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Rebranding Minnesota's small towns

This town is called Lake City, Minnesota. According to local legend, it is named after a lake.

This town is called Lake City, Minnesota. According to local legend, it is named after a lake.


Branding is everything. This is what the 250 million advertising and marketing geniuses of America will tell you.

They will tell you this in a tweet. There will be hashtags.

Cities and states are getting ready for the coming #brandwars. Meet Minneapolis, a weird, pseudo-governmental marketing effort, helps land major events like the 2018 Super Bowl, while economic development wizards at Greater MSP convince out-of-state corporations that our educated workforce and just-for-you tax subsidies are a perfect fit.

Other towns can't afford such sophisticated strategies. Consider Kiester, Minnesota.

The town was named after a judge, legislator, and county historian from the 19th century. By the 1930s, "kiester" had become a synonym for "ass" in the popular vernacular.

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It took a few decades, but Kiester has finally decided to roll with it. Earlier this year, the hemorrhoid experts at Preparation H asked if they could use Kiester to stage a commercial. As it turned out, the idea sat quite comfortably, so to speak. Leaders of the waning village (population 501 — wait, why didn't they try making a deal with Levi's?) accepted the offer, hoping a commercial will be shot there later this year.

It's brilliant. Let a corporation pay for your rebranding, and you reap all the benefits. Expect to see people with specialty seat cushions and a slight limp flocking to Kiester in droves.

And why stop there? Much of Minnesota is in need of a pick-me-up. Dozens of places could benefit from a similar boost of imagination and cross-promotion:

Bad Medicine Lake: Native Americans didn't like the looks of this lake because it seemed to spring up with no source flowing in, and no outlet flowing out. The alchemists of the pharmaceutical industry have no such qualms with the unnatural. Let's get this bad boy off our hands. Sell it to Pfizer.

Climax: The long-rumored "female Viagra" is just around the corner... they swear! What better place to introduce it than this provocatively named hamlet on the North Dakota border. Bonus idea: Film a few customers making the trip from nearby Fertile to the launch event. Post the video online under the title "Fertile women ride to Climax" and watch the clicks roll in.

Darwin: This town wasn't named after Charles, champion of evolution, but it should embrace that association. "Creationism museums" have appeared across the country as a corrective to the tyranny of the fossil record. These will proliferate once President Ted Cruz gets a hold of those goddamn textbooks, and Darwin could rebrand as a destination for the last believers in scientific fact.

Embarrass: Iron Range towns are in need of economic stimulus, and tech companies are sick of paying Silicon Valley prices. It's a match made in internet hell. Bring Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram here, and replace the term "social networking" with "Embarrassing," a more appropriate phrase for what we're doing online.

Ham Lake: This northern suburb was so named for the lake shaped like a half-ham. It's nothing a few ingredients couldn't fix. Add dehydrated carrots, onions, white beans, "smoke flavoring," and — voila! — the far more appetizing Ham Soup, Minnesota, brought to you by Hormel. Microwave one to two minutes, stir, and lunch is served.

Norwood Young America: Let's just auction this off to a summer camp and be done with it.

Red Wing: The town is already the home of the Red Wing Shoe Company, but it's leaving money on the table. A deal with Buffalo Wild Wings, headquartered in Minneapolis, would be much more lucrative. All it takes is a simple renaming to Boneless Hot BBQ Red Wing, and the region's sports bros will be marching in by happy hour.

Rollingstone: Debate the Beatles all you want. Everyone's favorite member of the Rolling Stones is Keith Richards. This easterly village should tempt the guitar legend with a cigarette subsidy to relocate as a sort of a living-statue tourist attraction. The benefit will last only as long as Richards does. Doctors estimate that could be anywhere from five days to 60,000 years.

Stillwater: Named for the uncannily calm St. Croix River, this settlement, one of Minnesota's oldest, needs to get with the times. With a few bubbles and a little flavoring, courtesy of La Croix Sparkling Water, the newly christened Fizzywater, Minnesota, would be an oasis for millennials who don't deign to drink from the tap. One obvious risk: The carbonation fiends will drink the river dry in 24 hours.

Tenstrike: The fact that the Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum is located in Arlington, Texas, and not in this perfectly named north-central Minnesota town, is a travesty. Among other problems, all of our rich bowling history would be lost if Texas finally makes good on its threats to re-secede from the union.

Wanamingo: The origins of this name are lost to history, but it's thought to honor a heroine in Native American folklore. In English, it sounds like you're asking someone to attend a singles mixer. A sponsorship deal with Tinder could turn this sleepy city into the hook-up capital of Minnesota. And if a few residents start passing around infection? Send them to Bad Medicine Lake. Please make sure they stop before Climax.

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