For each of us, there may be a different sense of when in time or space the true essence of Maine appears or reappears.
For some, it is the quality of the winter air on a frigid day in January. For others, it is that magical May morning when all the buds have popped and “summer” has arrived. Still others are thrilled by the first touch of autumnal breezes in September with the promise of golden leaves. Or it is the first drizzle of snow of November, portending the dazzling change in the landscape of the state.
But each of us also holds, deep within us, a truly powerful sense of what Maine is all about. What in our mindscape, our personal interior landscape, separates it from all the other places we have been in our lives. Whether we were born here or moved here, or moved away but remembered, the essence of Maine remains something very special.
Not only in the mystic cords of our memories, but with each return to the state – whether it is crossing into the country over the Piscataqua bridge, or coming across at Daaquam station, or entering Calais or Eastport, coming out of the mountains through Gilead or Eustis, to say nothing of crossing the St. John at its many interfaces with la Belle Canada – one can always recapture that sense of place, of belonging, of coming home into ones own country. For each of us, there is a sense that there is something unique about this place, something that truly says, “Maine: The way life should be.”
At most of the entry points into our state, we are greeted by that slogan, a slogan which captures so much of the Maine mystique. It is, as only certain phrases can be, indelible and enduring.
For that, we have David Swardlick of Swardlick Marketing to thank. In the late 1980s, when Maine’s Office of Tourism was seeking new directions in its tourist promotion efforts, the slogan was born. Jock McKernan had just been elected governor in 1986 and the new campaign was to begin in 1987.
Swardlick’s creative shop was assigned the task of distilling Maine’s essence. To discover the summation of what makes Maine unique, what is the true essence of the “Maine mystique.” By attempting to define the intangible attributes that Maine people ascribe to themselves and their sense of place, Swardlick and his team used a variety of research tools, including surveys, polling, focus groups and individual interviews.
Their research kept coming back to the same set of aspects: a unique sense that Maine offered something in its quality of life of an almost metaphysical nature, something that transcended region, ethnicity, sex, age and other demographics. People who lived here had it and recognized it, so too did people who had visited the state. It was, in Swardlick’s words, “all that is desirable about the state and that which separates it from other places.”
Out of that research and creative process came their slogan, “Maine: The way life should be.” The phrase became the centerpiece, the unifying concept for the tourist outreach efforts for the next five or six years. The phrase was to appear on all kinds of promotional material, from brochures and advertisements, to TV and radio commercials to the welcoming signs at many of the entry points into the state.
“Maine: The way life should be” was initially a perceived attraction to the state, a way to attract people who had never been here. But in the process, it became something much more enduring, it became our own symbolic referent not that of others. For in truth and substantial irony, according to Swardlick, many people who had never been to Maine simply could not relate to it.
The slogan might make them curious. It might make them want to visit, but it did not tell them what there was about Maine that made it “the way life should be.” Indeed, for many, the slogan was a not so subtle put-down of where they were already.
Thus over time, the phrase was phased out of state promotional material. But in the meantime, it became something more than a message to lure people to Maine. The slogan was to live on in Maine, adopted by Maine people as a way of describing those intangibles that made of Maine such an attractive place to live, work and visit whether on vacation or not.
Today you see it in editorials, in letters to the editor, in comments on radio and TV shows, in stories and descriptions, even becoming a symbolic referent for behavior, as in “This isn’t the way life should be.” It is now a symbolic referent for what is right and good and the antithesis of anything petty, rude, demeaning and negative.
It has thus become part of our self-image and our sense of collective self-confidence. Who cares if the people in Montana or Georgia don’t understand what it means? We do and that is what counts.
So too it is with our being led by men and women who have given of their lives, their treasure and their sacred honor to try to make Maine a better place.
Thanks Dave Swardlick for helping us to see ourselves as we really are.
We in Maine are a people blessed.
Chris Potholm is professor of government at Bowdoin College, president of a national polling company and a writer, analyst and speaker on Maine’s political scene. He can be reached at The Potholm Group, 182 Hildreth Road, Harpswell, Maine 04079 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.