23 October, 2009

Why You Won't Hear Ads That Say "Marin Is Marijuana" And Why There Shouldn't Be Ads That Say "Coal Is West Virginia"

I’m deeply offended by the West Virginia Coal Association’s “Coal IS West Virginia” radio ad "end sings". While other environment-damaging and health-harmful industries have learned to say things like “Drink Responsibly” or “We can’t drill our way out of this problem”, The West Virginia Coal Association continues to harm West Virginia and the West Virginia brand by doing what West Virginia special interests have always done: killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. West Virginia needs to be so inexorably linked to coal or any one industry the way Rush Limbaugh needs to be known only as a hypocritical drug addict who advocated throwing the book at poor drug users while his rich doctor friends kept him supplied with pills. West Virginia needs its brand shaken by mountain top explosions and drowned in polluted water the way WCHS radio needs their brand to be equated with ultra-conservative pastor and radio personality, Michael Agnello's DUI arrest.

It's been estimated that perhaps as many as 60% of Marin County, California's residents are in some way connected to marijuana business but if some trade association started running ads saying "Marin Is Marijuana", I think you'd see Chambers of Commerce, Mayors and others scrambling to refute those ads and distance themselves from them. That's because some places understand the importance of protecting their brand and understand the danger of letting themselves be defined by one industry.

These "Coal is West Virginia" ads are proof that the West Virginia Coal Association doesn't care at all about West Virginia. If they did, they would not be raising the Big Coal flag over West Virginia at a time when organizations like Create West Virginia are trying to convince the world that West Virginia is about biotech, alternative energy and much more than coal.

I’m sure that somewhere there are a few slow-witted people who actually believe that the coal industry is about to be outlawed and bankrupted by Obama and his clean, green energy pals, but just as the tobacco industry, the petroleum industry and the alcoholic beverage industry have realized that their worlds are changing, it’s time for coal to do the same. BP doesn’t stand for British Petroleum anymore, it stands for Beyond Petroleum and it no longer gives Britain and the British brand a black eye as the coal industry does to West Virginia.

Instead of continuing to serve up a West Virginia smothered in coal dust and breaded in dead fish, wouldn’t the coal association do less harm to West Virginia if they joined the search for alternatives to coal and reminded us that electric cars will be recharged by electricity from coal-fired power plants and that America will be powered by coal for a very long time while we consider nuclear power plants and while we figure out how to use solar, wind and hydro more cost effectively? To hear Big Coal tell it, coal is in danger of going out of business today – and with their unsophisticated “coal is West Virginia” jingle they perpetuate the stereotypes that make it harder for, say, Create West Virginia to get investors, inventors and entrepreneurs to think about anything but destruction when they think of West Virginia.

Since the West Virginia Coal Association has decided to trash the future of the West Virginia brand by making West Virginia synonymous with coal, no West Virginia trade groups, business groups, politicians or other forward-thinking leaders and visionaries who truly want to create a new West Virginia should ever again utter the word "coal." Those of us who care about West Virginia's future should be talking about telecommunications, biotech, advanced flexible manufacturing, education, arts, culture, diversity and alternative energy research, not coal. Big Coal is going to spend a lot of money throwing West Virginia's brand and West Virginia's future under the coal car so there's no need whatsoever for anybody else to be talking about coal since Big Coal is trying as hard as they can to make it impossible for West Virginia to be about anything but coal. Yesterday I heard a radio commercial that strongly implied that every coal job in West Virginia is in imminent danger of vanishing. It's not true. America needs West Virginia's coal and will need it for a very, very long time.

You don’t protect and promote a state’s major industries by destroying the image of that state any more than you produce more golden eggs by killing the goose that laid them. You need look no further than Lexington, KY, to see what I mean. Despite being blessed with picture post card surroundings and a workforce that is one of the most college-educated in America, Lexington has trouble attracting the talent it needs because it is in Kentucky. The Kentucky brand – which is barefoot, ignorant, toothless, obese, racist and pregnant with another illegitimate welfare baby – is stifling both Lexington and Louisville, two cities whose economies are being harmed by their association with the Kentucky brand and, in Lexington's case, by the insistence on the part of some of its leaders to hitch its wagon almost entirely to the "horse capitol of the world" star.

Frankly, if I were Mayor of Lexington I would start a mock secessionist movement. I’d run ads in New York and Washington that announce Lexington is seceding from Kentucky and I’d appear on camera flanked by executives from companies that offered to fund a hi-tech scholarship plan that was voted down by the good ol’ boy council members who don’t think it’s a tragedy that Lexingtonians with college degrees are waiting tables or mucking out horse stalls because Lexington can’t attract more employers like Cypress Semiconductor or IBM due to its unfortunate association with the state of Kentucky.

Are you reading this, Danny Jones? Maybe you should start a mock secessionist movement. Start by denouncing the West Virginia Coal Association. Show some of Charleston’s non-coal success stories. Publicly call out the West Virginia Coal Association for needlessly harming the West Virginia brand then deliberately distance Charleston from the West Virginia brand.

Maybe Huntington Mayor, Kim Wolfe, would like to lead a mock secessionist movement, too. Perhaps Wolfe and Jones could get together to condemn the West Virginia Coal Association, denounce West Virginia's hillbilly image and "secede" from West Virginia in some satirical TV ads. And , as we all know, they wouldn't have to actually buy the airtime. All they need to do is make the ad then leak it and let the media give them free exposure.

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