I spent Thanksgiving in Dallas, and during part of my stay, Cara took me on a road trip to Austin, with a number of stops along the way in towns as large as Austin and as small as… well, I’m not sure, but they all seemed to have a Bush’s Chicken, a chain that makes Kentucky Fried Chicken seem like fine dining (Bush’s has managed to sign up Time Warner Cable as a promotional partner, testifying either to Time Warner’s marketing brilliance or its desperation).
Along the way, we were constantly reminded of one thing: we were in Texas. We saw far more Texas flags than American flags, and every billboard, pit stop, and inch of space devoted to marketing had some Texas connection, outside of the ads for Kia, which doesn’t seem to get the whole Texas pride thing.
I can’t recall what the New York state flag looks like (I was writing this offline). I think it says something about the Empire State, I vaguely remember a tree, and I think it’s either blue or green, but that’s as close as I can get (it’s blue, it says “Excelsior,” and there’s no tree). This is a state I’ve lived in all my life. On one road trip (we had to wander outside of Dallas for the full effect, as Dallas is only a little less Texan that New York City in most respects), the image of the state flag was branded into my brain to the point where I doubt I’ll never be able to forget it.
Austin was another story. Cara filled me in on the difference between the University of Texas Longhorns and the A&M Aggies. Go figure – the same weekend that I discovered I’m a fan of Vince Young’s alma mater, Vince Young punished my New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys took first place. It’s tough having dual loyalties.
In Austin, everyone was clad in burnt orange Longhorns gear – really, everyone. Babies, grandparents, waitresses, bellhops… everyone. As Cara noted, even the homeless wear the merchandise. The street signs are in burnt orange, and there’s even this odd orange glow about the town. It’s brilliant in some ways from a marketing perspective, but from a visitor’s perspective, it’s either cultish or militaristic. They indoctrinate their young at birth (no joke), and there have been more than a few violent clashes between Longhorns (“hook em!”) and Aggies (“Gig em!”).
As an epilogue, when I was returning from lunch to the office today, I was in the elevator with a flower delivery guy wearing a gray sweatshirt with the word “Texas” in orange emblazoned across the chest, an orange Nike swoosh below. For the first time in my life, I actually knew what that shirt meant. I had to say something, so I did.
Delivery Guy: Huh?
Me: Longhorns – are you a Longhorns fan?
Delivery Guy: Huh?
Delivery Guy: No, tell me.
Me: Your shirt – University of Texas Longhorns.
Delivery Guy: Oh, that – I was in Texas visiting a friend and got it there.
Me: I was just there too.
I got off at my floor and he stayed on the elevator, smiling. There we were, two non-Texans in completely different lines of work, 1,500 miles from Austin, bonding over a football team neither of us claim as our own. Branding (and merchandizing) unites us all.