A friend from Canada is visiting the Madville Times World Headquarters this weekend. (Homeland Security let her through the border after a brief interrogation; I suspect the NSA has flagged my email and phone for extra attention this weekend.) She made the long straight drive down I-29 and found South Dakota clearly more beautiful than North Dakota. (Hooray for the Coteau des Prairies!)
But when she turned west on Highway 34, she found puzzlement. Colman greeted her with that big "SD Highway 34 four the future!" billboard. What the heck is that? my well-educated friend wondered. Are there four highways coming to Madison? (34, 81, 19, Norwegian Boulevard... close!) Is 34 a road to a future where everyone trusts spellcheck?
Of course, everyone around here knows that Four the Future! is the battle cry of Madison boosters seeking to turn 34 into a mini-Interstate with four lanes. These boosters are doing penance for the sins of their fathers, who in the 1950s turned down an opportunity to bring Interstate 29 to Madison instead of Brookings. The state keeps treating the 34 boosters like Rodney Dangerfield with allegedly lowballed traffic projections.
But the point here is marketing: the only people who understand Four the Future! are the people who already know about the slogan. A non-local observer (never mind my Canadian guest; think South Dakota officials, contractors, other taxpayers and voters!) gets nothing from that slogan. With this slogan, Madison's boosters are talking to themselves instead of the people they need to reach.
If Madison really wants to raise awareness of the 34 four-lanification campaign, it needs a better slogan. How about...
- ...If this road had four lanes, you could pass that tractor.
- ...Four lanes good! Two lanes bad! (Nods to Orwell fit Madison well.)
- ...Must go faster! Four lanes now!
By the way, my Canadian guest cruised Highway 34 during the 5 p.m. hour. I asked her how traffic was. She said the road, like the future, was wide open.