One of the most oddball developments in the whacky world of branding these days is the way the characters and culture of New Jersey are taking television by storm. New Jersey – where you don’t go to the beach in the summertime, you go “down the shore.” And the words water, coffee, dog and whatever are pronounced wadder, cawfee, dawg and wadever. Growing up in North Jersey, I thought I’d never see the day when the Garden State, long the subject of derision by “too cool for school” New Yorkers and comics who loved to crack wise with that “what exit?” joke, would become a powerhouse brand and the darling of reality TV. Who woulda’ thought Style, Bravo, TLC, HBO and others would all be going nuts over Jersey.
If ever there was a case of perception versus reality, it’s in New Jersey. Take a look at the way the media buyers see Jersey, or the way it’s been portrayed in films and TV shows from Law & Order to HBO’s The Sopranos, and you’ll begin to understand the “perception” problem. To the media buyer, North and Central Jersey are part of the NY Metro and practically the sixth and seventh boroughs of NYC. South Jersey? That whole thing belongs to Philly. The reality is that New Jersey is a densely populated cross-section of America – the good, the bad and the ugly. There are lots of people, and many of them are very, very affluent. Many of them actually do not commute to Manhattan to work.
So did Jersey ever have a chance to build its brand? Does Jersey really have anything unique? I think what the television networks, advertisers, magazine publishers and other “shapers and reflectors” of the popular culture have finally discovered about Jersey is its people. In a recent promotional interview, I heard Carolyn Manzo, one of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” say that people from New Jersey dare to be themselves. She's a smart lady and I agree with her. It seems no matter what their net worth, these “regular guys” and Jersey girls” are interesting to watch because they’re just being themselves. And adding to their appeal is the fact that they really don’t care if you like them or not.