Branding was essential in the days when getting to Maui from any place outside the state meant landing on Oahu, walking to the interisland terminal and climbing aboard Aloha or Hawaiian or puddle-jumping interisland planes. On to OGG in Kahului, sometimes via Molokai.
Travelers had to first know there was a Maui, an "Outer Island," according to the folks on Oahu, and a "Neighbor Island," according to those of us here. The state-funded Hawaii Visitors Bureau had a one-man Maui office in the County Building. Eventually, the Maui Visitors Bureau, since renamed the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, came into play. County fathers had previously decided to court the "free and independent" vacationer. Call them big-buck customers who could afford the time and money needed to get here.
The MVB spent millions on ads in travel magazines, junkets for travel writers and trips to various locations on the Mainland to persuade travel bookers to send their clients this way.
One of the first independent promoters was Paul Fagan in Hana. He persuaded the minor-league San Francisco Seals baseball team to hold spring training at his Hotel Hana-Maui. Of course, the team brought at least one sports writer who extolled the virtues of East Maui. There is only so much that can be written about any baseball team training without the benefit of opposing teams.
A series of surf films in the 1960s promoted the arrival of a different kind of traveler - surfers and counterculture hippies. They didn't spend much and contrary to the films' contentions, they couldn't "live off the land" without stealing or relying on welfare.
By the 1970s, the name Maui was associated with an exotic vacation spot. A certain percentage of Mainland consumers thought of the island as the source of "Maui Wowee," a particularly potent kind of marijuana. Major credit for spreading the word was the nationally circulated magazine High Times.
Maui farmers benefited from the popularity of sweet onions, despite a similar onion grown in the South. "Kitchen Cooked" in Kahului achieved an enviable reputation for potato chips. Other snack distributors came out with pale imitations advertised as "Maui style chips."
Sears advertised Maui window blinds. The "Aloha" motel, complete with fake palm trees, opened in Palm Springs, Calif. There are a wide variety of restaurants and lounges in the western part of the Mainland trading on the islands' image. Today, there is even the "Hawaiian Casino."
Recently, an outrageous appropriation of Maui and Hawaiian names has appeared. Pinnacle Foods Group LLC in Cherry Hill, N.J., has a line of "Hawaiian brand snacks" and had the gall to get them placed on local supermarket shelves. "The irresistible taste you love from Hawaiian Sweet Maui onion chips are now available in a zesty ring snack," the East Coast outfit crows. "These light and crispy rings are cooked to golden perfection and seasoned with just the right amount of Sweet Maui Onion flavor to satisfy even the most discriminating palate. Open a bag of Hawaiian Sweet Onion rings and treat your taste buds to an exotic flavor adventure."
The rings are mostly air and are made with onion powder that may or may not have begun with anything grown on Maui.
The firm also produced "Kettle style" snacks named "Luau Barbeque Rings," and "Wasabi" chips. Each of the products has the word "Hawaiian" as part of its name. Some advertising copy writer cranked out: "You'll imagine yourself sailing on the blue waters of the Pacific, headed toward an island of tropical paradise." And, " . . . imagine yourself relaxing with the peace and tranquility of a private lagoon." The Maui onion chips combine "only the finest ingredients to create a unique chip that captures the freshness and authenticity of the island."
This East Coast firm is not only appropriating the islands' reputation to sell products but has had the temerity to actually trademark the world "Hawaiian." Each of the products has the name of a proud race followed by the trademark sign "TM," meaning other firms, and presumably even the first inhabitants of these islands, can't use the word without legal permission.
Promotion? Yes. Legitimate? Not hardly. Legal? Apparently. The islands - and Maui - can live very nicely without this sort of branding.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.