Stuffy, Preppy, Sleepy: Can a Rebrand Fix Connecticut’s Reputation?


What comes to mind when you think of Connecticut?

Preppy? Wealthy? Snooty? Old? A pit stop between New York and Massachusetts?

Gov. Ned Lamont, a second-term Democrat, would not be surprised.“Sleepy, suburban. Not very diverse,” he suggested in an interview at his office in the Statehouse.

“Let’s face it,” he continued, “our perception, our lifestyle was considered a little out of date.”

He would like to change that.

Governor Lamont, who once publicly urged residents to stop “badmouthing” Connecticut, has begun a state rebranding campaign. “Make It Here,” a $1.8 million advertising blitz, paints Connecticut as creative and diverse. It joins “Find Your Vibe,” a $3 million tourism effort.

The twin campaigns are an attempt to make Connecticut feel like somewhere, not just an amorphous American anywhere. Officials want to refresh the state’s identity and boost state pride, hoping to entice people to buy homes, raise children and build companies there.

“My job is to not only give people something to crow about, but it gives them something to feel proud of,” said Anthony Anthony, the state’s chief marketing officer.

Make It Here” celebrates the state’s high-tech manufacturing: spacesuits, helicopters, submarines. And it shows off Connecticut’s fun side: pizza, basketball.

The ads also frame the state as livable. There are walkable cities, good schools and good jobs. (And, also, towns that are a short commute to good jobs in New York City or Boston.)

But forging a new identity may be a challenge.

In a recent survey by the governor’s office, only 50 percent of Connecticut residents said they were proud of the state — even though 73 percent of them said it was a good place to live.

And there is not an obvious Connecticut thing to sell. The state is not known as the hub of a major industry. It has no big cities. Its largest airport, Bradley, has just two nonstop international flights: Toronto and Dublin.

One thing Connecticut does have going for it is the W.N.B.A.’s Connecticut Sun. Jennifer Rizzotti, the team president, says her challenge is much like the state’s: keeping loyalists while attracting younger fans.

She says she also has to sell Connecticut to some young players, who might want “a sexy, big city environment.” She notes the state’s natural beauty, quality of life and proximity to major cities. “It’s definitely underappreciated, for what we have to offer,” she said.

Residents don’t even know what to call themselves. Are they “Connecticutians”? “Connecticutites”? “Connecticuters”?

“We didn’t have an identity,” said Mr. Anthony, who worked with Cronin, an advertising firm, on the new campaigns. “There’s nothing unifying people.”

Other cities and states are also rebranding, to try to compete for tourists, businesses and talent.

San Francisco, fighting its crime-and-decay image, recently unveiled “It All Starts Here.” Flood-battered Vermont tried to draw tourists with “Very Much Open.” Michigan is spending at least $20 million on “You Can in Michigan,” to try to attract workers.

Does any of it make a difference?

“It certainly would be easy enough to dismiss efforts to brand the state as a frivolous exercise,” said Andy Horowitz, the Connecticut state historian.

“But ultimately,” Dr. Horowitz continued, “it’s part of an ongoing conversation about who we are and who we want to be.”

Still, reputations die hard. And the state’s previous branding has been, frankly, confusing.

The reasons behind Connecticut’s official nickname, “The Nutmeg State,” are lost on most residents, few of whom refer to themselves as “Nutmeggers” with a straight face. (Dr. Horowitz said the nickname probably referenced a duplicitous scheme to sell wooden nutmegs and was meant as an example of Yankee craftiness.)

The motto, “The Constitution State,” is bewildering, too. It does not refer to the U.S. Constitution — it’s a nod to a document adopted in 1639 by leaders of the Connecticut Colony.

Even “Still Revolutionary,” the now-defunct branding campaign that debuted in 2012, touted a runner-up status: Connecticut’s claims to revolutionary fame are overshadowed by places like Massachusetts. (Among the country’s most famous villains is Benedict Arnold — a Connecticut resident — whose very name is synonymous with treason.)

Jimmy Robinson, 24, a social media influencer who promotes the state in videos, acknowledges its challenges: “I can’t think of a personality in Connecticut, at all.”

Among the celebrities who could call Connecticut their home state — the actors Meg Ryan, Katherine Heigl, Chloë Sevigny and Paul Giamatti; the musicians Michael Bolton and John Mayer; former President George W. Bush — nearly none agreed to an interview about its vibe.

Not even Peter Salovey, the president of Yale, or Dan Hurley, the coach of the University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball team, made time to speak.

Only Jacques Pépin — the 87-year-old French chef, who has lived in Madison, Conn., for more than 50 years — rose to the challenge, while stuck in traffic heading southbound on Interstate 95. He is, it turns out, a fan of “Find Your Vibe.”

“I like that new motto better than the old one,” he said, adding, “It’s more in tune with young people now who want to make their own life, and choose their own way of living.”





Read More: Stuffy, Preppy, Sleepy: Can a Rebrand Fix Connecticut’s Reputation?

2023-12-09 13:24:28

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