Thoughts on “Honest to Goodness Indiana”. It’s nice!

Since 2006 Indiana has been branded with the slogan, “Restart your engines”. A clever play that worked well for two reasons:

  1. Indiana leads the nation in motor sports and it’s big business in the state.
  2. Indiana is well known everywhere for the annual Indianapolis 500.

Indiana’s Office of Tourism and Development rolled out a new ad campaign today. It’s now “Honest to Goodness Indiana”.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about the last slogan. And let’s move beyond the notion of whether a State needs to market itself or not. Absolutely it does, as the State is an entity working to attract dollars and competing against other states, just like any other business or organization.

“Restart your engines” is clever. Clever rarely works in marketing because most people won’t “get it”. But this worked, because even if you didn’t catch the play off race car engines, you’d at least get the real premise, which is, “Come relax and refresh in Indiana”. It hung our hat on what worked, what we know, what makes us prominent in the world. Race cars are Indiana and that’s not a bad thing. Millions of people and dollars are spent around it annually. Race cars even ended up on our state’s quarter, along with corn. Which can be seen in practically every other state.

But the State is a big, unwieldy beast. Unlike small states, Indiana is spread out enough to have distinctly different areas. I have long believed this is to our detriment. But it depends on who you ask.

In Illinois, Chicago runs everything and the rest of the state is just along for the ride. This, of course, irritates “all the rest of the state”, but you think Illinois you think Chicago. Instantly. It’s big, it’s prominent, powerful, and if not for Chicago Illinois would have, what?

In Indiana, however, Indianapolis doesn’t have that much pull. When I worked for the State I would often say, “There’s a lot of Indiana outside Indianapolis”, often to deaf ears. The Hoosier population is spread around across multiple smaller cities and over 680 small towns and they demand attention.

If we’re going to be really, truly, honest about something let’s be honest about this: Most every town in Indiana is useless to anyone not living in that town. I do not say this to be mean or cruel. It’s the truth. If you don’t believe me and you live in one of those small towns, like my hometown of Salem, ask yourself this: when was the last time anyplace in New York that’s not New York City ever did anything for you? Exactly.

People in other states may go to Ft. Wayne or Evansville or Richmond to jaunt in for a minute, but mostly because people around those tri-state areas are just looking for the nearest place with something specific — like a Wal-Mart. No one in Michigan is going to look at a billboard and say, “We should go to Campbellsburg, Indiana.” Why? Because you probably live here and don’t even know where that is.

Someone could reasonably say, “We should go to Indianapolis some weekend. I hear they have a great Children’s Museum.” And they’d be right. There’s also a zoo, many museums, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Lucas Oil Stadium, and tons of restaurants that aren’t a diner. Most small towns in the state don’t even have a hotel nearby. Part of living in a small town is you get low crime and “small town life” in exchange for no one really noticing or caring about your town in the grand scheme of the world. So now those small towns are fighting back for limited tourism dollars for no apparently good reason.

So the slogan was changed to “Honest to Goodness Indiana” because of outcries from rural communities and other places that don’t like that it’s too “Indianapolis centric”. From the IBJ:

The “Restart Your Engines” campaign was launched in April 2006, but tourism officials around the state complained that it was too Indianapolis-centric.

Early in the process to find a replacement for that brand message, IOTD convened a brand development panel, comprised of more than 30 individuals from within the travel, tourism and hospitality industries, as well as government leaders and representatives from both the public and private sectors.

Additionally, nearly 8,000 consumers participated in the development process through surveys and focus groups, Newman said. Participants were asked to describe the qualities, attributes and allure of Indiana.

So not only did we blow off our state’s biggest resource full of “things people actually do”, we replaced it with some wishy washy feeling that will attract nothing to nowhere. And we did it with the help of panels and focus groups. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, “A camel is a horse designed by committee?” It was a common phrase when I worked in the halls of state government.

If you’re in Indiana, you probably see Michigan’s “Pure Michigan” ads everywhere. I imagine most people look at those and say the same thing I do. “That looks pretty,” or, “That sounds nice.” That’s it. No action is ever taken. why? Because all you saw was a picture of a lake or heard the sound of kids laughing. Lakes are everywhere. So are kids. I need to be impressed and I need to be told what to do and think. Why not this: “Go to and find a hotel for your weekend trip to Lake Michigan. The beach is closer than the coast and just as warm.”

Indiana should do what marketers have known for centuries: back it up with facts and specifics. Facts sell. For instance, a billboard that said, “Indiana is home to the world’s biggest and best Children’s Museum” with a URL to plan a trip is worth twice as much as a slogan that just tries to tell people, “We’re nice!”

It reminds me of that old Andy Griffith Show bit where Andy and Barney are too afraid to tell Aunt Bea her pickles are “kerosene cucumbers”. So they just say, “Oh, yeah, it’s nice!” Or when they try to hook up a young lady with Gomer Pyle. “He’s…nice! Real nice! He’s nice!”

That reminds me of Indiana right now. “It’s…nice!”

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Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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