Branding iron

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  April 30, 2014

The buzzword of the day is “branding.”

Which is odd, because the concept of infusing a product with a distinct identity has been around since prehistoric times (“Fire By Ogg: Twice The Heat For Half The Effort”) and has been actively used for centuries by the advertising industry and (somewhat less painfully) by cowboys and torturers.

Nevertheless, modern marketing is now all about branding, whether you’re selling a congressional candidate (“Bruce Poliquin: He May Be Short, But He’s Also Rich And Not From Around Here”) or a city (“Portland: Yes, I’m Pretty Sure There’s Another One In The East Somewhere”).

In keeping with this craze, my home county of Franklin recently embarked on a branding campaign. Last winter, a group of business people and community-minded citizens calling themselves the “Network of Networks” hired a consultant from New York to help them develop a name for their group that didn’t sound so stupid. Also, a brand.

Early efforts weren’t promising (“A Lot Like Other Poverty-Stricken Places,” “We Still Have Plenty Of Ticks,” “High In Fiber”), but the N of N persevered and recently announced its selection:
“Maine High Peaks: Discover An Elevated Sense Of Living.”

There’s no question we smoke a lot of pot around here, but does that really constitute a brand?

Also, there’s the little matter of those peaks. While it’s true that most of Maine’s tallest mountains are located in Franklin County, the state’s highest and most famous peak, Mount Katahdin, is nowhere close. And even the ones that are here aren’t all that tall when compared to mountains in places like New Hampshire and Nepal.

I suspect the thinking is that once cannabis becomes legal, nobody will notice those little discrepancies.

All this talk of branding has led me to consider other entities in need of similar marketing help. For instance:

>> Roxanne Quimby. Her efforts to donate 75,000 acres of her land for a national park have stalled, but that’s nothing proper marketing can’t fix. Her negative image is mostly due to people in the Millinocket area not trusting Quimby, who has a history of banning snowmobiling, hunting, and other traditional mainstays of the local economy on her property.

A brand expert would undoubtedly recommend that Quimby make herself more accessible to the populace, so they can get to know her and see that she’s just like them — only infinitely wealthier. To that end, she should downscale her park plans to a more human level. She should set aside one acre as the Quimby National Park Starter Set. For a nominal fee, visitors could see their potential benefactor up close, chopping wood, hauling water from the well, writing enormous checks.

For one hour each day, Quimby could even take questions from the public (“Why don’t you go back to Massachusetts?”), thereby dispelling her image of being aloof and disconnected from local concerns. Questioners would be required to stand behind a protective barrier.

>> Donald Sussman. Maine’s favorite billionaire hedge-fund manager is so rich he makes Quimby look as poor as the Republican running against his wife, Democratic US Representative Chellie Pingree. Sussman owns the state’s largest newspaper and provides a significant portion of the money that funds a variety of liberal political causes. He’s like a left-wing version of the Koch brothers.

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