Alabama's unofficial song becomes official tourism theme

Alabama's unofficial song becomes official tourism theme

ORANGE BEACH - The Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel has unveiled the phrase "Sweet Home Alabama" as the brand line to market the state as a tourism destination in 2008.

Governor Bob Riley announced the campaign Monday during the annual state tourism conference in Orange Beach. "The phrase is cheerful, happy and warm. It brings a smile to your face," Governor Riley said.

The new positioning line will be featured in the state's $4.5 million marketing program, using television and radio, print ads, and public relations, tourism director Lee Sentell said. The campaign symbol is a colorful red, blue, yellow and white logo with the words "sweet" and "home" flanking the stylized word Alabama.

The logo will also appear on the cover of the 2008 state vacation guide, officials said, with paper stickers of the logo distributed at the state's eight welcome centers during the summer.

Some 71 percent of out-of-state residents and 65 percent of Alabamians favored the phrase among five others during a research study conducted by Luckie and Company of Birmingham, Sentell said. "The phrase tested even better than we expected. The fact that it's stronger outside the state makes it a compelling tourism brand."

When destinations launch new marketing programs, he said, they often spend millions of dollars to create brand recognition. "This one is instant."

In other action, the Governor announced that the tourism agency will continue its award-winning themes program which has spotlighted food, outdoors and the arts. He said 2008 will be the Year of Alabama Sports and 2009 the Year of Alabama History. In addition to 2010 being the Year of Small Towns and Downtowns, it will include an Alabama Reunion where communities stage events to welcome back former residents, Governor Riley said.

"Last year in my hometown of Ashland, thousands of former residents came back to an event on the Courthouse Square," Governor Riley said. "I would like to see similar celebrations all across the state to capitalize on the Year of Small Towns and Downtowns."

Sentell said the agency plans to sell Sweet Home Alabama t-shirts and caps in retail outlets. In addition to a $25,000 licensing fee, it will pay Universal Music a six percent royalty on logo merchandise, he said.

He said the American and European media have used the title of the 1974 song as the unofficial nickname of the state since the release of the Reese Witherspoon movie of the same name in 2002.

"The phrase really became prominent on American Idol because of singer Bo Bice. Host Ryan Seacrest opened the Birmingham audition show Birmingham with 'Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama.' After Taylor Hicks won in 2005, People magazine wrote, 'Hicks is going back to sweet home Alabama to unwind with his family,'" Sentell said.

The phrase has transcended the song. When the Anniston Star ran an editorial recently about the state tourism agency, the headline was "Sweet Home Alabama."

A recent search on Google showed some 4,000,000 files with the words sweet home Alabama.

In recent years, the tourism agency and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources jointly used the phrase "Share the Wonder."

No decision has been made on incorporating the song into the campaign, officials said.