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Patrick Griffin : Casino will reinforce, not harm, our traditional NH ‘brand’

February 25. 2014 5:27PM

What is a “brand”? When I say Nike; you think sports, athletes, performance, “Just do it.” When I say Apple, you think cool, innovative. When I say McDonald’s you think Happy Meals. There is an immediate familiarity.

For more than 30 years I have been a founding partner and served as chairman and CEO of Griffin York & Krause, one of the region’s largest integrated marketing communications and digital advertising firms. I worked with a number of well-known clients over the years including Coca-Cola USA, Dunkin’ Donuts and Anheuser Busch.

In New Hampshire, my firm has handled advertising and branding for The Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, Loon Mountain, Waterville Valley, the NH Lottery and Liquor commissions, and for more than eight years we oversaw New Hampshire’s travel and tourism advertising and marketing.

I’ve heard claims that building a casino in New Hampshire will permanently damage our state’s “brand.” I completely disagree.

Consumers are smart. Consumers are also nuanced. They understand that brands often are multidimensional, even complex. The bigger the menu, the more choices I have as a consumer. Brands must adopt and evolve; they must consistently offer a variety of choices to keep customers coming back. States are no different.

There are currently 41 states that offer some form of casino gambling. Of all those states, Nevada is the only one that’s developed a strong casino image or “brand.” Forty other states have successfully maintained their unique and multi-faceted brand images, even though they offer gambling. Why should we be any different in that approach?

Maine has two casinos, but its image continues to be lighthouses, beaches, unspoiled natural beauty and of course, lobsters. Tourism data backs that up. Maine’s lodging business hasn’t been negatively impacted by the new casinos; lodging was up 7.15 percent during the latest report; restaurant growth was 6.15 percent.

Oregon is known for its 198 museums and galleries, 79 theaters and performing arts centers, 306 wineries, 42 covered bridges, and its incredibly beautiful western coastline. Its brand is not the eight casinos they’ve had there for the past 20 years. Florida’s warm climate, sandy beaches and family theme parks set the tone for the quintessential Florida brand, not the 14 casinos that exist there. The list goes on and on.

The “New Hampshire brand” today is still largely based on the same concept our firm helped develop 35 years ago when we first won the state’s tourism contract. We were engaged not long after the Academy Award winning film “On Golden Pond,” filmed on Squam Lake. The positioning we created for New Hampshire was “Bring the Family”.

We are that small unique New England state with a short but beautiful coastline, pristine lakes, the White Mountains and breathtaking fall foliage. We were camping and grand hotels. Skiing and hiking, hang gliding and family attractions. We are many different things to many different consumers.

New Hampshire’s positioning line today is “Live free and…..” You get to fill in the blank. That’s what our visitors really like: the freedom to choose the things they want to do. None of that will go away if a casino is approved.

For political junkies of any and all stripes, New Hampshire is known as the “First in the Nation Primary” state. That’s one brand attribute that’s not going away anytime soon either.

Our state would no more be threatened by a casino than Iowa or Oregon or Maine. A state’s image is far more unique than one or two single attributes — especially one with all New Hampshire has to offer.

A UNH poll last year found almost 70 percent of people here don’t see any impact on New Hampshire’s image if a casino was to be built here. The New Hampshire brand is strong. A casino will not shrink the vastness of our great White Mountains or dry up our pristine lakes. It won’t change the people who have come here for generations and for generations to come. They will continue to come. In fact, it will bring new guests who might not yet have experienced our state’s unparalleled hospitality, exceptional service and variety of activities.

If it doesn’t change our “brand,” and it offers just one more reason to visit New Hampshire, and public support for the idea is clear and unwavering, then lawmakers should embrace the idea of a casino in New Hampshire. It will not harm our traditional brand, it’ll reinforce it.

Patrick Griffin is the founder of Griffin York & Krause Advertising in Manchester and a managing partner of Purple Strategies New England. He lives in Gilford.

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