Friday, November 13, 2009

Bailing Out on a Challenge ~ or Optimizing a Unique Opportunity?

Once more, I'm borrowing a comment from a favorite source:'s PR Junkie column. This was posted back in October and I loved it so much I (again) feel compelled to share. Sometimes someone says something so well there's no point in trying to better it. And Ragan does that pretty often. If you've never checked their page, I highly recommend it for both insight and humor.

It seems that last summer, the Wisconsin Tourism Federation rebranded itself, changing its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin. The change was announced via the Associated Press, although I regret that the article about it is no longer available at AP.

You might well wonder why an established organization would change its name. As a former (albeit short-term) Wisconsinite myself, I was certainly curious. Ragan's article follows:


Wisconsin, you blew it.

The Associated Press reports that your Wisconsin Tourism Federation — WTF — quietly rebranded in July, changing its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin — TFW.

So, what prompted this rebranding? After all, Wisconsin’s WTF was around well before teens, and later adults, started saying WTF to mean “what the f****.”

“Blogs started poking fun at it,” AP reported.

Because blogs started poking fun at it? Really? One blog, it seems, made fun of it. That blog, called, posted the Tourism Federation’s logo on July 1 with this comment, “would really think someone would warn them about this kind of stuff.”

Ouch. Better call up the PR SWAT team for that one.

Other blogs and articles are claiming the people of Wisconsin cracked wise about the acronym endlessly, and the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin, a group of businesses in the state, finally got sick of it. Clearly, the blog played a strong hand in the decision, given the timing.

It was a big mistake. This organization had a marketing goldmine. Wisconsin’s “WTF” was branded in 1979. So, WTF, optimize it! Next time someone types WTF into Google, there’s your site. Someone types WTF into a Facebook update or G-mail e-mail and an ad for Wisconsin appears.

And make light of the silly acronym, don’t run from it. Someone Googles “WTF” and finds the Wisconsin Tourism Federation site, here’s some sample text that could accompany it:

WTF? That’s probably what you’re asking? What the f — OK, we’ll stop you right there. Here’s why you’ve landed on a Web site dedicated to Wisconsin. WTF are the initials for the Wisconsin Tourism Federation. We were here before WTF meant something else, and we’ll be here after it evolves into something like WTFF (think about that for second).

So, while we have you, here’s why you should come to Wisconsin —
  • Our great sense of humor — just look at this ad!
  • [Reason]
  • [Reason]
  • [Reason]
"It surprises me that the people of Wisconsin, who always seemed fun-loving, would take exception to the acronym. Or, as Jonathan Turley, a legal blogger and fellow Chicagoan, wrote, “What I fail to understand (admittedly with a Chicago bias) is why people who wear cheese on their heads at football games are this sensitive about being called WTF.”

Turns out one of my Ragan co-workers grew up in Wisconsin. I asked her about it: Did you know about WTF? Is this something that bothers you? Should they have changed it?

Here’s what she said:

“Never heard of it. Never even heard any one talk about it. I think it’s dumb. Only in Wisconsin would this happen. And I’m from Wisconsin, so I can say that.”

The state has spoken.


Thanks again, Ragan, for giving me such great fodder for my heretical nature! I can only agree that [the former] WTF had a terrific opportunity to ave some fun with their circumstances. The organization could even have reworked the logo to change the emphasis on the apparently uncomfortable acronym if it really bothered them so much, which would have enabled them to offer two distinct campaigns — one embracing the humor and another ignoring the issue.

But no; instead they folded. And, in my view, missed the opportunity to appeal to a whole new audience. And that's a pity, especially given the state's potential appeal to young outdoorsy folks. Apparently, you can show people opportunity, but you can't make them take it.

Now, to my readers, as always, thanks for participating.

Jan Thomas
The Communication Heretic