TV Ad Will Promote State Tourism
Once there was a land with a curse upon it. The land was called Connecticut and the curse was an unfortunate nickname - the "drive-through state". Although nutmeggers proclaimed the delights of their state, visitors forever seemed to forsake Connecticut on their way to better-known tourist attractions in New York and New England.
In the battle to attract tourists (and their dollars), New York, which was already winning the war, launched a major advertising campaign with a $10 million dollar budget, a snappy jingle and a catchy slogan - "I Love New York."
"People kept hassling us for a slogan," said Barnett Laschever, Connecticut's Director of Tourism. One suggestion was "Connecticut, so much so near." But Laschever said that geographically limited potential visitors.
Another suggestion, "Connecticut, a whale of a state," capitalized on the state animal, the Hartford Whalers hockey team and old Mystic Seaport - once a whaling port and now the state's biggest tourist attraction. But that highlighted certain parts of the state and alienated others.
"Richard Combs, owner of the Inn on Lake Waramaug (in New Preston), said, 'I haven't had a whale sitting in Lake Waramaug in years, " Laschever said.
So the Governor's Vacation Travel Council, a governor-appointed group of public and private citizens interested in the tourism industry, held a slogan contest and received 10,000 entries. The winning slogan, "Better Yet Connecticut," was penned by Joe Roy, a Bristol graphic artist.
"It was extremely brief, catchy, and rhythmic, " said Roy, who later drew the "Better Yet Connecticut" logo - a picture of the state dissected by swirling lines which represent "the rolling hills of Connecticut," Roy said. In one valley, formed by the swirls, lies an "old country town" and beneath another swirl is a contemporary sailboat.
"I fooled around with a couple of ideas and came up with something traditional and modern because I think that's the style of our state," Roy said.
So now Connecticut had a slogan and a logo, but the nutmeggers found that these things by themselves did not a tourist haven make. Unlike "I Love New York," "Better Yet Connecticut" took off like a lead balloon - frustrating many Connecticut citizens who sought to make their overlooked state stand out.
Enter Carol Wallace, a Cinderella irritated by Connecticut's ugly duckling image. One day, Mrs. Wallace, a freelance artist from Barkhamsted, was sitting in her meticulously decorated living room, watching a news broadcast on the ineffectiveness of the "Better Yet Connecticut" campaign.
An Image of Broadway
At that instant, Mrs. Wallace deduced that it was neither the logo nor the slogan that made "I Love New York" so popular, but the visual images associated with them. "You didn't think of the logo, but of an image of Broadway," she said. "I thought a visual presentation would do a lot to advance the "Better Yet Connecticut" slogan.
"When people from other states see visual images of Connecticut, they'll realize we're a state with many facets," said Ms. Wallace, who was born in southeastern Pennsylvania. She came to Connecticut 23 years ago to work for Northeast Airlines in Hartford and later married New Hartford and West Hartford attorney Richard Wallace.
"I saw Connecticut in a different light because I came up as a stranger," she said. "I knew people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey who knew nothing about Connecticut. Many people came to visit me and they were shocked about all the things the state had to offer.
"We love Connecticut. I see a lot of pride in this state," said Mrs. Wallace, and her staunch nutmeg patriotism bubbled over. "We have a lot to show here. We're not a drive-through state. Connecticut should stand on its own."
Thus, with Connecticut pride, some artistic and public relations experience, and an inability to take no for an answer, Carol Wallace decided to push her idea of some sort of television commercial to promote Connecticut.
"I had no credentials. All I had was in my mind," said Mrs. Wallace. In her head, beating over and over again, was "Better Yet Connecticut, Better Yet Connecticut, Better Yet Connecticut."
"What does that sound like to you?" she asked. To her, it sounded like pumping locomotive pistons and the image of a train appeared for her commercial idea. Her initial concept began to take shape: Have a number of Connecticut celebrities riding on a train, saying a few words about why they live here, and then pointing out the window to some Connecticut sites.
Mrs. Wallace started her grassroots movement in Litchfield County by calling up a neighbor in Goshen, Barney Laschever.
"I got a call from Carol Wallace, whom I never heard of," Laschever said. "She explained her idea and I said, 'gee, that sounds great. Why don't you do a storyboard?' She said, 'what's a story board?'''
Laschever introduced her to Lowengard and Brotherhood, a Hartford advertising firm that gave Mrs. Wallace a crash course in story boards - a series of pictures that break a film into individual sequences.
Mrs. Wallace came back with a storyboard of original watercolor paintings. Laschever suggested using the Essex Valley Railroad for filming and introduced her to the Governor's Vacation Travel Council.
"This idea was new to members of the Council," said Combs, also president of the Council, which endorsed the concept. "And it would take a great deal of time and effort," he said. The shoe fit, so Mrs. Wallace took on the task.
Dedicated to one end
"Since that, she has picked it up and run with it," Laschever said. "The dog work, after it was kicked off, was done by Carol."
The dog work included getting technical assistance to put the commercial together, rounding up celebrities to appear in it and finding money to pay for it.
For the past 18 months, "she's been single-mindedly pursuing people to ask for their support," Combs said. "She has developed with her ability to stand on her feet, mostly because she believes in it (the project). She really is a very loyal citizen of Connecticut.
"She got in touch with Milos Forman (the Academy Award-winning director and a Warren resident)," Combs said. "You know, it's a closed fraternity, but she used his name and Skitch Henderson's (leader of the New York Pops and a New Milford resident). Skitch is known as a low key guy and others respected the fact that he was interested."
Forman agreed to lend his technical and casting skills and Henderson his musical talent.
"I said, "I will do the music for this clickety-clack idea,''' Henderson said. Those are the type of things you pay $50,000 to a Madison Avenue advertising firm for.
"We didn't know each other. She just had a fantastic attitude and I loved it," the bandleader said. Mrs. Wallace's nutmeg patriotism was infectious - "all those corny things that are really true - it is our home," Henderson said.
"She had this healthy, take charge attitude and a good organizational mind," he said. "The idea was sensational but it was impossible because there was no funding."
First, Mrs. Wallace approached WFSB, Channel 3 in Hartford, to see if the station would help develop the "Better Yet Connecticut" commercial as a public service announcement.
Want to do it right
"Most public service announcements, whose productions are not funded, look like it," said Will Mebane, who is account executive of WFSB Productions, an independent subsidiary film production company of Channel 3. "It was the sort of thing you want to do right and to make it come out, you pay someone...to ensure that quality of production which Connecticut required."
WFSB Productions was signed on to produce the television spots, which led to another hurdle - money. "They were frustrated because they couldn't find funding for production or airing of the commercial from the state or the private sector," Mebane said. "We talked to major, heavy-hitter corporations and didn't get any commitments."
Then Mebane introduced Mrs. Wallace to Donna Dilieto, marketing vice president of the Jefferson Federal Savings and Loan Association in Meriden, for whom Mebane had done some commercials. "I felt the project was beneficial to us for many reasons," Ms. DiLieto said. (Bank) branches benefit by bringing people into the area and it's an opportunity to be a contributing factor for the state to develop. We do business in the state of Connecticut and we're committed to it."
Jefferson boosted the project with a $16,000 contribution and, as part of the promotion, will distribute items with the "Better Yet Connecticut" theme. But another $17,500 was still required to make the commercial.
Mrs. Wallace set out to get more money and again, Combs, who is also president of the Litchfield Hills Visitors Commission, helped her. The Litchfield commission is one of the state's regional tourism districts, which receives a 1.5 percent rebate of the state's 7.5 percent sales tax on all room rentals. By law, the money must be used to promote tourism.
Donations came in
The Litchfield commission pitched in $3,500, and Combs and Mrs. Wallace then tapped other regional tourism districts for support. Over a period of a few months, five other tourism districts contributed $1,000 to $4,000 until $27,500 was in the bag.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Wallace had been writing letters to stars in various artistic fields and the project really started rolling as more celebrities started climbing aboard.
"In some cases we had to wait. With some celebrities, we heard immediately," she said. But everyone she wrote to contacted her by letter or in person, she said. Mrs. Wallace got commitments from actors Art Carney, Paul Newman, Susan Saint James, June Havoc, and Walter Matthau to appear in the commercials for free. In addition, Skitch Henderson, Governor and Mrs. William O' Neill, racing car driver Sam Posey, television personality Mike Boguslowski, hockey star Gordie Howe, film critic Rex Reed, author Rolbert Ludlum, author and artist Eric Sloane, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta and models/actors Megan and Mario Van Peebles all agreed to appear.
"As with any creative prospect, the momentum is there and more and more people want to participate. The word is getting around," Mebane said. "They had to understand that we're going to present Connecticut the way all of us feel about Connecticut," Mrs. Wallace said, and the original concept for the commercial evolved to allow the celebrities to express more personal comments.
'...from the heart'
"It had to change because it has to come from the heart. All of the celebrities have a story to tell and a desire to express a love for our state," she said. Skitch Henderson and his band will be filmed at Lake Waramaug, Paul Newman and Sam Posey were already filmed at Lime Rock, and Eric Sloane of Warren was filmed at Bull's Bridge in Kent.
Sloane, a noted artist and author of 32 books, was television's first weatherman. Combining his artistic and meteorological skills, Sloane became known for his "cloudscapes." He painted the floor-to-ceiling sky mural in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Hall of Atmosphere in New York's Museum of Natural History. He also established the Museum of Early American Tools in Kent.
Sloane's love of Connecticut spurred him to agree to appear in the commercial, even though he strongly dislikes the "Better Yet Connecticut" slogan. "Better than what?" he said. "It's grammatically incorrect, without meaning and unattractive."
But as Sloane explained in his segment - in which he was filmed at Bull's Bridge standing next to his original painting of the bridge - he was on his way to Vermont seeking "Americana," but decided to live in Connecticut because he found everything he wanted right here.
"People come to Connecticut for one reason - it's beautiful," said Sloane, after filming. "They come for the trees, the rural feeling, the unspoiled Connecticut."
"For an artist, said Sloane's wife, Mimi, practically every corner you look at is beautiful - the old buildings with character, wood rail fences and handmade stone fences..."
"Nobody comes here for disco or roller coasters. They come for the cultural artistic environmental things - our way of life," said Combs.
The first television spot, starring Art Carney and Susan Saint James on the Essex Valley Railroad, should be ready for airing in Connecticut in August. After the first commercial kicks off the "Better Yet Connecticut" theme with the image of the Essex railroad, additional slots with other celebrities in other locales will spin off.
Now that the commercial is finally materializing, Laschever noted that the entire project was pushed by a variety of private citizens and funded without state money.
"We've all got different stakes in the thing but the benefit will be to the state of Connecticut," Mrs. DiLieto said. "The star is the state of Connecticut," Laschever agreed. "That's the real star."