March 5, 2009, 1:51 pm
Howe Could They Do This!?
By Matt DeMeis
Today I was looking through the list of winners for ReBrand’s 2009 “100 Global Awards Winning Brands” contest, when a familiar name jumped out at me. Howe Caverns. For those of you (which is probably most) who don’t know about Howe Caverns, here’s a quick summary.
In upstate NY there is a HUGE underground cavern that was discovered by a bunch of cows trying to stay cool on a hot summer day. The cave remains 52°F consistently, year round. This makes it an ideal place for aging cheese, beer, getting married and giving tours for money through its long and winding passageways.
My mom grew up not far from Howe Caverns so I have known about it and its wacky, hand painted billboard advertising ever since I can remember. The billboards I remember most depicted a Huckleberry Finn-type character with what appears to be his little brother on his back, lantern in hand, exploring the cavern. The colors were day-glo on black and the fonts were meant to look super spooky!! POW! I was hooked. I had to go there.
My point is it had a memorable style. Like it or not, it got the job done. You would see one of those billboards a mile away and know it was for Howe Caverns. When I saw that Howe Caverns had re-branded itself I was curious, then disappointed.
They did away with the timeless hand painted illustrative style in favor of the “roughen” filter in Adobe Illustrator. The new branding looks like the packaging for a first-person shooter game, or an earthquake danger warning sign. The style is something we’ve seen a million other places these days. Solid color, distressed font, nice photos — done. I feel like the soul and history of the brand just got flushed away. It may have needed a makeover, but the essence could have been preserved.
I am by all means biased due to my personal childhood memories of the brand but I say bring back Huck Finn and his day-glo little brother!
I appreciate your childhood memories of a time gone by. Unfortunately, the Howe Caverns branding that you fondly remember has lost its relevance in today’s world. Over the course of the last 20 years, the number of people traveling to Howe Caverns has been in steady decline. Much of that decline was the result of how it was perceived – as an old roadside attraction, like a reptile zoo. Being from the area, I’m sure you can appreciate the negative impact this has had on the economy of Schoharie County.
The destination now competes with the Wii, Gameboy, Playstation, larger than life movies, the mall, and yes, first person shooter games. Our research showed clearly that if there isn’t a hint of danger or the unknown, today’s target audience isn’t interested.
I’m happy to say that last year, when the new brand was introduced, Howe Caverns saw its first increase in visits in many years. There’s a lot of buzz going on about it, and early indications are that 2009 will be a banner year for this off the beaten path destination, despite the recession.
While we’ve received kudos for the new branding from many circles (including the new customers), it took those most familiar with Howe Caverns a little time to warm up to the new look and feel. Now when you visit there, everyone is smiling and proud of the new Howe Caverns.
We’re honored to have played a part in making this one of kind destination relevant to a 21st century audience and having such a positive economic impact on the Schoharie County area.
Posted by Mark Shipley on March 9, 2009 at 10:32 am