Say wa? Metronatural, Seattle's new tourism slogan, fails to impress

When Washington state announced its new tourism slogan — "SayWA" — last spring, Pike Place Market vendor Kenny Telesco was willing to give it a chance.

He practiced saying it with "jazz hands" and asked tourists to "SayWA" as they posed for photos. But he's not sure he can stomach Seattle's new tourism slogan, unveiled Friday in 18-foot-tall letters atop the Space Needle: "Metronatural."

"How do you use that in a sentence?" Telesco asked. " 'Welcome to Metronatural'. ... It's an airport where you can buy organic bananas."

Others suggested "metronatural" evoked an urban nudist camp. They started speculating about whether it would last longer than the widely panned "SayWA," a slogan the state dropped recently because it failed to catch on.

"Metronatural" is the result of a 16-month, $200,000 effort by Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau, which included 60 people from the bureau, the mayor's office and businesses.

The bureau plans to spend $300,000 marketing the slogan, er, "destination brand position," which was developed by Exclaim, a local marketing firm. The advertising's purpose will largely be generating business for the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.

"Seattle offers the best of both worlds," Don Welsh, the bureau's president, said in a news release. "We have a vibrant urban center surrounded by pristine wilderness and outdoor recreation."

The idea of "metronatural" was to capture that, Welsh said, adding that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far. He said some people might not get it if they're simply told what the slogan is, but once they see it on photographs of the city, Puget Sound or the Cascades, it resonates.

A sampling of vendors and tourists at Pike Place Market attractions suggested the photos could probably stand on their own. Seattle is beautiful and vibrant enough that it doesn't need a slogan, several said, let alone one that plays on that buzzword of yesteryear, "metrosexual."

That's the approach Vancouver, B.C., took when it updated its tourism marketing.

Instead of having a tagline, advertisements simply read "Tourism Vancouver," with a large "V" styled to resemble an Olympic medal hanging from an athlete's neck, a reminder the city will host the 2010 Winter Olympics.

It was Vancouver's decision to update its slogan that prompted Seattle to follow suit.

Seattle's seldom-seen old slogan, developed in 1999, was a picture of an eye, an "at" symbol and the letter L: "See-At-L." And yet, tourists came.

In fact, a look at the city's tourism industry suggests it's doing fine without "metronatural." A record 9.1 million people visited Seattle in 2005, according to the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The cruise port is bustling, and the convention center drew nearly 400,000 people last year.

"Metro" and "natural" are "not two words that impress me as words that are going to stick out in someone's mind, like you want a slogan to stick out in someone's mind," said John Silas, a 30-year Pike Place Market veteran who makes and sells hardwood cribbage boards.

"The idea feels sterile and commercial, and it's lacking the heart of Seattle," Silas said.

Former Seattle Monorail advocate Dick Falkenberry, a tour guide, said Friday he had heard all about the new slogan.

"It's 'SayWA.' No, wait, it's worse than 'SayWA,' " he said. "It's 'urban-metro.' "

Close enough.