By Stephen Vance, Editor
A letter to the editor submitted to The Independent this week once again has people talking about how the Municipality of Meaford is branding itself.
In his letter, Meaford resident Jim Hepple shared an interaction he had with visitors from the United States about Meaford’s use of America’s iconic Statue of Liberty in the form of a scarecrow in recent marketing efforts.
From brochures to billboards, the smiling face of a scarecrow dressed as Lady Liberty has been front and centre in recent months, and Hepple suggests that not only is that symbol irrelevant to Meaford, it is disrespectful to our neighbours to the south.
And he’s right.
“A few weeks ago, at our waterfront, I talked to some friendly visitors from Ohio. These two couples travel in Ontario or Quebec every year, exploring new roads and attractions. They liked our town but were puzzled as to why we would turn an important US symbol into a giant caricature on a billboard.
“They thought it was disrespectful to tourists from the USA. I was told that the grandfather of one of the gentlemen came to the States as a refugee and was welcomed, as were so many, by the Statue of Liberty into that land of opportunity and had been very successful, and his family had not forgotten his stories about his arrival. The attempt to link Meaford with New York was a mystery to them,” wrote Hepple in his letter.
It has frankly been a mystery to many since March of last year when former CAO Frank Miele unveiled his new branding vision to Meaford’s council.
Along with his “The Other Big Apple” slogan, Miele attempted to create some fanfare by having a scarecrow adorned with a Statue of Liberty costume marched into the council chamber as members of Meaford’s Scarecrow Kazoo band played “New York, New York.”
The entire scene left many people scratching their heads.
After Miele had identified a need to update Meaford’s image the year prior, he began a process of hiring a consultant to work up a new identity for the municipality. As part of that process, the municipality and the consultant sought input from members of the community through some branding workshops.
From the outset the former CAO had wanted his “Other Big Apple” slogan to be Meaford’s tag-line. In fact he had tossed out the idea to me during a gathering at Meaford Hall shortly after he had been hired in 2009. I thought he was joking, I truly did, so my reaction was to laugh.
But Miele felt it was fun, and he thought it was cute.
It mattered not that in every public session held during the branding process, the slogan was essentially ignored by community members – most of whom favoured either leaving Meaford’s branding as it was with a bit of a polishing, or they preferred one of the concepts developed by the consultant that Meaford had hired to do that very job.
Miele argued that the municipality wasn’t trying to sell itself to those that already live here, but rather to market itself to potential investors in the community, and to those who might select Meaford as a place to relocate. So the obvious question was why did he have public input sessions at all if it didn’t matter what our residents thought?
What he seemed to be unable to understand is that while marketing efforts are not meant to attract those that are already here, a branding of a community should be a reflection of those that do live here, and it should be something that current residents can be proud of and stand behind.
So when that consultant ultimately unveiled to council and the public, three options that she had developed, along with the “Other Big Apple” brand favoured by the CAO, many residents were less than thrilled with linking Meaford’s image with the mega-city of New York.
A poll that ran in The Independent at the time which asked readers which option they preferred saw “The Other Big Apple” option finish dead last with less than eight percent support, yet “The Other Big Apple” we became.
To add insult to injury we then watched as our municipality plastered a cartoonish scarecrow Statue of Liberty on billboards and marketing materials, and it would be safe to say that many of us, myself included, were simply embarrassed.
We’ve had our little experiment with comparing our quiet little Canadian waterfront community with one of the largest cities in the world, and now I think the time has come to ask ourselves if that branding is truly reflective of the wonderful community in which we live.
Let’s stop disrespecting our American neighbours, let’s stop cringing every time we hear Meaford referred to as “The Other Big Apple,” and let’s revisit how we want our community represented beyond our borders.
We have a wonderful community that offers a lifestyle that many people around the world would be envious of, we don’t need to draw comparisons to New York that simply that don’t exist.