In the world of marketing, one area of intense focus is branding—the cultivation of an easily identifiable look, style, and/or wording that makes a person or product more memorable and easily identifiable for the purpose of marketing. There are companies that specialize in this one thing, and theirs is a task that requires considerable thought and research. Branding decisions can have a direct effect on the bottom line: The right branding can make popularity soar. The wrong branding can tank a company.
Among those who give consideration to such things are the local leaders of US cities and towns, who look to branding to promote civic pride and, ideally, tourism. For this reason, city mottos are particularly important.
Think about the well-known classics: We all know that Chicago is “The Windy City,” Nashville is “Music City,” Philadelphia is “The City of Brotherly Love,” and Los Angeles is the “City of Angels.” It’s said that “Cleveland Rocks” and that “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” New York is known as both “The Big Apple” and “The City that Never Sleeps.” These slogans give the locals something to crow about and the brochure writers something to write about.
Many city mottos let us know what the city is famous for, most often by way of the phrase “The [fill in the blank] Capital of the World.” Unfortunately, those destinations that are somewhat lacking in distinction often have to really reach for what they’re the capital of. Albertville, Alabama, for example, is “The Fire Hydrant Capital of the World.” And how proud they must be. But let us not forget Arvada, Colorado, known as “The Celery Capital of the World,” or Owensboro, Kentucky, which you’ll all recall is the “Barbecued Mutton Capital of the World.” Anchorage, Alaska, of course, is the “Hanging Basket Capital of the World.”
I give you my word, I’m not inventing these slogans—they’re real; someone chose them. I’m also not through with the list. Albany, Oregon is “The Grass Seed Capital of the World,” and Farmington, Maine, “The Earmuff Capital of the World” (and yes, or course there is an annual earmuff parade). I’ll definitely be taking the whole family there for fun-filled vacation. And Pearsonville, California enjoys a reputation as “The Hubcap Capital of the World.” What a thrill. I imagine the other hubcap . . . hubs . . . are seething with jealousy.
It seems there’s been somewhat of a rivalry for the title of “Fruitcake Capital of the World” between Claxton, Georgia, and Corsicana, Texas, both of whom claim to be the rightful owners of that prestigious distinction. (I believe we’d be well advised to steer clear of that one. It could get ugly.) There is no competition, however, for the “Barbed Wire Capital of the World,” won handily by DeKalb, Illinois. Windom, Kansas, boasts the title of “Covered Dish Capital of the World,” Seaford, Delaware, is, of course, the nylon capital, and Dalton, Georgia, has proudly declared itself the carpet capital. Berrien Springs, Michigan, is the “Christmas Pickle Capital of the World.” (What is a Christmas pickle, you ask? I am here to help. Read on).
Some towns, out of a noble commitment to honesty, couldn’t even claim “of the world” status and had to settle for a lesser title. Such was the case with Cheshire, Connecticut, which is merely the "Bedding Plant Capital of Connecticut." Fort Payne, Alabama, known for many years as “The Sock Capital of the World,” lost that designation in 2007 and can now only claim, “The Sock Capital of Alabama.” And sad little Berlin, Connecticut has no more to boast of than that it is the “Geographic Center of Connecticut.”
Now, if you or I were looking to craft a slogan with which to brand a city or town, I imagine we’d approach so weighty an assignment with sober circumspection. After all, this small grouping of words has to inspire pride and tell visitors about the place they’re visiting. In some cases, the town’s livelihood can be significantly affected.
But not everyone shares our judiciousness. Indeed, many city slogans have me working very hard to understand what the creators were thinking. Some are baffling, others completely lacking in appeal, and some tell us nothing. Naturally, I’ve done a deep dive and have come up with several that may drive you insane or drive you to drink but will most assuredly drive you away from the towns they’re intended to promote.
Forestville, California is—I promise you—“The Poison Oak Capital of the World.” Now, why on earth would they want to make that public? Washta is dubbed “The Coldest Place in Iowa,” while Cut Bank, Montana, has decided to advertise itself as “The Coldest Spot in the Nation.” No, thank you very much. I don’t believe I’ll be visiting any time soon.
Some mottos seem to suggest that a visit to the place would offer no more than a mediocre experience at best. Auburn, Washington, is “More Than You Imagined” (well, it couldn’t be less), Dover, Delaware, bills itself as “The City that Means Well,” and Bellingham, Washington, implores, “Let Us Surprise You.” Well, I’d be surprised if there was anything there whatsoever of note. Then there’s Hico, Texas, “Where everybody is somebody”—rather a low bar, wouldn’t you say?
Birmingham, Alabama, is called “The Pittsburgh of the South” and Terre Haute, Indiana, “The Pittsburgh of the West”—not the New York, the Chicago, the Las Vegas, or even the Seattle—the Pittsburgh. Having been to Pittsburgh, I’m not sure that’s a selling point. The wildly creative marketing team for Newnan Georgia, decided to dub it “The City of Homes.” And humble Winnemucca, Nevada, is named merely “The City of Paved Streets.” I’m not sure we could call those attractions.
There are some city slogans that simply fail to make a shred of sense. Cranford, New Jersey, is called “The Venice of New Jersey,” despite being the home of nary a canal. Ogdensburg, New York, calls itself “The New York of the North,” in spite of already being in New York, which is in the north. Berlin, New Hampshire, claims to be “The City that Trees Built” which, if taken literally, is a truly terrifying thought and if not, is a real head-scratcher. And Moscow, Idaho, tells us “There’s an I in Our Team,” which just makes my brain hurt to the point where I want to lie down on the floor and cancel all my plans for the month.
Again it must be stated: Many of these towns hired branding consultants and paid them actual moneyto compose these slogans, only to end up with mediocrity like “Crystal Lake, Illinois, A Good Place to Live” or unappealing messages like “Calabash, North Carolina, The Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
I’ve just had a thought. It’s possible the leadership of these cities wanted to keep people away and intentionally branded their towns with mottos that repel, rather than attract, visitors, in which case my hat is off to them; they’ve outsmarted us all. Well played, Calabash. Well played.