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Jackson ‘Up to Good’ as it ‘Play(s) On’ with tourism branding messages

What’s it going to be for Jackson County — Just Do It; Got Milk?; A Little Dab’ll Do Ya? 

That is the $50,000 question as tourism leaders edge closer to an official marketing message and tourism brand used to lure visitors and their wallets to vacation in Jackson.


The county Tourism Development Board hired a branding firm out of Virginia for $50,000 to guide them on the path to making Jackson a branded county. The company, BCF, with their own slogan “Boom Your Brand,” presented six options last week to tourism board members who then whittled that number down to three. Eventually one will be chosen, but it won’t be easy if last week’s meeting was any indication.

While there was a semblance of consensus, opinions were largely split over what two- to four-word phrase best conveys what the county is about.

At one point, tourism board chairman Clifford Meads spoke of his fondness for one of the slogans, “Base Camp for Life,” but expressed his puzzlement with another one that made the final selection, “Play On.” Those two along with “Up to Good” rounded out the top three.

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“I can see how ‘Base Camp for Life’ would be a very good and effective brand,” said Meads, who is also the general manager of the High Hampton Inn and Country Club in Cashiers. “But I can’t figure out how ‘Play on’ would be a brand.”

“Base Camp for Life” was also recommended by Art Webb, the president and CEO of BCF. It makes Jackson County out to be the place from where you begin your journey for life, and hopefully come back during the years, Webb said. He admitted that the tagline wasn’t his or his advertising agents’ words. It was actually a recommendation they heard during one of the many interviews the company conducted with tourists who frequent the area. Nonetheless, it stuck.

Webb’s other recommendation was “Up to Good,” which plays on the wholesomeness and elevation gain tourists may seek out when coming to the mountains.

“‘Base Camp for Life’ is the idea to beat and honestly, my folks didn’t come up with it,” Webb said.

But others weren’t so hot about vacationing at a base camp and the militaristic or primitive connotations it might send to potential visitors. 

Merrily Teasley, owner of the Balsam Mountain Inn, thought it sounded “too army,” yet liked the notion of “Play On.”

And, considering a majority of vacations are planned by women, Teasley thought it was best to avoid a brand they might confuse with scaling Mount Everest.

“They’re coming to stay a night at my inn — not go backpacking,” Teasley said. “It has to grab (the woman’s) attention first, or it will never get discussed.”

However, Robert Williams, owner of the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory, said that’s not necessarily true in his household. He said the idea of a base camp resonates with him, which in turn means it may resonate with his wife if some sort of deal is struck that meets his need to choose a destination based on the activities there and her desire to have a nice place to stay.

“I know how my own household works,” Williams said. “If I accommodate my wife’s needs in terms of lodging, she’s happy,” leaving him to go out and play.

The urge to “Play on” had several followers in the group, including Julie Spiro, the executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. She said the slogan was versatile and could be used to describe all sorts of activities in the area — from romping in the stream to playing golf to listening to live banjo music to playing slots at the casino in Cherokee.

“I loved ‘Play On,’” Spiro said. “‘Play On’ I think works from kids to older adults, there’s all kind of things to do.”

Her sentiments were backed by Vince Williams, a 22-year-old Western Carolina University student with an internship with the Cashiers Area Chamber of Commerce, which caught the ear of Webb.

Webb said that phrase does have a youthfulness to it that works for old people who come to Jackson County to feel young and young people who go to Jackson to play. He added that it’d be wise for the group to listen to the opinion of youngest person in the room because making inroads with his demographic will ensure a customer base for years to come. 

“‘Play on’ has a little bit of a feeling of ‘rock on, man.’ It has a young vibrancy and hipness to it.” Webb said. “Play on and on, and don’t ever stop.”

But with so many slogans, taglines and brands being deployed by the numerous vacation destinations in Western North Carolina, there is bound to be some overlap.

A similar phrase “Base Camp in the Smokies” has been used by Bryson City in promotional material; a billboard for Cherokee uses “play” as its message to passersby; and a variation of “Eastern Mountain Time” was previously used by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, and thus did not make the final round. Neither did “Calm. Cool. Collected.” Or “Be Your Mountain Self,” also on the list presented to the tourism board.

Meads questioned if “Calm. Cool. Connected” might send the wrong message as well, overlapping words with a very different genre of marketing.

“Would the word ‘connected’ get confused with iPods?” he said.

Yet, Webb said even if there is overlap in the actual words, the delivery of the message is important in bringing it to life and making it distinct. 

The three selections will be developed into mock advertisements and fleshed out more thoroughly for a follow-up meeting of the tourism board at noon Wednesday (May 22) where a finalist will be zeroed in on. County commissioners are expected to attend as well.

The $50,000 contract with BCF only covers the price for developing the county’s brand and creating a concept video. The board did not solicit presentations from other agencies before awarding the contract. However, Webb is already offering to continue to work with the tourism board through the marketing stage after a brand is selected. That stage would include developing actual print and television advertisement campaign and deciding how and where to deploy the ads.

“We’re giving birth to a child and we want to be the guys that help bring this child, to life,” Webb said.


What they suggested

The Jackson County Tourism Development Board mulled over possible slogans for a tourism marketing brand last week. A final choice will be made this week. 


• Up to Good

• Base Camp for Life

• Play On


• Eastern Mountain Time 

• Calm. Cool. Connected.

• Be your Mountain Self


What you suggested

The Smoky Mountain News asked its readers for a few branding suggestions for Jackson County. Here’s their submissions.

• Our Good Nature Shows!

• A Tapestry of Adventures

• We are the Mountains

• A Place for You

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