Back in the 1950s, Hot Springs, N.M., was renamed Truth or Consequences, N.M., after a popular quiz show. During the dot-com boom of 2000, Halfway, Ore., agreed to become Half.com for a year.
This week, Clark, Texas, morphed into DISH in exchange for a decade of free satellite television from the DISH Network for the town's 55 homes. Residents in Santa, Idaho, meanwhile, are weighing the pros and cons of changing to Secretsanta.com, Idaho.
Across the nation, small communities are being courted by large corporations who say renaming a town provides a marketing buzz that can't be bought in television ads. Though some worry about corporate America's increasing influence in local government, many towns seem eager to accept.
In a deal unanimously approved Tuesday by the two-member town council, Clark agreed to become DISH permanently, effective immediately. It's part of an advertising campaign for Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar Communications Corp., which operates the DISH Network satellite TV system.
The company pegged the deal at about $4,500 per home in the rural patch of ranch land, which is about a half hour's drive north of Dallas-Fort Worth.
Beyond the lure of free TV service for the 125 residents, the renaming is a way for the town to attract businesses and residents, said Mayor Bill Merritt, who courted EchoStar to pick the town.
"We really look at this as kind of a rebirth for our community," Merritt said. "We want everybody to come here."
The town was founded in June 2000 by L.E. Clark, who sharply criticized the renaming.
"I don't especially like it," said Clark, who lost to Merritt in May's mayoral election. "I worked my butt off a little over a year getting it incorporated."
It was 1950 when Hot Springs, N.M., voted 1,294-295 to change its name to Truth or Consequences. Host Ralph Edwards, who died Wednesday at age 92, had promised to broadcast the popular radio show from the town that agreed to the change.
In 2000, Halfway, Ore., become Half.com for a year in an agreement that put $100,000 in the town coffer and a new computer lab in the school.
Though the name is back to Halfway, the town still has signs that read "Welcome to Half.com, the World's First Dot-com City."
"It was a good experience," said Mayor Marvin Burgraff, who served as mayor after the decision had already been approved. "It was kind of fun. You look back on it and it's good thoughts."
In an age of pervasive advertising that many people try to ignore, such stunts are a good way to grab the public's attention, said Mark Hughes, chief executive of Buzzmarketing and the former Half.com executive who devised the Oregon deal.
"Word of mouth is the most powerful form of communication and marketing out there," Hughes said in a telephone interview from Santa, Idaho, where he's leading the effort to rename that town Secretsanta.com, after a gift-exchange Web site.
"No one's going to talk about the 3,000th Web site that launched this week," Hughes said. "What this does is give people a reason to talk."
Still, some offers of corporate interest have backfired.
In 2003, residents of Biggs, Calif., overwhelmingly rejected a California Milk Processor Board proposal to rename the city of 1,800 Got Milk? in exchange for a milk museum and money for the school.
"People's take on it was, 'This is just an advertising ploy by the milk board.' There was a certain segment of population that wanted to tar and feather the mayor for even suggesting it," city clerk Marlee Mattos said.
Gary Ruskin, of the nonprofit Commercial Alert, said towns should provide services such as trash collection and education, not "hawk television at its residents," he said.
"The names of our civic places reflect our values and our aspirations," Ruskin said. "It's wrong to sever the link between civic names and civic virtue."
But Merritt, mayor of the town now called DISH, said work had already begun to change the town's dozen street signs. He doesn't see the new name ever going out of favor.
"I can't see right now that people would want to change it," he said. "Clark will always be a part of our history, but this is our new identity."
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