrow other slogans: "Wisconsin, the Snow-me State.'' "Don't Mess With Wisconsin.'' "Eat Cheese or Die.''

Ouch. And yet "Live Like You Mean It'' is by no means the worst slogan ever written.

One candidate is "Where the Eagle Soars and the Carp Drops,'' used by the Wisconsin river town of Prairie du Chien. But that's poetry compared with “Stop & Smell the Granite,’’ used in the Minnesota quarry town of St. Cloud, which also gushed over "Memories 4 billion years in the making!''

The new slogan isn't the most vulgar ever written, either. That would be “Watch Great Ladies Get Loaded,'' used to promote the Minnesota taconite-shipping port of Two Harbors.

Slogan-minting is a risky business. In 2006, the Minnesota town of Rochester, known primarily for its hospital, took a beating for "Rah Rah Rochester: More Than You Know.''

The city claimed it was "sassy.'' But sassy works only if the idea is up to date, noted Minneapolis advertising consultant Harry Beckwith.

" 'Rah Rah' " sits right across the aisle from '23 Skidoo' and 'Sis Boom Bah,' corsets and marching bands,'' he wrote on his blog. "Come to Rochester and see our spittoons!''

Coy come-and-see slogans are a common mistake, he added: "What they are revealing is that they suffer an enormous insecurity complex. They really don't think there is much there. If they did, after all, they'd tell us."

Old sign in Wabasha.

© Beth Gauper

In southeast Minnesota, Wabasha has an old-fashioned slogan.

Both the Rochester and Wisconsin slogans were created by Milwaukee firms. Rochester's firm, Ellingsen Brady, later was found to have hacked a Rochester Post-Bulletin online poll asking readers if the slogan was “sassy” or “lame.”

Votes were 90 percent toward "lame," wrote Post-Bulletin columnist Jeff Kiger, until totals changed overnight and newspaper technicians traced 211 votes for “sassy” to the agency's IP address in Milwaukee.

So far, Wisconsin's firm, Red Brown Kle — dubbed Red Brown Kliche by one critic — has been accused of nothing more than triteness.

Obviously, the firm stepped into a minefield. Yet a great slogan is a gold mine: Witness "I Love New York'' and Las Vegas' "What happens here, stays here.''

In this region, I like Wausau's "This is as Up North as you need to be.'' For one thing, it's true; the central Wisconsin town is home to the Badger State Winter Games and offers excellent alpine and cross-country skiing, plus snowshoeing in a dramatic state park.

And it's needed, because so many tourists drive right by Wausau on their way to the towns in the north woods.

But of course, people complained about the slogan.

"It's generated a lot of talk among some of the towns farther north,'' says Wausau visitor-services manager Annette Johnson. "They didn't quite appreciate that.''

She notes the slogan really is "just a little quip'' used on the front of the visitors guide. The real slogan is "Where all the seasons come alive.''

Hmmm.

Wisconsin seems to be a particularly restless state, as far as slogans go. It had a winner in "Escape to Wisconsin,'' but since has gone through "Wisconsin — You're Among Friends'' and "Life's So Good.''

But you can't say it doesn't have a sense of humor. The joke slogan "Eat Cheese or Die"? Coined by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Earl, more than 20 years ago.


Last updated on November 20, 2014