The Town Built by Branding

10 Jan

Warren Woodson once called Corning the town of advertising.  He would know.  If it was not for advertisements he placed and his vision, Corning may have been nothing more than a railroad station.  He is the man behind the brand “The Olive City, which like the trees he planted has endured the test of time and promises prosperity for the future.

 “Woodson was a marketing genius,” said Laurie Dana, a Marketing Communications Consultant. “Woodson’s branding initiatives in the late 1890s to bring people from across the nation to the Corning area provide the foundation for current branding efforts to promote tourism and increase business in the area.”

In the 1880’s, Woodson and partners purchased 3,107 acres surrounding Corning from George Hoag, one of the original pioneers in the area.  They subdivided the property, which they named Maywood Colony, and sold lots up to forty acres. The Maywood Colony grew to become one of the largest real estate speculations of its time, with over 40,000 acres of subdivisions. At the time, the town of Corning was only 161 acres.

Woodson placed advertisements promoting Maywood Colony and the town of Corning in newspapers and magazines across the United States. A vintage ad from 1899 currently selling on Amazon.com reads:  “We sell fruit land as good as there is in California, in lots of 2 1/2, 5, 10 or 20 acres, at $50 per acre. Terms of payment runs three years, making the purchase an easy one.  Then we contract to plant these lots to peaches, prunes, pears, walnuts, apricots, and other fruits for $35 an acre.  This charge covers cost of trees (90 per acre) planting and care for first year, $12.50 for the second year, and 12.50 for the third year. . . . You don’t have to plant unless you want to.”

Woodson had a vision of what he wanted the Corning area to be, which he promoted by advertising the Maywood Colony subdivision as another Garden of Eden. More than a million fruit trees were planted to fulfill this vision, but it was the olives that thrived. Olive trees do not require as much care as most trees, and they are drought, disease and fire resistant. For this reason, olives eventually became the tree of choice for the Maywood Colony.

In 1923, Woodson branded Corning, “the Olive Town.”  However, this was not the first brand used to promote and transform the city.  According to an article written by Ellen Hultgren in 1985, the town had gained a reputation as a saloon town in the early 1900s. In an effort to rid the city of bars and establish local parks, Woodson led a campaign to incorporate Corning. Incorporated in 1907, the town enacted prohibition laws and Woodson as mayor started an advertising campaign naming “Corning, the Clean Town.” The brand promoted a wholesome image for families and hard working individuals. Labels with the slogan were glued to every box shipped out of town and posted on railroad cars. He used the same strategy to later market the “Olive Town” brand.

A slogan alone is just one small part of branding.  “A brand is about creating points of differentiation,” says Jordan Pogue, a consultant for the Tehama County Branding Project.  “Branding is also about what you want to be known for, perhaps not what you have today.”

Woodson understood this when he planted the orchards and marketed Maywood Colony as another Garden of Eden.  People were buying orchards not yet planted, because Woodson created a strong vision of what was possible.  Woodson wasn’t just selling agriculture; he was marketing values that appealed to the type of individuals he wanted to move here. People bought land with the belief that Maywood Colony and the town of Corning would become what Woodson promised. It was a brand the community embraced and made a reality.

The values Woodson promoted are essentially the same proposed by current branding initiatives. Incorporating a theme that welcomes visitors as family will extend the brand focus beyond agriculture to include retailers, restaurants and the niche culinary markets.  The direction is a vision of what Corning can be if the community and businesses embrace the new branding initiatives.

Woodson would applaud the new push to use branding to transform the Corning area, as it’s the same strategy he employed over 100 years ago when he planted the first olive trees and placed his first advertisements for orchard land. Through strategic marketing, Woodson transformed Corning from a stop on the railroad to a town with a population of 7,000 boasting the world’s largest olive cannery and several gourmet olive oil producers.  “That is quite a testament to the power of branding,” said Dana. “I look forward to seeing how the Tehama County Branding Project transforms the area further in the years to come.”

Press Release by Kristin Behrens,
Tehama County Branding Project at Large Committee
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