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Washington State for Dummies?

The Puyallup Fair decides to rebrand because newcomers just don't have a clue. Oh, please.
The horse stables at the Fair formerly known at The Puyallup (2009).

The horse stables at the Fair formerly known at The Puyallup (2009). Camknows/Flickr

The Puyallup Fair is rebranding itself as the Washington State Fair and visitors will have to get used to changes (2009 photo).

The Puyallup Fair is rebranding itself as the Washington State Fair and visitors will have to get used to changes (2009 photo). Camknows/Flickr

The organizers of the Puyallup Fair have thrown up a slow, fat one to local columnists. It is reported that the fair is changing its official name to the Washington State Fair.

The fall festival has been a huge feature of post-Labor Day Seattle. It sure was in our family. Somewhere in the attic, I have several pictures from 50 years ago or so of my sister and me pretending to swig moonshine in a fake Puyallup Fair jail. My mother used to release us from school for a day to go to the fair on the theory (which my grade school principal endorsed) that we'd learn more at the Puyallup in a day than in a Seattle Public Schools classroom. Following that logic, I failed to understand why I should not attend the fair on a daily basis, year-round.

The fair has its origins in the early 1900s, and has been officially named The Puyallup Fair since 1976. But for much longer, generations have known it as The Puyallup, and thanks to one of the most penetrating of TV ad jingles, "doing" the Puyallup was literally seared into our brains, the neurological equivalent of a body tattoo. (You can hear multiple versions here.)

Well, times change, and brands have to be rejuvenated, but there are often missteps. Seattle's "Metronatural" campaign was cringe inducing; the state of Washington's ridiculous "Say WA" campaign might possibly have led the state Legislature to believe it could do without the state's tourism bureau. They were slashed out of the budget last year and at last check, we were the only state in the union without one. You have to admit, "Say WA" had an impact.

Private groups often rebrand. The Bon Marche became The Bon, which didn't save it from being gobbled by Macy's. 1,000 Friends of Washington became Futurewise. Recently, the Cascade Land Conservancy changed its name to Forterra, which cleverly disguises what the organization does and manages to sound like either like the place you stayed in Tuscany or a new model of SUV (Canyonero was taken.)

The fair organizers have been doing market research to help them get a handle on their rebranding, but one of the rationale's provided for the change was the stupidest I can think of. A deep-fried Twinkie for a diabetic makes more sense.

As reported in The Seattle Times, the fair's spokeswoman Karen LaFlamme "said the fair's board has been toying with a name change for several years, conducting extensive market research on how that would play out.

" 'It wasn't that far of a stretch, really, to see that a name change made sense,' she explained.

"First, she said, the name Puyallup Fair doesn't resonate with everyone, especially Washington newcomers.

"'They don't know what Puyallup is, let alone how to pronounce it,' she said. 'They don't realize this really is a large fair.' "

So, we're dumping Puyallup because newcomers can't pronounce it? Since when did this become one a criteria for Northwest institutions and place names. What about Humptulips? Pysht? Cowiche? Ohanapecosh? Tekoa? Eltopia? Do we need to wipe the map clean?

And who cares what newcomers think? Do we have to dumb-down to accommodate them? What's marketing for if not overcoming ignorance? It's the obligation of newcomers to learn the ways of our people. Indeed, the very ability to pronounce Puyallup is one of the essential tests in becoming a local, proof that one is turning from Northwest cheechako to mossback. (The "Do the Puyallup" jingle was most helpful in providing assistance by rhyming it with "gallop.") But I mean, really?

Are we supposed to return to generic descriptors, the era of "Beer" and "The Weekly"? Forget the town of Puyallup, welcome to "City Near Tacoma."

Do we rename Bumbershoot "the Seattle Umbrella Festival" because who in the hell uses a "bumbershoot" anyway? Do we rename the Highland Games the "Enumclaw Fat Guys in Skirts Competition?" What about Seafair? "Hydros, Parade and Beauty Queen Days?" King Neptune would be bored out of his skull.

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Posted Mon, Sep 24, 6:59 a.m. Inappropriate

My vote for the stupidest rationale for the name change is their idea that "Calling it a state fair will also help in talks with the entertainment industry and with potential sponsors..." (Seattle Times article quoting Fair spokesperson.)

As a 30+ year veteran of the entertainment industry, I can tell you that entertainers don't care about the name, they just want you to show them the money. And sponsors don't care about the name either, they just want you to show them the attendance figures and demographics.

Any marketer who is worth anything knows that product differentiation is the name of the game, not homogenization. "Puyallup" is colorful, evokes place, has a great history, and is well known and loved. It is a huge asset, not a liability. The guys who are proposing this should get the F out of WA. I'm sure they can find employment telling Kleenex to change its name to Tissues.


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 8:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Demonstrating maximum hubris, The Western Washington Fair Association, AKA the Puyallup Fair, attempts to hijack a piece of valuable intellectual property.

Only the state can designate a "State Fair", and many less successful states have sold the rights to the name. Now, given the Governatrix's bend to give away valuable stuff owned by the public (gaming compacts, gas tax "rebates" to the tribes, I don't know how many state parks) it would not surprise me if she ignored this "steal it, then apologize if necessary" move by the Association.

What about the Evergreen State Fair, the Northwest Washington Fair, and the Central Washington Fair, or the Interstate Fair? Was this done with collegial consulting? Nope.

Makes me associate the Puyallup with "piggy, piggy", but they don't even let you pet them this year, even if you promise to wash your hands.

Fie on them.

The Geezer has spaketh


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 9:51 a.m. Inappropriate

The ersatz Evergreen State Fair is actually the Snohomish County Fair with a bad dose of hubris.


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

I was interested to see in the Times story that the state got out of the fair business in the 1930s, leaving the field to the counties and to private associations -- an early manifestation of our state's self-inflicted identity crisis that reminds us of the extra challenge we face in doing big things together.

My daughter finished second in junior Western riding at the Puyallup fair in 1988. I have always been proud to say that she did this "at State," but never certain that this was legitimate.

To actually have something called "The Washington State Fair," the way most other states do, won't be a game changer, but it's a step in the direction of taking pride and responsibility for the place we live. I think it's great.


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 8:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the link to the jingles -- we were trying to figure out how to fit "Washington State Fair" in the current tune at dinner last night, and failing miserably. This does indeed seem like a ridiculous change.

Every community has shibboleths that identify locals to each other, and around here, pronouncing Puyallup correctly is one of them. We used to mark how long it took a newly hired anchor or reporter on the local news shows to learn regional names -- by the time they could say Sequim or Twisp correctly, we figured they might actually know something about the place they were discussing.


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

It's important to remember that for decades before it was officially renamed the Puyallup Fair (as a marketing move) it was in fact the Western Washington State Fair. Everyone calls it the Puyallup Fair, but it didn't call itself that until it initiated the "Do the Puyallup" ad campaign, which I always found tacky and trite.


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you! I was worried I was the only one to remember that it was the Western Washington State Fair! Just as you explain, we called it the Puyallup Fair but I, and you, always understood its "real" name.

The incessant and interminable marketing in our lives these days just gives me a headache. The more the marketers push at me, the more I move away. But we have a couple of younger generations out there that feel compelled to reinvent the wheel for themselves and their peers, so good luck to them. I'll continue to think of it as the Puyallup Fair despite this newest marketing version, and for those that think having a "State" fair is important, please enjoy.


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Then you must also remember the "Lil' George Washington" logo that the fair used up until around 1970. I have a picture of it. Too bad we can't include images here. (Or if we can, I don't know how.)


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 4:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I absolutely agree with you... first word to last!


Posted Wed, Sep 26, 6:36 a.m. Inappropriate

How about adding some whirrled class and call it the Western Washington State Fair at Puyallup. Shopping, parking and lots of cuddly animals.


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

The local-yokel outrage is palpable from here in Fremont.

Calling the biggest late-summer fair "The State Fair," just as in the musical "State Fair?" As they do in Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Oh-Hi-Oh? And any number of other states? How USUAL, how commonplace, how BORING (with apologies, in the latter case, to the residents of the Oregon community of that name).

Think of it this way: if the good citizens of Puyallup can forego the notoriety and chamber-of-commerce-building power of the name, the rest of us should be willing to admit that there is an event big enough to be called The Washington State Fair.

I'm willing to give it a try. However, I'm less certain that I will brave the choked and convoluted roadways of East Pierce County to get there and back. The logistics have kept me away for several years now...


Posted Mon, Sep 24, 5 p.m. Inappropriate

You killed em, Knute. Good piece.


Posted Wed, Sep 26, 6:33 a.m. Inappropriate

The jingle would be easy to change. Do the State Fair.thewash ington state fair. But I vote to keep the Pu y'all up name. I will figure out how to pronounce it someday. But perhaps they could do something about Sequim.


Posted Wed, Sep 26, 8:09 p.m. Inappropriate



Posted Thu, Sep 27, 9:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Old-timers on the Olympic Peninsula would insert an extra syllable in the oral use of Quilcene. It was properly pronounced "Quil-uh-cene". The venerable Dupuis restaurant, founded in 1920 between Port Angeles and Sequim (itself a vocal test)was called "Doobie's". These charming colloquialisms, I'm afraid, have faded away. But you could always tell the outsiders.


Posted Fri, Sep 28, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

I think we need to seriously consider changing the name of our State. "Washington" is such a mouth bending word (as most as bad as "Puget Sound region") that doesn't not at all reflect the nature of this state. And then there's the obvious and long lived confusion with Washington "The City".

Washington seems to stand alone in a US West populated with some of the most mellifluous native American and Spanish names -- Colorado, California...even Oregon..evoke wonder.

"Seattle" is a brand name that is unique and carried globally. But "Washington"? I like the new recast of the "Puget Sound region" as the Salish Sea. Beautiful right? We could rename the state Salish or how about renaming the state "Sealth" Chief Seattle's real name? So then, the largest city would be Seattle, Sealth. So nice, we named it twice!


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