Michael Townsend, VP Creative Services

The Way Life Should Be, Part One: The Origin

front page, Maine, Perry & Banks on March 23rd, 2010 Comments Off on The Way Life Should Be, Part One: The Origin

In the April 2010 issue of Maine magazine, the “Workspace” feature on the back page shows the office of the guy who coined the slogan “Maine. The Way Life Should Be.” My office.

My thanks to writer Peter Smith for getting the facts right, but his caption/interview is basically about what’s on that cluttered desk and bulletin board you see, certainly not the story of how the line was created (or how it’s lasted some 22 years now). It’s something I’m naturally proud of, and now that my claim to fame has been officially recognized by the media, I thought this was the right moment to share the tale of its origins.

I was a copywriter at AC&R in New York, working on major brands like Seiko, Estee Lauder and Maxell. Living in Dover, NJ and commuting by train. In 1984, one of my best friends bought some property in Lubec, Maine and miraculously escaped the Jersey lifestyle. That summer, and the next summer too, we made the 11-hour drive to spend a week at his tiny camp on the edge of a cliff overlooking Johnson Bay. Hilliary and I felt like we could breathe (and really sleep) for the first time in our lives!

One afternoon, we were having a beer on Steve’s rickety deck when he pointed out a lobsterman a few hundred yards out on the bay pulling up his traps. Next thing I knew, we were in his little skiff, rowing out to the lobsterman and buying four of his just-harvested catch for a few bucks apiece. Then we rowed back to the house, boiled up some water, and soon were back on the deck with another beer, making a mess with lobster juice and melted butter, tossing the shells over the railing and down to the pebbly beach below, where they were quickly snatched up by an alert gull.

Pausing between claws, I sat back in my chair, took a deep breath, flashed on my 90-minute commute and the other somewhat ugly aspects of the way life was for me back in NJ, and well, you can guess what I felt: “Now THIS is the way life SHOULD be.”

Welcome to Maine, The Way Life Should Be

Michael and daughter Lily (age 10), in 1998 on I-95 in Kittery

Before we left his place, Steve suggested, “if you want to do what you do but in Maine, you should check out Portland.” So we pulled in to the Old Port on a quiet August Sunday in 1985 on our way back. Had a pint at 3 Dollar Dewey’s. Walked down Commercial St. Hill bought a t-shirt that said “Life in the slow lane.” Two months later, I was back in town with my portfolio, calling every ad agency in the Portland yellow pages and saying “I’m a copywriter from New York, want to see my book?” Nearly every one of them said yes, and one ended up hiring me.

Fast forward another two years. Our agency had the Maine Tourism account, which was up for review. Thanks to a new Governor who had just taken office that year, the stakes were raised to about six times what the budget had been previously, and just about every marketing company in the state was after it. We still had one campaign left on our existing contract, and knew if we could come up with a killer line, have it already in place and running on tv for that last campaign, it would be the creative centerpiece of our pitch and would assure a win.

After a few weeks of contentious brainstorming and private brain wracking, my mind drifted back to that feeling on Steve’s deck in Lubec. This is Maine. The way life should be.

Not only did the line win us the new contract, but it quickly started taking on a life of its own, showing up on t-shirts, bumper stickers, sugar packets, and most notably, the highway signs as you crossed the border into Maine from New Hampshire, New Brunswick and Quebec.

The slogan disappeared from Maine tourism ads after a year or two, but thanks to those highway signs, it had already become ingrained into the consciousness of both residents and visitors. I had moved on to other opportunities by then, but the story was far from over. To be continued in Part Two…

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