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Brand concepts build on familiar themes

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Welcome to the Hammock Coast.

Imagine how that would look on a sign along Highway 17. Or in an ad for vacation rentals. Or on a polo shirt.

That’s what the Tourism Management Commission will do over the next month.

The search for a brand identity for Georgetown County tourism arrived at the Hammock Coast this week as the county’s ad agency unveiled its ideas for a place that visitors say they love because it doesn’t have a brand.

“Can you, do you want to, put up a sign that says Welcome to the Hammock Coast?” said John Kautz, account director for Rawle Murdy Associates.

The commission agreed to think it over, which is what Kautz really wants them to do.

“A lot of people buy a house for five to seven years,” he said. “People buy a brand for 20 or 30.”

A survey of past visitors last year led Rawle Murdy to define the essence of the Georgetown County brand as: Shhh! That reflects their finding that people who vacation at the Waccamaw Neck’s beaches think they’ve found a special place that they aren’t willing to share with just anyone.

“What could we call this place?” Kautz asked. “We’re not starting from scratch. We’re starting from something someone already knows.”

And the name has to appeal to residents as well as tourists.

“The name of the area can’t be a gimmick. You all have to live with it,” Kautz said.

But Georgetown County doesn’t mean anything to visitors. And just sticking an adjective in front of the word “coast” isn’t the answer. “It could be anywhere up and down the East Coast,” said Henry Mathieu, creative director at Rawle Murdy.

Hammocks are associated with Pawleys Island, even though they are no longer manufactured here. And the words people associate with hammocks are the same ones they used to describe their vacations at the county’s beaches, Kautz said.

“It’s hard to be stressed out when you’re in a hammock,” he said. “We believe it’s something that will really connect emotionally.”

While people follow rational criteria in picking a destination, people go on vacation for emotional reasons, he said.

Mathieu showed the commission three logos that incorporate Hammock Coast: two geometric shapes that form a hammock-like swoosh, a hand-drawn hammock slung between two palmettoes and two perpendicular curved lines that represent a hammock and the state’ crescent moon symbol.

There is an ad campaign that goes with each logo, but they share the goal of trying to translate Shhh! into a message for prospective visitors.

The one that drew the most comments from the commission blends the usual lush images of destination marketing with a somewhat rumpled figure wearing a sandwich board that says “Please Don’t Come to Our Hammock Coast.”

“It’s like ‘Eat Mor Chikin’, and that’s been successful,” commission member Sassy Henry said. “I think that would resonate with people who vacation here.”

On a Web site, the figure could drop into the screen like the Chik-fil-A cows, Mathieu said. “It’s sort of breaking the mold of traditional tourism advertising,” he said.

Using humor in ads can be risky, Mathieu said. “It’s a bigger risk if they don’t read your ad,” he added.

The “please don’t come” concept opens the door to a variety of ads that expound on the features tourists aren’t supposed to know about, Mathieu said.

Commission member David McMillan said the man with the message seems to fit the area. “That’s how everybody around here is,” he said. “There’s a lot of cynicism in people’s sense of humor around this area.”

Helen Benso, who chairs the commission, said the man could even end up as the subject of articles that emerge from the commission’s public relations effort.

“The guy, you never see something like that,” commission member Jennifer Averette said. “It’s totally original.”

Hammock Coast was one of two ideas from Rawle Murdy. The other, Chicora Coast, draws on an Indian name for the region. Commission members passed over it with little discussion.

McMillan said he liked the name, but it would take a lot of effort to explain what it means.

Hammock Coast has the ability to fit in with the local identity of communities within the county, said Annette Fisher, president of the Chamber of Commerce, which provides staff support to the commission.

“You still have your own identity,” Fisher said. “Which is good.”

Commission members agreed to look over the logos and ad layouts over the weeks before their March meeting.

“You’re going to meet some resistance,” McMillan said. “There are some people who don’t want to be branded at all.”

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