Alabama rolls out a (tattered?) red carpet for companies

Joyce Smith and Janene Booth, tourists from Tennessee, sunbathe on a beach of Dauphin Island, a bird sanctuary in Alabama.

What's a winning state slogan? Think about "I love New York," "Virginia is for Lovers," or Vegas' "What happens here, stays here." There's something about these slogans that just stick.

Alabama earlier this year launched its own slogan: Made in Alabama.

"It captures the pride that we have," says Greg Canfield, Alabama's Commerce Secretary, "the competitive nature that Alabamians have. We love to win whatever we do."

Especially winning at college football, which is one thing people think of when they think of Alabama. But Canfield's office launched this marketing blitz to tell people there's more to the state than football and, say, hunting.

The state is specifically going after companies, telling them there's money to be made here. Alabama spent about $390,000 on the slogan, a new website, and ads.

"We've advertised in Delta Sky magazine. We've advertised in Area Development magazine … all of the publications driven towards site consultants," Canfield says.

Site consultants are the ones who tell corporations where to open a new office or a factory. Alabama's branding campaign wants to hit these people first. Canfield says it seems to be working so far. There have been huge spikes in web traffic from places like France, Germany, and Japan.

The website asks people to, "Forget what you think you know about Alabama." And for a lot of people, the first thing that comes to mind is the state's tumultuous Civil Rights history.

And the expression "Thank God for Mississippi" is, believe it or not, something you hear a lot in Alabama. And with an image problem like that, rebranding can be tricky.
"I think the biggest pitfall is coming off as defensive," says Eli Altman, creative director at the branding company A Hundred Monkeys.

Altman says yes, it's about managing your image, "but you want to do it in a very open and accessible way without sort of really putting people into a box in terms of how they're supposed to think about your state."

Canfield hopes people will realize today's Alabama is different. But before people in other states and countries can see that, he says Alabama residents have to see it. That's why his office is aiming the campaign at them, too.

Mary Weisnewski owns Kite, a brand and design firm. She says that's not a bad idea.

"The biggest naysayers are people closest to the brand more often," she says.

Weisnewski says Alabama seems to be doing a good job keeping its message focused on its strengths: things like the timber industry, bioscience, and manufacturing. And if the "Made in Alabama" campaign helps boost the economy here, Alabama will consider it a success.

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