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_____________________[PRO] home brand burns deep in the heart of texas

Home brand burns deep in the heart of Texas

"Texas pride" has become so strong a catchphrase that it is not only the name of a country band and an internet shop but is also found on car licence plates, car bumper stickers and T-shirts.


By Sheila McNulty
Financial Times; Nov 18, 2002

Forget about trying to convince a Texan even to try Ben &Jerry's Chubby Hubby flavoured ice-cream or Häagen Daz's Chocolate Chocolate Chip. The two brands may be celebrated all over the ice-cream-eating world but they are not from Texas, and Texans are loyal to their oversized tubs of Blue Bell.

Though little known outside the state, Blue Bell has 62 per cent of the Texas market, and internet companies even ship it to Texans away from home - two half-gallons for $83.99 (£53). Pride in homemade products is big. "The link is, 'If we're Texans, we're better'," says Betsy Gelb, professor of marketing at the University of Houston. "We are the only state that was an independent nation, and that will do it."

Because of that history, Texans like to believe Texas is more a nation than a state - bigger, better, stronger than the rest of the US. Given half a chance they will point out that Texas joined the rest of the US as an equal partner and kept its public land. Indeed, a poll in 1997 by Frank Luntz, the US pollster, found that nearly a quarter of residents in Texas considered themselves Texans first and Americans second. That is a lot of people, considering that, with more than 20m residents, Texas is the US's third most populous state.

"Texas pride" has become so strong a catchphrase that it is not only the name of a country band and an internet shop but is also found on car licence plates, car bumper stickers and T-shirts.

The sentiment behind it has also given companies a ready marketing tool when selling inside the US's second largest state, especially now, when there is an economic downturn and local industry needs support. Texas- grown produce, for example, is highlighted in grocery stores, just as it is in fiercely nationalistic countries such as Malaysia.

Indeed, Texas pride has become such a valuable tool that companies not born and bred in Texas often act as if they are. Anheuser-Busch of St Louis, Missouri, puts Texas state graphics on the labels and cans of Budweiser and Bud Light sold in the state. Many bars sport flashing neon signs with the word "Budweiser" inside an outline of the state of Texas. The loose translation for "Texas beer" is "brewed in Texas at a local plant".

"It's no secret that Texans are proud of their state, as well they should be," says John Johnson, vice-president of the regional sales office for Anheuser-Busch. "We want beer drinkers to know we are proud to be Texans too." The strategy works: Bud Light is the top-selling beer brand in the state.

Mark McGarrah, of the Texas-based McGarrah Jessee advertising company, recognises it as a marketing tool yet admits feeling better about drinking a Budweiser now its cans boast a Texas state graphic. Though he grew up in Oklahoma, Mr McGarrah has lived in Texas for 17 years and considers himself a Texan. He is charmed by the sense of nationalism. Like a fully fledged nation, he says, Texas has its own dress (cowboy style), its own cuisine (TexMex), which includes the flavours of Mexico, and its own language, with words such as "y'all", "howdy" and "ma'am".

The leading car automobile companies also tap into Texas pride with advertisements for "Texas size", "Texas strong" and even "Texas edition" trucks. And just about everybody has to have one. "Trucks are something Texans hold dear to their heart," Mr McGarrah says. "It's the modern-day horse."

For those who prefer to walk, Reebok puts out a Texas edition sports shoe complete with a "Lone Star" logo in honour of Texas's single-star flag.

Mr McGarrah has played on that nationalism in a successful advertising campaign for Frost Bank, winning the loyalty of Texans as they increasingly lose ownership of their banks to outsiders. "Frost Bank, we're from here", is the theme running through advertisements for the biggest independent financial institution in Texas. In one television spot, a blond boy in a hay field, speaking with a Texas accent, explains what that slogan means: "I'll be a straight shooter and a square dealer", "I'll stick by my friends" and "I'll eat more chicken fried steak".

Pam Thomas, Frost's executive vice-president of marketing, says feedback from focus groups suggested people felt the adverts "made them want to come to talk to somebody at Frost Bank".

Mr McGarrah is taking the campaign a step further by helping the bank redesign its branches to resemble the imposing masonry buildings that towered over towns in the late 1800s, projecting a feeling of "permanence and safety". A boot scraper is outside the door, and inside customers get a Texas-size welcome in what is designed to look like a comfortable living room, with old maps of Texas and photographs from across the state.

Yet arguably the most successful Texas pride advert ever has been the "Don't Mess With Texas" anti-litter campaign, which began in 1986 for the Texas Department of Transportation. The point was to ask people not to spoil something they care about, says Eric Weber of GSDM&N, the Texas advertising firm behind the campaign.

Yet the slogan went national, and then international, as a representation of how seriously Texans take their state pride. Roadside litter was reduced by almost 75 per cent in five years, and is now down 52 per cent since 1995. The campaign is still going. The latest adverts have an overweight, blonde, stereotypical Texas "mom" dressed in a country-style vest with a 'kerchief around her neck standing by the road. Someone drives past and dumps a giant Styrofoam cup of soda on her shirt. "If your mother were Texas, would you still litter?" the advert asks.

"There is some cachet to the romanticised notion of Texas," Mr Weber says. Even the nascent wine industry is tapping into it, despite that large segment of wine drinkers who would dismiss a Texas wine simply because it is made in Texas. There are 46 wineries in the state, and the successful ones emphasise they are from Texas with names such as Texas Hills Vineyards.

"The fact that it is from Texas, which already has such a strong brand image, means it does immediately get attention," says Tim Dodd, director of the Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute at Texas Tech University. "And when you link wine to it, which is not the association one normally has with Texas, it again gets attention."

Nonetheless, Texas wines command only about 5 per cent of the state market, and Mr Dodd admits building a following is difficult given that wine is not the drink of choice in Texas. Texans consume roughly 1.5 gallons of wine a year per person, whereas people in France or Italy drink more than 20 gallons a year per person.

"Texas is a bit of a challenge from a wine culture point of view," Mr Dodd says. But the industry is not giving up. Indeed, the economic downturn may prove to be its salvation: people are buying fewer premium wines (more than $50), putting Texas wines in the $20 to $30 range in their sights.

The industry hopes to command up to 20 per cent of the market in the next decade. But it has to be careful how it strives for that. The traditional method, of appealing to the snobby wine drinker, will not work in Texas.

"The worst thing you can be in Texas is a snob," Ms Gelb says. "There is a huge appreciation for a non-snob wine." That explains why the tours of Texas wine country include grape stomps and hay rides. Ms Gelb calls it Texas's "Happy to have ya hospitality".

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