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Hearty Alaska Haven
By Dave Kiffer

April 18, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Six months ago, I wrote a column noting that local tourism officials were looking to improve the marketing of Ketchikan by coming up with a "brand"that could be used to distinguish Ketchikan from its competitors for the visitor dollar.

jpg Dave Kiffer

A high powered "branding" consultant was hired, locals were consulted with, and money was spent.

That process is done and the result is Ketchikan: Hearty Alaska Haven.

No really, I'm serious. That's the result. I don't want to fault the process, because I think the idea of trying to come up with a catchy catch phrase is a good one. And in the ever competitive tourism area, you need to be aware that potential visitors can be seduced away by someone else's more compelling siren song.

But the end result has to be something that fits. Something that feels natural. Something that doesn't feel like it was designed by a "branding" consultant.

"Hearty Alaska Haven" doesn't fit because it sounds more like "concept speak" than real speak.

Let's break down the tape, as they say in the sports world.

Can't fault use of the word "Alaska." That's what we're all about here. Nearly a million visitors come to this area because we are "Alaska.". That's the reason that Prince Rupert B.C. will never attract that number of visitors despite the fact it is virtually the same as Ketchikan with slightly more colorful money and better access. It just isn't "Alaska" and no matter how "supernatural" Rupert is, it won't ever be "Alaska." Unless of course, Canada replaces Iraq in the "Axis of Evil" but that's another column for another day.

Unfortunately just about every place in Alaska that gets visitors wants to market itself as the "real" Alaska. The Alaska that people dream about visiting. The frontier. The wilderness. The "Alaska is what America used to be" horse pucky.

For example, the new Prince Of Wales Island visitors guide refers to POW as "The Actual Alaska." That's a misguided mouthful too. They don't want to just say "real" Alaska, but "actual" Alaska just doesn't trip lightly off the tongue, it stumbles. Any word that starts with the "ak" sound is a fur ball cough-up waiting to happen. Therefore, it won't be a catchphrase that catches on, but I digress.

So what about those words "Hearty" and "Haven?" Why don't they work?

My first reaction to the word "Hearty" was "it's a soup that eats like a meal"! But I decided that I better do some additional "research." So I googled the words Hearty and Alaska.

My first impression was the correct one. Hearty means enthusiastic or friendly. Or even strong and healthy. But it's use has been pretty much relegated to the discussion of food. There are a lot of restaurants and B&Bs in Alaska that trumpet their food offerings as "hearty."

So then are we saying that Ketchikan is known for its "hearty" food? I kind of doubt it. Once upon a time just about every restaurant in town served what we called "logger portions." Whatever you ordered came on a plate the size of Kansas and was enough to feed either a family of six or two small gypo logging outfits.

Portions are still generally bigger that our visitors are used to, but quantity shouldn't be confused with quality in these parts and while we have some pretty good restaurants and eateries, Ketchikan will never be the "Paris of the North" because of its cuisine.

And we certainly can't be saying that Ketchikan is known for its "hearty" healthiness. Too much substance abuse and way too many expanded waistlines. Just ask the medical community and it will tell you that a lot of our health problems are "self-inflicted."

So that leaves "haven."

If we google the words Alaska and Haven we get a similar disconnect. Ketchikan: The land of rest or retirement homes. Even in Alaska "haven" is a euphemism for nursing home. While it's true that a lot of visitors are in their "golden years" I don't think we want to be conjuring up images of retirement homes. That's hardly the "frontier"image that we are trying to trade on.

I guess the biggest problem with "Hearty Alaska Haven" is that it could refer to just about any other community in the state of Alaska. There's nothing in it that says "Ketchikan" except in the really generic way that Ketchikan and all Alaskan towns are "Hearty Alaska Havens." It's as shortsighted as other recent attempts to sell Ketchikan for its shopping rather than it's heritage or its wildlife etc.

And it's not very catchy, not like "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

It's basically as meaningless as calling somewhere the "real" Alaska. If it was April 1, I'd look a little closer at the acronym. Ketchikan: Hearty Alaska Haven (H.A.H.).



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Dave Kiffer ©2005

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