By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Welcome to Ver, Colorado.
That's the economical, creative side of the Mile High City. While Den is all about Cherry Creek and fur coats and sleepy thinking and SUVs that never go anywhere near the mountains, Ver is the edgy end of Denver. The place where necessity is the mother of invention, not convention. The other side of the Treks.
Ver is the part of Denver that snickers whenever boosters suggest that this city needs a new nickname, a new slogan, a new brand that can be marketed to the rest of the world (and laughs outright when one of those boosters gets booted in a quasi strip-club scandal, proving that Denver will always be a cowtown). It's the part of Denver that may take advantage of cheap plane tickets but will never, ever use the proper name of the low-fare carrier that United Airlines officially introduced in Denver on Tuesday.
And that carrier, of course, is "Ted."
Ted may be tight with a buck, but he's generous when singing his own praises.
"Ted has a personality all its own," pronounced Sean Donohue, United's "vice president, low-cost operation" in introducing the low-fare fleet. "It's warm, friendly and casual. If this airplane could wink, it would."
But not while flying, please.
Over the past two weeks, references to Ted have popped up on buttons, on billboards, on convenience-store penny caches and in a farmer's field. For the past week, inane blue-and-orange advertisements have littered the dailies. T-E-D spelled out on children's blocks. TED in acrostic puzzles (other telling finds: ORD, DEN, FOG, DIN, SIN, FEE, AXE, DODO, YAWN and NAY). An ad that says simply, "One word: Ted."
Here's another word: Enough!
If Ted is supposed to be such a cost-conscious airline, one that will enable United to soar out of bankruptcy, then why all the ads? Why load down reporters attending Tuesday's press conference with cheap plastic goodie bags? Or show a montage of every famous Ted, from Roosevelt to Kennedy (no doubt representing the "spunky kid brother" that United touts) to Keanu Reeves (as in Excellent Adventure), but stopping short of a couple true Colorado Teds: Bundy (the late serial killer) and Kaczynski (the Unabomber currently incarcerated in Florence)? Yes, marketing costs can be murder, but United execs insist the campaign cost under $100,000. Still, they didn't have to spend a penny to convince us that Ted is a stupid name for an airline.
United wasn't always so cost-conscious. Thirteen years ago, back when Denver was just coming out of its big bust and counting on a new international airport to fuel the next boom, United put out the word that it was going to build a fabulous new maintenance center in the city that offered it the most fabulous deal. And Denver was right in there, fighting with 92 other places for the privilege of bending over big-time for the airline. But a few cranky lawmakers stood in the way, fighting the proposed handout with low-budget, spunky "Fuck U" buttons (a rare souvenir reproduced here on Kaczynski's mug shot). And ultimately, the Colorado Legislature refused to match the $320 million deal that Indianapolis offered to win the maintenance facility -- a facility that United walked away from earlier this year. According to a story in the New York Times last week, United invested only $229 million of the $500 million it had promised Indiana. Meanwhile, the city and state are paying $34 million a year to retire the bonds that financed the maintenance center's construction.
Denver gave United a consolation prize, however: the automated baggage system that the airline wanted at the new Denver airport. The automated baggage claim that never worked and was finally abandoned, just like the maintenance facility.
Welcome to Den.
Jason Salzman lives in Ver, although he doesn't know that. But he knows that he hates Ted, which "sounds like something Angela Baier came up with to promote Hickenlooper's son, Teddy," he says of Denver's new (and first) marketing director -- "and United took the bait."
A Denver native who celebrated his fortieth birthday this past year -- "in a graveyard," he says -- Salzman has watched this city's boom-and-busters come and go. For much of that time, he's had an unusual vantage point: His parents were urban pioneers who turned a LoDo warehouse into a home back in the '70s, back in the days before the term "loft" was applied to everything from new construction in the Platte Valley to a Park Meadows townhouse. Back in the days before there was a Park Meadows, for that matter, before lower downtown even had a nickname. That's so very, very Ver.
So is Salzman's aversion to the city's latest hunt for a brand. "I love Denver," he says. "I'm skeptical of this sloganeering, having grown up here. There's better ways to boost the economy than have people come here."
Business incubators, for example, and business-improvement districts. Ways to help the small businesses that are already here -- businesses unlike Salzman's own Cause Communications, not coincidentally, which is pushing its own "anti-Denver marketing campaign to counter the pro-Denver campaign that's just been launched." Among his suggestions: