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'Great Lake' Slogan For Lake Norman Stirs Debate

Lake Norman
Lake Norman

http://66.225.205.104/SG20110407.mp3

There's a controversy brewing in the Lake Norman area surrounding The Great Lake. And by Great Lake, we mean Lake Norman - at least that's what the Lake Norman Area Chamber of Commerce wants you to think. It's all part of a new marketing campaign that brands it The Great Lake. Gary Knight of Cornelius thinks the slogan is a bit over the top. He wants officials in Cornelius and nearby towns to reject the slogan. "What I'm concerned about as a citizen of Cornelius is that the area be represented accurately and professionally, not amateurishly. This is like amateur night at the Rotary Club in terms of branding," Knight said (Disclosure: Knight serves on WFAE's community advisory board). The Lake Norman Area Chamber of Commerce has received a lot of feedback, positive and negative. Bill Russell is the group's president. He spoke to WFAE's Scott Graf. Graf: Why did you do this marketing campaign now? Russell: Well, what this campaign is, is actually a directive from the Lake Norman Transportation Commission. Last January, we had the Urban Land Institute come into the Charlotte area, meet with our business and community leaders in Lake Norman, and one of their directives is we needed to come up with a regional brand that tied together the four communities of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and Mooresville. And the Transportation Commission realized that that really wasn't a charge of the Transportation Commission, it was more of a function of the Chambers of Commerce, and so we were asked- the Lake Norman Chamber and the Mooresville Chamber- were asked to jointly look at coming up with a branding campaign or marketing campaign that really tied together the business communities that the towns could also get behind if they so chose. Graf: And a lot of Chambers of Commerce have these types of slogans. Do you know why you haven't had one before? Russell: Well, we really haven't had a brand, per se, behind it. We actually started working on this though back in the September of 2007, and ironically this was something we had began- look, we also freshened up the logo of the Chamber of Commerce, and this was going to be the second part of that initiative in terms of the branding. And then everything happened in the economy in 2008, and it certainly didn't make sense to come out with a brand when people were scrambling around looking for jobs. That just wasn't the focus. So we held on to it and hadn't really gone anywhere with it until this ULI study came back up. Ironically, we actually had a relocation magazine that is called Great Lake Living, and the second issue came out just this past week. We unveiled it last year, and we started ad sells for it in 2009, so the Great Lake concept wasn't something that was just thought up last month; it was something that we've been working off of for a while now. Graf: And when you picked "The Great Lake" as the slogan, how did you come about doing that? Russell: Well, we really didn't tie it to the connotation that some people are taking, and that is the Great Lakes of Michigan and up north. We weren't tying it to that. This has been really surprising for us- the number of folks who are making that leap. But, really a lot of it is coming from folks that had moved down from Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and they located to this area, and so they have a stronger tie to it than we may have. But when we looked, Scott, when we looked at adjectives that described the lake and the lake lifestyle, everything from awesome, great, magnificent, grand, spectacular- the one adjective that kept coming back to us is great. And when we say great, we don't say our lake is the biggest. It doesn't have the most shoreline; not the deepest. But the communities and the people surrounding it- the character of the people living here- that's what makes the lake great, and we're not just talking about the body of water within the shore. We're talking about, again, the communities and the people that live here and the recreational lifestyle that we all have. One thing to take in mind is the Catawba Indians, back when they settled this generations ago, referred to the Catawba River as the Great River, and I'm sure that folks from Mississippi, the Mississippi Delta, would scoff at the notion that Catawba River is nearly as grand and majestic as the Mighty Mississippi. But to the people of the Catawba, they looked at this as being a great river, and people who live here look at this region of the country as a great place to live, a great place to visit, a great place to work. As evidenced by just a couple of weeks ago, Huntersville named one of the fastest growing municipalities in North Carolina, people are moving here. Graf: Have you been surprised by all of the negative reaction? Russell: I've been surprised by all of the reaction, period. It's been one of those things where we showed it to the Lake Norman Transportation Commission and hadn't even run the first ad yet and it was already in four or five papers. You know, we've only developed the one ad that we've put out there, and that's part of the thing that's surprising, is most people are reacting only to what they have heard. They haven't even seen the ad, they've just heard about it. Graf: Are you completely set? Is there any way that you'll change your mind? Russell: Oh, it's not up to me anyway. This is a cooperative effort between the Lake Norman Chamber and the Mooresville Chamber of Commerce. We will certainly look at various tweaks that we make to the campaign. We want to come out with something- we're not looking to be confrontational, we're trying be embracing of what is the reason people choose to make Lake Norman their home, either for their family or for their business. And so, at the end of the day, we'll try to come up with a campaign and a brand that is appealing to everybody, that resonates with everybody, but we have to understand that there's some people who are not going to be on board with any branding that you come up with.