Live Free Or Die: License Plates as Mini Travel Billboards

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By Mark Okrant, NH Travel Guru

In last week’s NH Travel Guru column, we looked at the I-Spy Ranger phenomenon. This week, let’s take a glance at one of those I-Spy activities: spotting state license plates.

This activity offers so much more than immediately meets the eye. For one, it promotes a level of curiosity about the geographic locations of the other forty-nine states. In a country whose residents have been labeled among the least geographically and culturally literate on earth, how can this be other than a good thing?

Let’s take a closer look at those license plates. In reality, they are mini travel billboards, containing short phrases that promote a state’s brand. Together with electronic and paper marketing tools, these send a message designed to lure the uninitiated to cross a state’s border, then spend time and money inside.

An examination of these license plates begins with the two classics, “I Love ? New York” and “Virginia is for Lovers?.” The success of each of these brands has been well documented. There are others worthy of mention: Arizona plates read “The Grand Canyon State.” New Mexico is the “Land of Enchantment;” and “Oklahoma is OK.”

Other plates inform travelers about a state’s significant place in the history of this nation, e.g., Delaware is the “First State” and Illinois is the “Land of Lincoln.”

However, there are many license plates displaying brands that mean absolutely nothing to anyone other than the residents of those states. Among these are: the District of Columbia’s “The American Experience” (don’t all fifty states provide this?). Others are Iowa’s “Life Changing,” Kansas’ “As Big as You Think,” and our very own “Live Free or Die.” One might argue that each of these represents a lost marketing opportunity.

Given the significant role that tourism plays in New Hampshire’s economy, one is tempted to ask, Why? Every native daughter or son or long term resident knows the origin of those words. Perhaps staunch defenders of the slogan’s use on our license plates would be less excited if they heard the entire toast Stark sent to those gathered at an anniversary reunion of the Battle of Bennington. Stark’s exact words were, “Live free or die; death is not the worst of evils.” Given the contemporary climate in our nation’s capital, one wonders whether the great general could see the future.

For the sake of tourism promotion, Stark’s message could have been, “Live free or die; but make that choice in New Hampshire.”

After forty years as an educator, researcher, and consultant, Mark Okrant joins to offer concise, informative insight into New Hampshire’s travel and tourism industry as a business, while showcasing the people and places you want to know. This guy’s really been around. And, he’s funny, too.

For more about Mark’s compelling tourism-based murder mystery series, visit

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NH Travel Guru Mark Okrant leads a double life as a murder mystery novelist.

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