Modesto is alive! ... with the sound of rebranding

Editor's note: Two of our regular community columnists decided to weigh in on CommonWealth Modesto's effort to improve the community's image. Today we share the thoughts of John Michael Flint. On Saturday's page, C.V. Allen will offer up a hypothetical scenario.

"Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it's not going to get the business."-- Warren Buffett

Seven years ago, the quasi-public Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance "rebranded" Stanislaus County as the Stanislaus River Valley, a totally fictitious topographical entity. Sounded sexier, the theory went, and would be more likely to attract new industry.

Although it hasn't worked out that way, the group's Web site ( remains replete with references to the Stanislaus River Valley, even though the map of this "valley" bears a striking resemblance to, you should pardon the phrase, Stanislaus County.

Do these things happen in cycles? The question arises because The Bee has reported (April 14, Page B-1) on a proposal by CommonWealth Modesto, described as "a group of young professionals," to overhaul Modesto's image. A starting point would be a new city slogan, and although it's not settled yet, "Modesto is alive!" seems to have found favor.

"Modesto is alive"? As opposed to the ... um ... other thing? Is our municipal chain being yanked?

Actually, these people appear to be serious. Further, they intend to provide a list of "brand anchors," positive things about Modesto so that we poor, unenlightened, inarticulate, uneducated yahoos will, in the future, know how to talk about our fair town without "cringing." No kidding, one of the Common- Wealth yuppies actually used that word. You can't make this stuff up.

It gets worse. When this idea was presented to the Modesto City Council, Councilman Brad Hawn announced to all within the sound of his voice that Modestans suffer from low self-esteem, that we like to focus on negative items -- like maybe the condescension shown by a man who wants to be mayor.

So what comes next? Well, you'd expect the Common- Wealth folks to prepare a list of these positive brand anchors so that we can refer to them when talking to friends from out of the area. We'd try to slip them into the conversation casually, or with a crowbar if necessary.

And one can easily imagine a snotty San Franciscan doing a double take and wondering: What on Earth are those poor, unenlightened, inarticulate, uneducated yahoos in Modesto up to now? Sorta makes you cringe, doesn't it?

Speaking of which, you have to wonder how many people, aside from those in CommonWealth Modesto, feel such embarrassment in even admitting that they're from Modesto. True, there has always been an elitist minority here that regrets the fact that this isn't Carmel, and consequently holds both Modesto and Modestans in contempt, but they've never been able to influence much of anything beyond their own shopping habits.

So it will be, one suspects, with this rebranding idea. Perhaps a committee will be formed. Maybe a new look to that flier that accompanies our utility bills (and let's face it, "City Pride, City Wide" was sort of dorky). That'll be about it, though.

And in the extremely unlikely event that this ever crosses the desk of Warren Buffett, that wise old entrepreneur will doubtless roll his eyes and think, "I warned you."

Flint is a Modesto resident. Write him at

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