Morris: Indiana’s Branding Problem
by Leo Morris
I was going to write a wry but pointed column about Indiana’s coming search for a new tourism slogan, something along the lines of, “Wave on your way to Michigan” or, “Thanks for not stopping by.”
Our past attempts to snare visitors with a catchy phrase have always come up embarrassingly short. “Honest to Goodness Indiana” conjured up an aw-shucks image of Andy and Gomer whittling on the front porch. “Restart Your Engines” made it sound like our car might stall once we crossed the state line.
And remember “Wander Indiana”? Boy, there was an invitation to a thrill-a-minute vacation.
Now that Gov. Holcomb has announced the coming end to our house arrest, I thought, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate some of the things that made us self-conscious in the attractive-destination sweepstakes – like the lack of year-round perfect weather, natural wonders and multiple cities large enough to house a snobby elite.
Maybe those are, in fact, good things that we should exploit. Having lots of people around all the time, especially with a high percentage of strangers (who knows where they’ve been?), just creates a hothouse for nasty viruses. If we’d been a better magnet for wayfarers, COVID-19 would have hit us a lot harder.
But then I came across a startling statistic.
As of a few weeks ago, in a ranking of states with the highest number of per-capita virus cases, Indiana came in at 15.
Now, maybe that statistic is misleading, or maybe there are other facts that will add greater context, but doesn’t that seem a little too high? Shouldn’t we have done better than that?
But at least we will be able to find out rather easily once this is all over. A chief virtue of federalism, other than each state being able to craft its own economic development slogan, is that local officials can better respond to local conditions and can be more easily held accountable if they screw up.
Of course, that also means we give those officials a stupefying amount of power in emergencies. For all the federal bloviating and promiscuous spending of non-existent money, it is strictly within the purview of Holcomb and the 49 other governors to shut down an economy and then bring it back.
And Holcomb has handled things pretty well. He hasn’t become a clout-wielding control freak like some governors or an incompetent buffoon like others. He has behaved reasonably in an unprecedented situation.
His recovery plan could be a tad better, though. Considering the state’s economy was destroyed almost in one bold stroke, a two-month, five-stage crawl-back seems a little plodding, despite overwhelming public support for a gradual return to normality.
And the plan is so nuanced and incremental that I’m sure I’ll always be confused about whether I’m in compliance. Is this the week I’m allowed to be part of a 50-percent-capacity crowd or are we up to 75 percent? May I linger in the restaurant over a second cup of coffee, and is it on Thursday or Friday when I’m not allowed to wear yellow?
His slogan could use some work, too.
“Hunker Down Hoosiers” was a marvelous slogan for his stay-at-home order, despite the grammatically appalling missing comma. “Hunker” calls to mind “bunker” and makes us think of bravely banding together as the enemy virus bombs rain down on us.
But “Back on Track” is really lame as a recovery slogan. Back from where? The detour we intentionally drove onto? Frankly, this is the “Restart Your Engines” of post-virus catchphrases.
This state will never get anywhere, on tourism or pandemics or anything else, unless we get this jingle problem whipped. A good slogan is everything.
Honest to goodness.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org