California Dreamin' Replaces Reality

In our business, we all claim to understand the power of brands, and the perceptions they create.  But sometimes it takes a first-hand experience to really understand the affect of a brand on human psychology.  Last week, I had one of those experiences.  

I spent the week in California, trying to enjoy some time outside, soaking in some scenery and, of course, sampling some tasty food.  I had read about home values decreasing there, like everywhere.  But I was going to California.  I mean, based on reputation alone, California is the land of prosperity and Michigan is in the toilet, right?  I was going to see what life in a booming state was like, right?  After a week away from “the doldrums of Michigan,” vacationing amongst “swimming pools… movie stars” would just make me depressed about coming home to the economic mess here, right?  Not at all.

Following simple personal history and the powerful brand California has built, I was surprised as anyone to see that California is also suffering in a significant way.  High unemployment, declining population, homes in foreclosure, etc. – just like Michigan and, actually, virtually every state, the numbers show.  There was bad news on the state and local levels, everywhere I turned to feed my news habit.  In fact, I heard one radio story about how the state’s legendary film industry was actually declining because of states (like Michigan) that are offering incentives that California (until, apparently, now) hasn’t.  And, waking up Friday morning at the hotel, this USA Today story graced the front page outside my front door, detailing California’s troubled economy.

Still, I’m sure many in Michigan will wake up this week wishing they were in “a place like California, where things are better.”  That’s all because of brand perception, proving the adage that “Perception Is Reality.”  The fact is that things are tough all over.  But that, like mortgages and cars all over the country, just won’t sell.