Update: On June 22, lawyers working for the Colorado Tourism Office sent a letter to the Atlantis regarding what the state considers a definite trademark violation. See it below.
Five years ago, Colorado’s tourism efforts finally came to life.
For a state that could seemingly sell itself on stunning scenery alone, Colorado has had a lot of stunningly stinky tourism campaigns. Over the past few decades, slogans have ranged from the wimpy “Guess I’d Rather Be in Colorado” to “Colorado: Above All,” with its bossy, Nazi “Über Alles” overtones; from the inexplicable, carnivalesque “In a Land Called Colorado” to “Let’s Talk Colorado,” already passé in 2008 when the state spent $200,000 to turn New York City’s Madison Square Park into Colorado for a day, with a fake lake made of a blue plastic tarp, a fake mountain and a fake Colorado dessert, “Colorado’s High Altitude Concrete,” created by Danny Meyer, whose connections to this state were exactly none. “Omigod,” reported my spy who dropped by for a visit to the pseudo Centennial State, “this is worse than the Broncos’ first trip to the Super Bowl.” And we all know how well that went.
Just weeks before, the Colorado Tourism Office had dropped more cash on the embarrassing “Dude Interlude,” a two-page fake-news promo in the New Yorker about an imaginary trip to the Cater2U Dude Ranch in Colorado. An excerpt:
A long lean man with big-sky blue eyes, a leathery face, and a square jaw was comfortable under his worn Stetson, and extended a hand. I was sure his name had to be Tex.
“Howdy, friend,” he drawled. “Ah’m Col.”
“Oh...hi, Cal,” I said.
“Col,” he repeated softly. “Like in Col-orado. Cal would be my brother. In Cal-ifornia.”
And all this was designed to prepare the world for the wonders of Colorado later that summer, when Denver hosted the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Dude! Not surprisingly, it took the state years to recover from the humiliation. But it did, and in a big way: In 2012, the Colorado Tourism Office ditched its Kansas City-based ad agency and challenged local player Karsh Hagan “to make Colorado a symbol for what it means to get off the couch, make an adventure into a lifestyle and believe that happiness is out there, just waiting to be discovered,” the agency recounts on its site. The solution: Celebrate Colorado with stunning photos shot everywhere from Telluride to Fort Collins, music that included an original score recorded by the Colorado Symphony, and the slogan “Come to Life.”
Part of Colorado's "Come to Life" campaign
“We wanted to be inspirational, reach people’s emotions,” remembers Al White, then the head of the Colorado Tourism Office. “It gave me goosebumps and raised the hair on the back of my neck.” It also raised money: In its first year, the $4.5 million campaign reportedly brought $898 million in spending to the state. And the campaign not only collected cash, but industry accolades and awards.
Which is why I came up off my sofa when I heard the “Come to Life” slogan on a late-night TV ad touting not Colorado, but Atlantis, a resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas that was started in 1968 by Resorts International, in which Donald Trump once owned a majority stake. Then I caught another late-night ad, and another: This was a major campaign and rated its own industry stories. “The world has changed since Atlantis first opened,” said Howard C. Karawan, president of Atlantis, in a release announcing the campaign that started last month (see it on cometolifeatlantis.com). “Businesses must now partner with their communities to achieve shared sustainable success.”
We're not in Colorado anymore.
And where they can’t partner, they can pilfer.
Alerted to the Atlantis campaign, Cathy Ritter, current head of the CTO, sent an e-mail to resort executives, sharing Colorado’s concerns:
“It’s come to our attention that your Atlantis team has found a compelling tagline — ‘Come to Life’ — for your new marketing campaign.
“I thought you would want to be aware that we at the Colorado Tourism Office have spent many tens of millions of dollars over the past five years to engrain our ‘Come to Life’ messaging in the minds, hearts and spirits of vacation travelers. Our strategy of targeting a national audience through TV, magazine and digital has been incredibly successful, with Travelzoo recently ranking Colorado as the fifth most desirable state travel destination for U.S. travelers. Our research provides solid support for our belief that our ‘Come to Life’ campaign has been a major factor in driving this success. It’s a spot-on expression of the very real feelings of aliveness that travelers report experiencing after spending time in our spectacular state. We’ve woven those insights into a campaign that year after year has been ranked as one of the most efficient and effective destination marketing campaigns in the U.S. If you’d like to take a look at the work that has driven this success, check our ‘Come to Life’ playlist of videos on YouTube. You’ll see they’ve been shared more than a million times.
“Our concerns are probably obvious, but we do see it as a conflict for Atlantis, a tourism brand, to continue using a tagline developed and successfully used by a top state travel destination. Our best hope is that your travelers accidentally book a trip to tube the Yampa River expecting some aquarium views and a piña colada waiting for them at the end. They’d still enjoy themselves, but it would be with mountain views and a local IPA.
“It’s very possible this was all due to an honest oversight, but the consequent blurring of our brands is undeniable. We are confident that in your pursuit of brand integrity, you’ll agree with us that it creates a conflict for Atlantis to use ‘Come to Life’ as your tagline. We understand these things happen, but we also believe it’s important to protect the distinctive position Colorado has been building as a premier travel destination.
“Our team looks forward to hearing your response.”
Colorado's Yampa River.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife
It took a while for that response to come — and in the meantime, the Atlantis branding group I’d contacted for an interview had apparently gotten as lost as the resort’s namesake. But on June 16, Ritter heard back from Atlantis’s attorney: “We have reviewed this both internally and with our counsel, and we are confident that Atlantis Paradise Island’s new ‘Come to Life’ campaign does not infringe upon the campaign by the Colorado Tourism Office, nor do we think it would create any likelihood of confusion for potential visitors to our respective designations. Our search of the USPTO trademark database did not return any registration of the ‘Come to Life’ tagline by the Colorado Tourism Office, and we see that it is not even registered in the State of Colorado. Additionally, our search of the USPTO’s database shows that this is, in fact, a fairly commonly used tagline among a varied group of classes.”
While the attorney is correct that the CTO had not taken steps to trademark the slogan — until very recently — a simple Google search would have brought a flood of stories on Colorado’s campaign, and only a couple of vague uses of ‘Come to Life’ for anything else remotely resembling tourism. “Even in the absence of a trademark, we have been assured that there are common-law protections for our brand given our consistent use and steady, significant and very public investment into it for the past five years,” Ritter says. “We will be responding to Atlantis in that vein.”
Atlantis had ended its own response to Ritter with the suggestion of a “possible collaboration between our two organizations.”
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Instead of coming to life in a courtroom, perhaps Colorado can just claim its own slice of Atlantis. After all, the only thing this magnificent state is really missing is an ocean.
But life can be a beach.