After discussions about the marketing and promotion of Route 66 beyond the Route 66 community with Michael Wallis on Saturday, my thoughts drifted toward Ned Jordan and his artistically crafted “Somewhere West of Laramie” and other promotions for the Jordan. In turn this led to meditations about other visionary promotional campaigns designed during the formative years of the American auto industry as well as Route 66 promotions past, present, and future.
The Calkins & Holden ad agency created innovative and art quality promotional pieces for the now legendary Pierce Arrow in the years before World War I that have endured the test of time and even outlived the company they were designed to promote.
In stark contrast to the dry, word heavy promotions that dominated automotive promotion in the period, work from this agency was vibrant, and colorful with little or no text. They accomplished this by hiring leading illustrators and artists of the day – Louis Fancher, Edward Borein, Newell Wyeth, and Ludwig Hohlwien.
I wonder what the response would be to Route 66 promotional posters featuring the work of craftsman such as Jerry McClanahan or Chris Robleski displayed in airports, at bus stops, and locations far removed from that highway? Imagine just one example of these artists work with the simple slogan “The Dream is Alive – Route 66.”
Route 66 is a living, breathing time capsule, an opportunity to experience the best of American life from the era before the Internet, before cell phones, before the interstate highway and yet much of the promotion and many of the festivals are crafted in a “preach to the choir” sort of manner.
Before Calkins & Holden a great deal of automotive advertisement as well as promotion targeted the automotive enthusiast rather than the vast untapped market of people still running the roads and highways in a horse and buggy. Yes, the Pierce Arrow was a limited production and expensive automobile that depended on snob appeal for sales but the advertisements produced for that company led other manufacturers to create similar promotional pieces that targeted a wider audience.
Marketing Route 66 requires the latter rather than the former. Those who insist on five star accommodations and the most modern of amenities will never be satisfied with the simple pleasures of an evening at the Blue Swallow Motel or Motel Safari.
There is a hunger in this nation for tangible links to what is perceived as simpler times, for an opportunity to escape the confusion, the worries, and the stress of the modern era. There is an international hunger for the romanticized perception of America and that is encapsulated all along the Route 66 corridor.
Harnessing this hunger is key to the survival, the evolution, and the development of Route 66. The challenge to the Route 66 community is finding ways to promote its wonder, its charm, its unique culture to wider audience.