Colorado's tourism boosters go back to the drawing board...again

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We remember when rebranding would get you hanged or shot. Or both," wrote Lew Cady, the just deceased (and very much missed) adman who did so much to help shape the image of this state.

How soon we forget.

Once again, Colorado has gone back to the drawing board to try to come up with a new symbol, a new slogan for "Colorful Colorado," a state that hasn't needed an official motto since the "Pikes Peak or Bust" days, when golden dreams were enough to draw thousands of visionaries to this uncharted territory. The current rebranding effort is being headed by Aaron Kennedy, the very smart man who's been leading the state's marketing efforts for a buck a year after making a mint on Noodles & Company. But has this latest campaign gone pasta point of no return?



See also: Ten Colorado counties would like to ditch the rest of the state

Let's hope not, because the insipid icons revealed last month as finalists to symbolize this state are enough to get you hanged. Or shot. Or both.

Here's the goal of makingcolorado.com, as announced by Kennedy & Company:

Making Colorado is the most inclusive, collaborative and ambitious branding effort ever undertaken by a state. Rather than hiring an individual branding agency to define Colorado, we're tapping into the energy and expertise of individuals across the state with an innovative discovery process, collaborative positioning phase and inclusive identity creation, to build a brand for Colorado, by Colorado. Making Colorado will capture the spirit and energy that exists in Colorado today to stimulate our economy, streamline statewide programs and showcase Colorado to the rest of the world.

Or throw Colorado into another state of confusion for generations to come, depending on what Governor John Hickenlooper announces at the end of this month. Because what truly makes Colorado great is the ability to recognize what works — and discard what doesn't.

Ironically, the Kennedy project comes after decades of embarrassing Colorado tourism campaigns — but at a time when, finally, the state had hired a local ad agency, Karsh & Hagan, to create the impressive "Come to Life" ad series, which pairs that tag line with stunning scenery and the iconic C from the Colorado flag. The images don't just tug at local heartstrings; they've pulled from out-of-state wallets, too, and the campaign has produced record tourism numbers.

So, of course, it's time to screw things up again.

The Tourism Collection at the Colorado State Archives is filled with artifacts, photographs and other items that document Colorado's tourism campaigns — some good, some gruesome — through the past 150 years. According to state archivist Erin McDanal, the official boosterism started when the territorial Board of Immigration was set up in 1872 — long before "immigration" was a dirty word, a time when Colorado actually wanted newcomers — and morphed into the Colorado State Board of Immigration in 1909. During the mid-'30s Dust Bowl, though, when no one was immigrating to Colorado, the board was replaced by the State Planning Commission, then the State Advertising and Publicity Committee in 1941, which in turn became the Colorado Tourism Board.

I was part of the flood of immigrants to Colorado in the late '70s, drawn by no more than the mountain views, the sunshine, and the promise of endless opportunities. If John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" was playing in the background, I'll never admit it — any more than the pioneers who came here a century before would confess to being inspired by the "purple mountain majesties" of Katharine Lee Bates. But although the state had a natural appeal, boosters kept trying to supplant that draw with campaigns as blatantly fake as the stage name of John Denver, born John Deutschendorf.

The most infamous, "Colorado Above All," with its echoes of the Nazis' "Uber Alles," provoked snickers across the country in the late '70s.

After that came the dull, generic "Colorado and No Place Else," which wouldn't have worked on a greeting card.

Which was followed by the wimpy "Guess I'd Rather Be in Colorado," which sounded fine on the radio when Judy Collins was singing it, but looked wishy-washy on a billboard.

The absolute low point, though, might well have been "Let's Talk Colorado," the Joan Rivers-sounding campaign that filled the state's tourism websites less than a decade ago. But then "Come to Life" brought Colorado tourism, and what today is the Colorado Tourism Office, back to life.

Now comes the rebranding effort to fix what's far from broken. Over the next three weeks, Colorado's creative crew will be tearing up the flag icon (which works well enough on the makingcolorado.com website) and deciding between three dull icons and two slogans — "Rise" and "Ever Upwards" — that would work better as Cialis ads than as advertisements for this state.

In the Old West, rebranding like this would get you shot. Or hanged. Or both. And you'd deserve it.

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