• Marc Johnson

Spud Bowl


Bring on the Sour Cream

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: there is no better potato in the world than the Idaho potato. World class. Dependable quality. The tuber gold standard. And the “brand” is valuable.

Years ago some enterprising fellow in New Mexico got the bright idea of importing potato sacks with the “Grown in Idaho” mark and filling them with spuds grown, of all places, in New Mexico. A stop was put to that pronto. You can’t have an Idaho potato grown in New Mexico. It’s like Champagne. You may call it champagne, but if it ain’t made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and bottled there, it isn’t “real” Champagne, it is merely sparkling wine. Same with an Idaho spud.

So, given the historic Idaho association with the Famous Potato, it’s a natural, I guess, that the once named Humanitarian Bowl football game is now the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. But Idahoans best brace themselves. The jokes are just beginning.

On Twitter, @TheRobMorse writes: “I’d like to see Chip Kelly coach against Hayden Fry in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.” And @ParkerShield22 says, “Gatorade shower replaced by players spreading butter and sour cream on winning coach and wrapping him in aluminum foil.” You get the idea and, believe me, there are lots more where those came from.

To be serious for a moment, the news of the renaming of the bowl should cause Idahoans – at least those with some responsibility for the state’s “brand” – to consider, well, our image. For a state frequently confused with Iowa – “I was in Des Moines once is that anywhere close to Boise?” – being almost completely defined by an admittedly superb agricultural product may have some real downside.

A lot of marketing folks would tell you, Idaho doesn’t have a brand. Maybe the same is true of most states. New Jersey’s brand? Hazardous waste sites and Tony Soprano. Kansas: The Tornado State. Or, North Dakota: You Can See Canada From Here.

Idaho is Famous Potatoes.

It’s a tough time for the state branding business. Washington State recently ended all state-sponsored tourism promotion. USA Today reported this week that at least 20 states have cut back on efforts to lure visitors, which really means they aren’t marketing whatever “brand” they have.

Not everyone is throwing in the towel, however. Michigan has been all over the air with its pretty good Pure Michigan campaign. Not bad for a state whose largest city can boast of a good baseball team, and not much else, playing amid years of decay. Montana, a state with a real brand, has big billboards in downtown Seattle and a new tourism promotion chief who has the good sense to market the state’s two iconic National Parks.

Idaho’s real marketing problem may just be that a state with such a vast collection of individuals will never be able to settle on one image, slogan or brand. Some Idahoans would be comfortable with calling our place “The Wilderness State,” but that certainly wouldn’t fly with the “no more wilderness crowd.” How about the “State of Big Hearted Rivers?” Nope. Rivers here are for more than floatin’ and fishin’, we use that water to grow, er, potatoes. The no-growth, “I wish it were 1950 again” types might opt for “Idaho – the tick fever state.” Not a winner with the economic development crowd.

Idaho: We Know Nuclear. Nope.

Idaho: Nevada Without the Gambling. Won’t catch on.

Idaho: Easier than Utah to Get a Drink? Even that isn’t really true any longer.

Idahoans should just embrace the iconic potato and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl as the best we got. It’s has put us on the map, or the Internet, after all. Google those words today and you’ll get 1,500,000 hits. It’s not Iowa, yet, but it’s a start and it’s not – thank your potatoes – in a class with the Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl.

Sign up to be the first to know about news, events and more.

©2019 by Marc C Johnson