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Washington State for Dummies?

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

I would also warn the Puyallup Fair organizers about market research. Do you know the Internet "Demotivator" office meme: "None of us is as dumb as all of us?" Focus and survey groups can get it wrong. Back in 2008, The Puget Sound Partnership asked in a survey to name the body of water in Puget Sound most associated with the region. Kind of a trick question, right? When you say "Puget Sound," what body of water do you think of? Well, only 36 percent named Puget Sound.

To me, when you say "Puyallup Fair," I think farm animals, deadly food, canning, has-been rock bands, roller coaster rides, the Sky Ride, Ginsu knives, John Deere, bad music, rodeo, and big fun. Doing the Puyallup I can imagine.

"Do the Washington State Fair," where's the romance?

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