Town unveils new marketing slogan: 'Bluffton: Heart of the Lowcountry'

This image is a screen grab from a Bluffton branding commercial shown Feb. 19, 2014, at the Rotary Community Center at Oscar J. Frazier Park. SUBMITTED — Submitted photoPhoto by: SUBMITTED — Submitted photo

Bluffton residents and officials often invoke the town's "state of mind" to describe the eccentric, easygoing, yet difficult-to-define charm of the growing community along the May River.

To better grasp the notion, the town commissioned a Charleston-based advertising agency to develop a brand, or marketing message, to pinpoint Bluffton's qualities and promote tourism and economic development within its borders.

The result: "Bluffton: Heart of the Lowcountry."

Town officials, business leaders and residents packed the Rotary Community Center at Oscar J. Frazier Park on Wednesday for the unveiling of Bluffton's new slogan.

For the next few months, the town's message will be the center of TV commercials, radio ads and digital banners, according to Bruce Murdy, president of the advertising agency Rawle Murdy Associates.

Mayor Lisa Sulka said the brand was the culmination of Bluffton's growth, eagerness to attract business and desire to stand out among other destinations in the Lowcountry.

"We're growing up as a town," she said. "We're a distinct place in the Lowcountry."

In one commercial shown Wednesday, images of fresh shrimp from the May River, front porches in Old Town and lush, oak tree canopies were woven together in a video meant to entice visitors and prospective residents.

Murdy said the advertisements will play throughout the Southeast, in states such as Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

"A brand is a promise," Murdy said, citing Apple, Coca-Cola and Polo Ralph Lauren as examples of strong brand marketing campaigns. "It's something people can expect. And it's extremely important for a town that wants to grow economically."

The brand, which was produced in partnership with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, cost $90,000 to study and develop. County and town accommodations taxes paid $70,000 of the amount. The town kicked in an additional $20,000, according to chamber spokeswoman Charlie Clark.

The advertising campaign cost $80,000, Clark said. It was paid for with money the chamber received from Bluffton accommodations' taxes and a state program that matched the funds raised.

The town held four public meetings last summer to gather input. The agency also talked to residents on its own and compared Bluffton to nearly 40 similar cities across the U.S., Murdy said.

He also suggested several future projects for the town that would strengthen the brand, such as placing more signs on U.S. 278, making street signs consistent throughout the town, adding pedestrian and bicycle paths, and creating landscaping guidelines to protect live oaks.

He also mentioned building an "appropriately sized" inn in Old Town.

Town spokeswoman Debbie Szpanka said this was the first time Bluffton officials had heard Murdy's project ideas and would need to study them.

"Town staff and council will have to see what ideas fit into budgets, projects and feasibility," she said in an email.