essays and articles by david g allen

Could A Whisper Campaign Improve Our Image?


First came the Hollywood expedition that hoped to trap "Beverly Hillbillies" in their native habitat. Then came the Abercrombie & Fitch safari that mocked us with their incest jokes. Our leaders were shocked that the civilized world perceived us this way. So shocked, that they decided to spend millions on an ad campaign to improve our image.

A committee of tribal elders summoned mumbo-jumbo shamans from all across the territory. Four of the five who came failed to make it through the gauntlet run. As demanded by tradition, the survivor won the ad contract. But later on, the elders had a change of heart and she was boiled in the soup kettle. Now we must wait for the new king to take the throne before we can beat the drums.

During this regal interlude, I thought I would just go ahead and lay out the best marketing plan for West Virginia. This way, King Joe wonít have to waste time next year by making mumbo-jumbo gumbo from scratch.

I call my plan "The Whisper Campaign."

Simply put, West Virginia does not have Niagara Falls. We have Blackwater Falls. Both waterfalls are awe-inspiring, but in completely different ways. Standing before Blackwater Falls in late summer, when just a trickle of water splashes across its craggy face, is a religious experience.

To market Niagara Falls, youíd want to capture the deafening roar of the waterfall. To market Blackwater Falls, you have to capture its near-silence in the dry season. Blackwater Falls might just be quietest waterfall in the world and it is certainly a secret place to most people. Whispers, I think, convey the Blackwaterís message.

Hereís the pitch.

Scene: A family loads up in their SUV. Camping and fishing gear are prominent as is the camping trailer. Off they go. Across the street, their neighbor asks his wife, "Where are they going?" The wife cups her hand and whispers in his ear. We canít hear a word she says but the subtitle at the bottom of the screen reads, "Theyíre going to West Virginia."

Scene: The CEO of Toyota boards his corporate jet. Off to the side are two ground control guys with red flashlights. One asks the other, "Whereís he going?" The jetís engines fire up so you canít hear the other manís reply. The subtitle reads, "Heís going to West Virginia."

Scene: The Super Bowl. St. Louis wins. Marc Bulger doesnít walk off the field yelling, "Iím going to Disney World!" No, he walks off the field and one of those floating "Iím thinking" balloons reads, "Iím going to West Virginia!"

The message is that West Virginia is a secret. Indeed, a well-kept secret. Whispers emphasize these "state secrets." The ads also have to convey the sublime message that these secrets are worth discovering. And this leads to the second phase of the promotion.

Scene: A climber dangles by a rope on the face of Seneca Rocks. His whisper (subtitle) reads, "Iím glad I discovered West Virginia!"

Scene: A patriotic parade, perhaps on Independence Day. A little boy waves his flag and his whisper reads, "Iím glad I was born in West Virginia!"

Scene: A young woman in her home office types at her computer. The camera pans away from her and to the window. We see that she lives on a small farm in the country. The camera pans back to the computer monitor just as this IM pops up: it must be nice working in wv :-)

Well, what do you think? Will the Whisper Campaign work?

In the past, the state has produced some good tourism ads. Then it got cheap. Rather than pay out-of-state media to run the ads, and thus actually attract visitors, the state hammered local media to run the tourism ads as part of their public service commitment. If West Virginia intends to change its image, then the state better spend the money to do it right. The current plan to spend a few million dollars probably wonít turn enough heads to make it worthwhile.

Given the mindset of committees and bureaucrats, weíll probably end up with inane signs carrying moronic slogans. "Certified Business Location" highway signs are a good example of this mentality. If thatís all they can come up with, then we might as well have road signs that read, "Emergency Toilet Paper Dispenseró1 Mile Ahead." At least the Canadians will appreciate us twice yearly.

Personally, I hope my Whisper Campaign is a success. It might keep me out of hot water for awhile.


David G. Allen, Clarksburg, WV

"The Whisper Campaign" appeared in the December 3 issue of the WV State Journal. 




Copyright 1990-2005  David G. Allen