Colorado wanted a makeover. It felt square and out of style, and it worried that every time you looked at a map you might mistake it for Wyoming. So last week the Rocky Mountain state unveiled a new logo: a green, snow-capped mountain emblazoned with the state’s “CO” initials. The $800,000 piece of clip art will soon be plastered on Colorado-made products, state agency websites, and, inevitably, Nalgene bottles owned by dreadlocked ski instructors.
Colorado officials call the logo the most ambitious branding effort ever undertaken by a state. Its citizens call it stupid. In a poll on the Denver Post’s website, 74 percent of people say they hate the triangle and its accompanying slogan, “It’s Our Nature.” “[It] looks like a street sign,” a man named Brian complained on Facebook when the design debuted.
Why does a state even need a logo? Colorado already has its own flag and several state nicknames, after all. But outside of Colorado, apparently, no one knew what those things were. A brand recognition survey of Colorado’s state flag—which is mostly blue and white and has a big “C” in the middle of it—revealed that 33 percent of respondents thought it belonged to Chicago.
“We just didn’t have anything that shouted ‘Colorado,’” says Aaron Kennedy, the founder of Noodles & Co. restaurant who serves as Colorado’s chief marketing officer. “We wanted something that people could look at and think, ‘Wow, Colorado has some pretty cool stuff going on. Maybe I should check it out.’”
Colorado joins a long list of states and cities that have created ad campaigns in the hope of luring visitors. In 1969, Virginia launched its famous “Virginia Is for Lovers” slogan. And “I ♥ NY” is now so famous that people forget that when it launched in 1977, a serial killer was on the loose and more than 1,600 stores were looted during a blackout.
Not every campaign is as successful. In 2005, Alaska erected billboards that said, “Alaska: B4UDIE,” which sounds more like a 13-year-old girl’s threatening text message than an invitation to explore Alaska’s majestic wilderness. In 2011, Buffalo, N.Y., introduced “Buffalo. For Real.” (Which is misleading, as there aren’t any buffalo in New York; even if there were, they’d be called bison.) But no rebranding misfire beats poor old Detroit’s. The Motor City spent $1 million touting itself as “America’s Great Comeback City” in May. Two months later, it filed for bankruptcy.
For now, Colorado is sticking to its green triangle in hopes that it’ll grow more popular. Kennedy says the criticism is starting to abate and that in six months to three years people should be used to seeing the logo on things. “I like to imagine an NYU professor coming home and saying to his spouse, ‘I just got a great job offer at the University of Colorado at Boulder,’ and when the two of them imagine what it’s like to live here, they think of that logo and what it represents,” he says. Let’s just hope they don’t accidentally picture Chicago.