Remember the 2011 "Live it up!" fiasco?
The Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau hired a Castle Rock-based firm, Stone Mantel, to lead an effort to re-brand our sluggish little city. Seven months and $111,000 later, the sluggish result was unveiled: "Live it up!" accompanied by a trite mountain logo. The near-unanimous community reaction: thumbs-down.
The CVB endured a well-deserved barrage of criticism. Many critics were particularly offended by the contractor. Outsiders from Castle Rock? How could they possibly understand our city? Aren't there lots of local companies that could have done a better job for less money? Shouldn't we keep our money in town, and support our friends and neighbors?
Such boosterism has a long — and not particularly distinguished — history in Colorado. In 1906, the Denver-based Colorado Manufacturers' Association handed out nicely designed bronze tokens featuring the state seal on the face and "Keep Your Money in Colorado" on the reverse. Contemporary accounts make it clear that Denver manufacturers and merchants were reacting to a slowing, fiercely competitive economy. In such times, price trumps patriotism — unless you can persuade customers that their self-interest is best-served by paying your higher prices.
Eighty years later, state Sen. Ray Powers, R-Colorado Springs, sponsored an "Always Buy Colorado" resolution, which was cheerfully whooped through the Legislature. A logo was created for the campaign, hundreds of businesses signed up ... and not much happened.
In 2008, as Leslie Jorgensen reported in the Colorado Statesman, Rep. Dorothy Butcher, D-Pueblo, sponsored a bill requiring the state government to buy only U.S. flags made America. That bill passed, though opposed by local GOP meanies Kent Lambert, Douglas Bruce, Dave Schultheis and Bill Cadman.
But for unashamed protectionism, nothing beats the "Always Buy Colorado Cannabis" campaign. Created by the Cannabis Therapy Institute in 2009, it was designed to combat allegations that dispensaries were secretly dealing with illicit growers, and thereby enriching murderous Mexican cartels. Caregivers were asked to sign a buy-local pledge: "As a responsible caregiver, I pledge to never knowingly purchase medical cannabis from Mexican drug cartels or any other enterprise that is not legally allowed to supply medicinal cannabis in Colorado. I pledge to Always Buy Colorado Cannabis whenever possible."
That spirit lives on — and thanks to Amendment 64, it's embedded in the Colorado constitution. You can grow, buy, sell and transport cannabis — but you can't import it.
Which brings us back to the CVB. Far from being chastened by the Live it up! ordeal — which ended with local firm Fixer Creative Co. nicely overhauling the logo design — the bureau signed an $800,000 contract in 2012 with a Corpus Christi, Texas firm, USDM.net, to revive and refocus the CVB's Internet marketing. USDM describes itself modestly as "... the premier technology provider for the U.S. Travel Industry and the destinations it serves." The CVB essentially handed over its entire Internet marketing function to USDM.
USDM bought and placed advertising, and worked on site redesign, search-engine optimization and links to the city's website. "We didn't want traffic that came to the site and left right away," says CVB marketing director Amy Long, "and our SEO [search-engine optimization] needed a lot of work — we had dropped way down."
A year later, the results are in, and it's hard to fault the CVB's choice of vendors. Traffic to the site has increased by an astonishing 91 percent over 2011, supporting local tourism in a time of unanticipated disaster.
"We're sensitive to the buy-local component [of our mission]," says Long, "but we have an obligation to maximize ROI [return on investment] on our budget, and bring visitors to Colorado Springs."
Such are the efficiencies of a national marketplace, which marijuana consumers have yet to experience. But who knows, perhaps legalization will spread, and one day we'll be buying fine imported weed from Corpus Christi at $10 an ounce.