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Tourism: Hammock Coast wins over board (please don't visit)

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Plans to dub Georgetown County the “Hammock Coast” didn’t generate much enthusiasm from locals, but the Tourism Management Commission decided to go with it anyway, in hopes it will resonate with potential visitors.

The commission adopted the moniker last week as the county’s new brand identity, which its ad agency, Rawle Murdy Associates of Charleston, will use in its campaign to attract new tourists.

The vote was 5-1, with Helen Benso, who chairs the commission opposed. She believes the county needs a cohesive brand, but said responses from locals to Hammock Coast seemed to be overwhelmingly negative.

John Kautz, account director for Rawle Murdy, said he understood her concerns, but “it’s not that important that people in Georgetown County embrace [the brand] and understand it.”

What matters is how people the county hopes to attract — those in places such as Charlotte, Atlanta and Ohio — react to the branding, he explained.

That sounded like good sense to commission member Sassy Henry. “It goes back to ‘you’re not going to make everybody happy,’ ” she said. “Tourists are the ones who support our livelihood.”

Henry said she believes some people don’t like Hammock Coast, because it’s too simple, but that’s part of why she believes it works.

“It is who we are, in my opinion,” she said. “It’s not exclusive. We’re not trying to be somebody we’re not. It describes the county from one end to the other.”

Commission member David McMillan said Rawle Murdy could start all over again and come up with new branding ideas, but “the results would be the same.” He suspects locals wouldn’t be enthusiastic about those either.

“Locals are going to have a jaded point of view,” he said.

“They see it as us trying to change their community and that’s not it. It’s a marketing thing.”

McMillan predicted last month, when the Hammock Coast idea was introduced that it would meet resistance from locals.

Commission member Jennifer Averette said Hammock Coast fits better for Pawleys Island than other areas of the county, including Murrells Inlet and Garden City. She also worried about conflict with a Green Coast campaign the county’s Alliance for Economic Development is launching to recruit environmentally-friendly businesses.

Commission members said one appellation wouldn’t interfere with the other, and McMillan argued that the ideas the word “hammock” evoke is a good fit for all of Georgetown County.

Though Benso voted against Hammock Coast, she said “the overriding concern is basically to just move on with it and get the branding out there.

“Branding is a very subjective thing. I wasn’t crazy about it, but other people were and the important thing is just to move forward as quickly as we can,” she said.

The commission also voted to adopt a logo and a theme for an ad campaign, which should begin by the end of the month. Presented with three of each, the commission selected a logo featuring a sketch of a hammock hung between two Palmetto trees with a crescent moon hovering nearby. The words “Hammock Coast” are written beneath, with a list of the communities within the county in smaller print.

For the ads that will run online and in print, the commission selected a series that blend typical scenes of vacationers enjoying the area’s views and activities, interrupted by a rumpled man wearing a sandwich board that says “Please don’t come to Hammock Coast.” The idea is to convey that Georgetown County is a treasure, loved so much by residents and long-time visitors that they want to keep it to themselves.

The other choices were a series of retro-style postcard images encouraging people to come visit, but with the name of the advertised locale ripped away and the words “shhh … it’s a secret” handwritten in their place, and a more traditional campaign using old photos of people frolicking on the beach or playing golf to convey the area’s “same as it always was” history as a vacation destination.

While commission members said they liked the more traditional, nostalgic campaign, they said they thought the “more lively, more playful ones” would get more attention.

“I think this one’s beautiful, but it could be any beach front,” Averette said holding up an ad featuring a black and white picture of a child jumping into the water. “I grew up in Pennsylvania and we could have used this for our lake. We need to be different,” she said.

McMillan said the campaign with the sandwich board gives the commission more room to be creative and “it says we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Averette was concerned that the rumpled man, intended to portray a long-time repeat visitor to Georgetown County, is too tacky and presented a negative image of people who live and vacation here. She wanted to see him better dressed.

“Our tourist is not Rodney Dangerfield golfer guy,” she said.

Henry said she liked the rumpled figure and believes those looking at the ads will be more focused on the scenery.

“They’re not thinking they’re going to go on vacation here and find a bunch of people in black knee socks and tennis shoes,” she said.

Benso suggested trying the sandwich board and traditional campaigns simultaneously to see which one generates more response, but that’s not in the commission’s $700,000 budget.

Limited advertising dollars and opportunities to reach potential visitors were another reason to gamble with a less traditional campaign, commission members said. While it’s more of a risk, they believe it has more chance of creating a buzz and having a big payoff.

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