The power of the Maine brand
When I tell people I am from Maine, the experiences they share almost always involve lobster, L.L. Bean, summer camp or visiting a relative in a place that they can never remember the name of, leading me to say things like “Berunswickland? Can’t say I have heard of that one. Is it near Bangor?”
The image of my home state for the 16 boys who lived on my floor during my freshman year at Carnegie Mellon was toothpaste. A few of them had Tom’s of Maine toothpaste in the dop kits that their parents had provided, I assume, because of the perception that since their 18-year-old babies were old enough to fly the nest to the hotbed of free thinking and liberal activity that college represented, they were also likely to become hippies who were into baking soda toothpaste. Those parents first misconception was that these little geniuses would be doing much more than playing Magic the Gathering, spending hours programming and drinking themselves into catatonic states on $7 bottles of Popov on the weekends. And the kids’ misconception was that because I was from Maine that I had ever used the stuff. A personal preference — I don’t like the texture and even the strawberry “flavor” couldn’t hook me. Of course, that’s a child’s flavor, so it’s possible that I was rebelling subconsciously against my childhood, since I had fled the Northeast for Pittsburgh in the first place. But I think that mostly, to me, it tasted yucky.
But the Maine brand extends far beyond the few products that have gone national with the state in its name. Beans, Old Town canoes, Georgetown Pottery, Thos. Moser furniture — a number of global businesses strongly identify with their Maine roots, luring people to those towns whose names they can never remember, but sound vaguely French or Indian — on pilgrimages to their sources. And now more than ever, companies in Maine are using the public’s mental images of the state — clean, pure, wild and very green — to their advantage in marketing. Every time I am home, I find something new I want to try — the most recent addition to that growing list being Maine Root soda. What drew me in? The cool font in their packing and smart, weird ads like this one. The former boat builder, fishing guide and waiter guy who decided to make root beer. Only in Maine.
Jessica Strelitz is a contributing writer to Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.