Opinion

Marketing community as commodity

We basked outside a downtown coffee shop recently, enjoying a cup of tea with two of the island’s finer ladies, when conversation turned to the new development going in soon across from the ferry terminal.

“Have you seen their online video about the ‘island lifestyle’?” one of our companions asked, obviously amused.

While we were dimly aware that the project was being marketed even before the first spade had turned, we hadn’t seen any promotional materials. So when both teapot and discussion had run dry, we ambled back to the office computer to find the website, to see what our beloved Bainbridge Island looked like as viewed from the outside.

The marketing video – the online equivalent of a real estate infomercial – is indeed worth seeing. It presents a harried but attractive couple (sans children) taking a serene ride home to Bainbridge on the ferry (“the escape route”), during which they check their palm pilots and then gaze into one another’s eyes. Once on the island, they stroll the streets of Winslow holding hands, stopping to look in the windows of our “trendy” boutiques (their term) and buying fine cheese and wine. Bucolic scenes promote the island’s “enchanting scenery” and stunning views, and such outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and golf. Once the couple gets home, they settle before the fireplace in their condo and raise their wine glasses to the good life.

The video doesn’t say much about the development itself – there’s not much to show at this point, admittedly – but the elysian vision of island life as idle idyll appears in full flower.

Certainly, we don’t mean to impugn the project, which we’re sure will be a tasteful affair destined to bring in some cultured and interesting neighbors. But the promotional video caused us to consider afresh the differing perspectives of Bainbridge Island as viewed from their shores and ours – colonialist versus indigenous, if you will – and the distinction between “lifestyle” and “community.”

How might one go about marketing the “real” Bainbridge, as experienced by those who’ve already settled in? Perhaps something like this (cue light jazz music and pleasing, sales-friendly voice): “Come to beautiful Bainbridge Island and take an active part in the community around you...Get involved with the local schools, or volunteer your precious free time with youth sports or one of a hundred other nonprofit organizations...Spend your afternoons driving the kids from school to violin lessons to soccer practice and home again...Try to mow the lawn between squalls...Do the laundry...Pay the bills...Eat take-out...Collapse at the end of the day...Get up at 5 a.m. to catch the ferry back to Seattle...”

Or perhaps even this: “Come to Bainbridge Island, and give up your evenings for endless and repetitive public meetings... Squabble with your neighbors for months, sometimes years at a time, over picayune local issues...Profess to shop downtown, but then fight traffic to Silverdale stores on weekends...Wonder if you’re really keeping up with the new folks down the street...Harbor a secret resentment of anyone who moved here after you did...Blanch at your property tax bill, and ponder whether it’s really worth it...Conclude that it is, at least for one more year...”

The idealized vision of our Bainbridge Island “lifestyle,” we understand how that’s marketed and why – we manage to sneak in a cup of tea now and again ourselves. But we hope our future neighbors know what they’re really getting into.

You buy into lifestyle. You grow into community.

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