I used to live in Hackensack, New Jersey. Now, I live in The Sack.
Oh, where to begin?
My township collaborated with a group called The Hackensack Main Street Business Alliance several years ago. This partnership had one goal in mind: Make Hackensack the trendy new spot to live.
A lot of real estate developers say it will be the next Hoboken. But if you’re not from the East Coast that may not mean much to you. Picture young 20-somethings, night clubs, and new juice bars on every corner. It’s glorious.
The first step was building up Main Street so that it attracted young buyers. It proved to be an expensive task. In part, because my Main Street is a wreck. It‘s hard to compare it to anything. So just imagine a sad clown who just dropped his ice-cream. That’s our Main Street in a nutshell.
Anyway, this would no longer be the case. By 2021 Hackensack will add 3,500 modern apartment units in its downtown funded by more than $1 billion in new real estate investment.
They targeted young New Yorkers who are moving out in droves according to recent data. The prices are no joke. Studio rentals for downtown Hackensack apartments start around $1,700, and two-bedrooms can go up to $2,400.
So much for this being a working-class town.
But the stage was set. The buildings were going up and the youngins were coming. Now all they needed was a name.
Welcome to “The Sack”
Towns that want to be hip all have two things in common:
- New developments
- A Whole Foods within a 50-mile radius
My town wanted to do more. We needed a nickname. So, what did we go with?
Aw yeah. All jokes aside, I think this is marketing genius. Especially with the way they rolled out this nickname.
First, there were no official announcements of the name, it only appeared on billboards. I noticed one when leaving the Giant’s Stadium flea market near my house. It was a giant, enigmatic billboard that just said The Sack.
It drummed up a lot of curiosity. Moreover, a lot of questions:
Is it a sack of potatoes? Maybe a place to take a mid-afternoon nap?
The intrigue was there nonetheless. I wanted to know more. Once I found out it would be our official new nickname I was stunned. It took some getting used to, but like Howard Stern always says: “Any publicity is good publicity.”
As part of my reporting job in North Jersey, I actually got to interview the marketing team behind the name change. It turns out starting with cryptic, standalone billboards was always going to be phase one. They knew it would drive curiosity. It’s better to leave someone with an impression — good or bad — than to feel nothing at all.
“If we put up a sign that said: ‘Come to Main Street, Hackensack,’ people would have kept on driving,” said alliance Director Eric Anderson. “By picking ‘The Sack,’ we stand out. We own it.”
When Good Marketing Leads to Success
OK, so you drum up interest with a cool, mysterious name. But what’s next?
Next, is connecting the intrigue with the ideas. The Hackensack Main Street Business Alliance plans to roll out commercials and more detailed advertising next year to coincide with the opening of the new developments.
The Sack is the unofficial nickname at the moment. But the plans are for it to be as commonplace as SoHo, Tribeca, or Hell’s Kitchen.
Can The Sack work like those wildly successful nicknames? I don’t know yet. But what I do know is it’s better than the alternatives that the Main Street Alliance had in mind:
- NoCo (North of Courthouse)
- SoCo (South of Courthouse)
Those names are trite. They would have gained no traction among anyone. It’s essentially plagiarism of the more popular New York City names. If you plagiarise a wildly-famous brand like Supreme or Savage X Fenty, for example, you will get called out for it. Your brand is dead on arrival.
This leads me to the final point about The Sack: It has a historical context in my town. My dad grew up here and says that’s what everyone called it growing up.
So while the Alliance spent $10,000 from a City-approved budget (which was paid by Main Street property owners) on designing and marketing a new nickname, only to settle on one that’s been in Hackensack for years, it still worked out in the end.
This told me to stay true to myself. Trust what makes you, you. Don’t try to be something you’re not.
I’m happy to live in The Sack. You can smell the change in the air (and the incoming soy-latte stores.)
Moreover, I love seeing genius marketing on a scale like this. I manage my own website and I have an eBook on the way, so I’m only used to learning from other broke marketers like myself.
Seeing these expert strategies up close, and realizing you don’t need much money to drum up intrigue is something I’ll never forget. All you need is an unforgettable image or idea. It doesn’t matter if it rubs some people the wrong way.
As Anderson told me, people have been making Dick’s Sporting Goods innuendos for years, yet they’re a successful company.
So, if you ever find yourself in The Sack, drop me a line, and let’s get a soy-mocha latte. It’s on me.