We Need to do Better than ‘West Mass’


Critiquing marketing material is akin to analyzing a presidential debate or scoring a Saturday Night Live skit. It’s certainly easy to be critical and wonder out loud, ‘couldn’t they do any better than that?’

Just think back to the Super Bowl and how many times we all said words to that effect after almost every one of the commercials.

We bring this up because the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., via an Oklahoma-based marketing firm that specializes in branding regions, has come up with a new name, or brand, for this region: West Mass.

Let’s rephrase that: West Mass???

This is where we make like we’ve seen another of those Super Bowl ads or a hopelessly weak installment of Weekend Update, and say ‘really?’

It took a year, intensive questionnaires, and tens of thousands of dollars to come up with … this?

West Mass? This is the new brand for this region, the one that’s supposed to replace ‘Pioneer Valley,’ which, by the way, won’t be replaced simply because too many businesses and agencies are invested in it.

West Mass?

This is disappointing on a number of levels, but let’s start with the fact that the EDC decided that none of the excellent marketing firms in this region that submitted proposals for this rebrand were worthy of the task, so it instead hired that Oklahoma-based firm, Cubic Creative, to come up with something that an intern from one of the local colleges could have come up with while on lunch break.

OK, we’re being really cynical, but it’s hard not to be. A lot of time and resources were expended on this, and from our view, the region is no better off, marketing-slogan/brand-wise, than it was before. In fact, it’s probably worse off.

To be fair, we acknowledge that this region is not exactly easy to brand. Like the Blackstone Valley outside Worcester and the Merrimack Valley in the northeast corner of the state, it is named, sort of, for the river that runs through it — hence Connecticut Valley. But that’s also the name of a neighboring state, and we want people and companies to come here, not go there, so that’s not going to work.

Meanwhile, the two or three things this area is perhaps most identified with (we said ‘perhaps’) are Dr. Seuss, basketball, and the guns once made at the Springfield Armory. But all those are tied directly to Springfield, and we want to promote the region, not just its biggest city. Meanwhile, it’s not politically correct to use guns to brand anything.

How about ‘Knowledge Corridor’ — the brand we’re already using, sort of? It’s OK, but only for attracting businesses, and it doesn’t seem to be working well in that realm, either. From a tourism perspective, it probably will be hard to get people worked up to visit the Knowledge Corridor.

So, we admit, rebranding the area is not an easy assignment. But West Mass?

It’s nothing more than a geographic indicator. It basically tells people that we’re ‘Massachusetts, but not Boston.’

It is possible, we suppose, that smart marketers could take ‘West Mass,’ mix it with some other words, pictures, and fonts, and maybe convey a powerful message that will resonate with individuals, families, and businesses. After all, people don’t have to do anything more than say ‘South Beach’ to whet a lot of appetites.

For now, though, as with most all Saturday Night Live episodes and presidential debates, ‘West Mass’ leaves us yearning for more, and saying ‘couldn’t they do any better than that?’

Here’s hoping they prove all us critics wrong.

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