I’ve learned a lot about my new environs since becoming New To Seattle six months ago. As visitors to this space know, it’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve had to cope with street signs that aren’t legible, polite drivers who are inept, incessant advertising for Vitamin D, mass phobia about the weather, political campaigns where truth is a complete stranger and, of course, the complex rules for recycling trash.
But I may have to take back one post in August questioning whether anyone in Seattle has a sense of humor. Why? I just learned that for the past half-decade there has been an official marketing campaign branding the place where I now live as the “Metronatural” city.
It sounds like I moved to some kind of giant nudist camp–maybe even, given the new terminology of gender delineation, one that somehow embraces confusion of the sexes. Of course, that wouldn’t be believable; it’s too cold most of the year here to wear just a birthday suit.
How funny is that?
Metronatural is the intellectual property of Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau–the same image-molding folks who felt it necessary to mount a defense of Seattle weather. The bureau paid a consultant $200,000 for the Metronatural brainstorm and obtained a federally protected trademark stopping charlatans like, say, Cleveland or Oklahoma City from usurping the same amorphous sentiment. The mayor issued a formal proclamation. Although though the word was painted atop the Space Needle’s revolving restaurant (see photo), Metronatural was mainly used in tourist and convention promotions aimed at East Coast and overseas markets.
Perhaps to rebut the notion of general fun-loving urban nakedness on the shores of Puget Sound (as opposed to, say, the specific start-of-summer clothing-optional bicycle parade in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood), the bureau even posted a definition of metronatural. At the risk of infringing copyright law (for which I would plead fair use), I’m going to go out on a limb and quote it in full:
HOW IS METRONATURAL DEFINED?
1 : having the characteristics of a world-class metropolis within wild, beautiful natural surroundings
2: a blending of clear skies and expansive water with a fast paced city life
3 : one who respects the environment and lives a balanced lifestyle of urban and natural experiences
4 : Seattle
Let’s see now. It’s probably not a good thing when your brand needs a written explanation (in 43 words, no less, nearly one-sixth the entire length of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address). On top of that, Metronatural is being used as an environmentally inviting shortcut to describe a city that in the early 20th century leveled a good chunk of downtown for the benefit of real estate developers.
Truth in marketing, anyone?
Over time, Seattle has had more nicknames than Elizabeth Taylor snagged husbands. Three decades ago, Seattle formally adopted the handle Emerald City, a rather unoriginal moniker still on the books that, as I noted recently, is shared with Eugene, Syracuse and a certain famous movie starring Judy Garland. Others have included Queen City, Gateway to Alaska, Gateway to the Pacific, Jet City, Rain City (the visitors bureau probably didn’t like that much), Seatown, City of Flowers and simply The Town. For a mercifully brief time, Seattle was part of a statewide branding effort called SayWA.
Now, I have this theory that how a city markets itself says something about its citizens and their collective sense of self-esteem. The ever-changing labeling of Seattle suggests to me a certain sense of insecurity bordering on an inferiority complex. Certainly grist for a future post.
But meanwhile, Metronatural apparently is about to go the same way of the Indians who were gotten rid of by the gringos arriving here from Illinois in the 1850s. I listened a few days ago to radio station KUOW as visitors bureau boss Tom Norwalk broke the big news that a search would begin soon for a replacement to Metronatural. “It’s time to do something a little different,” he said. Norwalk acknowledged that the brand locally had generated “a little bit of adverse reaction.”
Not from me. I laughed so hard I nearly fell off my learning curve.