West Virginia has its own internationally recognized anthem, thanks to John Denver, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” never quite reached number one on Billboard’s Top 40 chart when it was released 47 years ago this month—it peaked at number two—but it remains number one in the hearts of West Virginians.
Now the state’s Division of Tourism is using an updated version of the song by Charleston native Mira Stanley in a retooled campaign. “(We’re) rebranding West Virginia with the song that every single person knows us (by),” Governor Jim Justice said during the roll out of the campaign Wednesday.
The TV commercial features idyllic scenes from the West Virginia landscape as the music plays. So, you might ask, “What’s new about that?” The state has been trying to capitalize for years on the “almost heaven” theme.
This campaign bypasses the typical laundry list of things to do in the state. Gone are the images of whitewater rafters, golfers and daredevils parachuting off the New River Gorge Bridge. Instead we see various art shots of the state’s stunning scenery in soft sunlight.
This is a subtle, but significant change in the marketing of West Virginia. Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby explains that the brand strategy is to tap into the latent craving among residents and visitors for West Virginia.
The key word is “longing,” and the concept is that deep down people want just what the song says, for country roads to take them home “to the place I belong, West Virginia.”
That’s a powerful emotional appeal. It tells us that in a hectic and uncertain world, there is still a place that feels unspoiled, with heavenly vistas and the serenity and security of home.
Tourism is an increasingly important part of the state’s economy, but it’s also a challenging market. West Virginia must compete with thousands of other destinations just within driving distance. We have no beaches or theme parks that are often at the top of the family vacation agenda.
Additionally, we have more than our share of rough edges, but many of those are softened by the view just around the turn and the warmth of our people. Those of us who are here have a strong sense of belonging, and that is evident to the observant visitor.
So, we wish good luck to this new tourism campaign. Frankly, it’s a bit risky because it is an appeal of the heart. But then again, that is our best attribute. These country roads will take you home.