On Independence

I’ve always been a fan of Independence Day. It’s a great holiday requiring nothing more than family, friends and a good grill. No gifts are exchanged. No one person takes precedence over another. It’s just a great opportunity to be thankful for this country and all the freedoms we enjoy within it.

I, for one, think the best part of America is its diversity. It’s amazing how many cultures and heritages this one country holds. Take my family, for example. My first relative moved to this country from Ireland in 1759. But when people ask me what my heritage is, I don’t say Irish. I say Southern. After all, my great-great-great -grandfather, Thomas Harrison, settled the town of Harrisonburg, Virginia in seventeen-hundred-something. And my relatives have spread from Virginia to North Carolina to Georgia to Alabama ever since, fighting in both the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. Most everyone I know has a unique – and interesting – story of his or her family’s trek to the New World.

Travel this country today, however, and you’ll see that we’re beginning to lose some of that uniqueness. As I drove back to North Carolina from a family gathering in Alabama, I couldn’t help but notice that no matter where I stopped, everything was exactly the same. Every town has the same gas stations (BP, Texaco and Exxon), the same restaurants (Cracker Barrel, Shoney’s and McDonald’s) and the same shops (Wal-Mart, Target and Gap). Every house – with the exception of some local news programming – has the same TV stations. And every person wears the same style of clothes.

We’re even beginning to lose those cool cultural differences that distinguish one state or region from another. Like scrapple and scones in the Northeast and grits and biscuits in the Deep South. Everyone knows you can’t get good sweet tea north of the Mason Dixon line, but to be served peach-flavored tea in Atlanta? Please! What would Margaret Mitchell say?

The cause of all this is, of course, mass merchandising. It’s much more cost effective to buy from a big box store like Home Depot than from a mom and pop operation like Bert’s Hardware. The more media they buy, the less it costs them per unit. So it stands to reason that a few large shops would dominate the country. Of course, as businesses continue to swallow one another in order to market themselves more efficiently, they’ll eventually pay a price. Because what they earn in efficiencies, they lose in uniqueness. And if you don’t have a strong unique selling point, you don’t have a strong brand position.

So while this country moves from America, with its regional quirks and idiosyncrasies, to “Generica”- one big homogeneous zone – my company will continue to dig around, uncover and market the unique points of difference for our clients. After all, most every client I’ve come across has a unique – and interesting – story. I’m just proud to be the one to help them tell it.