Manufacturing the authentic
January 27, 2013
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Do we still have “the willingness to feel all?” How can we live life to the fullest? And how long will we wait before we get started? Don’t we know, after all, that “waiting is the opposite of living?”
Such probing questions may sound a bit philosophical for a marketing campaign, but they’re precisely those posed by the “Come to Life” campaign, a recent effort by the Colorado Tourism Office to attract new visitors to the state.
Forge Motion Pictures, a Carbondale-based film production house founded by Glenwood Springs native Anson Fogel, produced the campaign’s TV ads, which targeted potential tourists in Dallas, Chicago and Phoenix.
The ads feature a male voice-over accompanied by swelling orchestral strings, set to vivid images of athletic models frolicking in Colorado landscapes. And if recent research is any guide, those elements made for a winning combination.
A study released in early January by the Strategic Marketing and Research Group found that the ads, which ran in April, May and August to spur summer and fall tourism, generated about $898 million in private sector tourist spending in the state. That’s a return of approximately $200 for every dollar spent on advertising, according to former state Sen. Al White, the executive director of the Colorado Tourism Office.
Another series of ads, filmed late in the winter of 2011-12 and aimed at winter tourists, is currently on the air in Dallas, Chicago and Minneapolis. Whether those ads will match the success of their summer counterparts remains to be seen.
Yet so far, the “Come to Life” campaign appears to have yielded stellar results, in spite of a summer in which raging wildfires blanketed much of the state in a smoky haze.
According to the filmmakers responsible, there’s a simple secret to the campaign’s success: authenticity.
Forge Motion Pictures, which recently merged with the Salt Lake City-based adventure film group Camp 4 Collective, is known in the outdoor movie industry for its vivid and dramatic films showing kayakers, climbers, skiers and other extreme athletes in their element.
Stunning natural settings are often central characters in Forge films.
Fogel, a self-taught filmmaker and a gung-ho outdoorsman himself, said his work is inspired by movies such as “Baraka” and “Koyaanisqatsi” by the American filmmaker Ron Fricke. Those works are propelled less by plot than driving music, tight editing, and rich, striking imagery.
The “Come to Life” ads have a similar feel: the mountains, meadows and waterfalls are the main characters, while the humans in each shot are merely visitors.
Fogel said his firm won the “Come to Life” contract because executives at the Denver-based advertising firm Karsh Hagan, which managed the campaign, had seen his work.
His Colorado heritage couldn’t have hurt, either, since the tourism office was determined to hire 100 percent Colorado natives to produce the campaign.
Fogel and his co-workers furthered that goal by tapping friends and family from Colorado to act in the videos, and the music was produced by composer Charles Denler and performed by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
“It’s a cool story because it was Colorado talent all the way around,” said Fogel. “They had a script and a rough concept, but we were able to bring a lot to the table in terms of authenticity.”
Tim Kemple, an owner of Camp 4 Productions who directed the videos, said the approach was based less on a script than on putting Coloradoans in their native landscape and “letting it happen.”
“We also needed to be really efficient and fast,” he said, “so we wanted to work with people who were used to being in the backcountry.”
Indeed, after the Forge team learned they had gotten the job, they had less than a week before shooting began.
“We had to pull together permits, and do casting, then we ran all over the state for three weeks,” said Beda Calhoun, a Forge producer based in Salida. “The parameters of shooting with a big crew are tough, since you have to be near a road, but it also has to look remote and wild at the same time.”
To address that challenge, the team started shooting in the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado, which Fogel calls a “target rich environment” due to the abundance of dramatic landscapes accessible near the road. From there, they went to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and then to the mountains around Colorado Springs, and finally to Fort Collins to document that city’s beer culture.
“We shot that campaign in seven days,” said Fogel. “We were working 18 hours a day, driving between shots.”
“Waiting is the opposite of living.” It’s the central tagline of the “Come to Life” campaign – short, memorable and clearly designed to make prospective tourists hit the “buy” button in droves. Yet it’s also a line intended to evoke an emotional response, rather than simply convey information about Colorado.
“We went a different direction than most travel and tourism advertising does, in that we tried to inspire the traveler,” said White. “The campaign is predicated on the concept that if you come to Colorado, you can maximize your life’s potential.
“The truth is that in most of the Rocky Mountain states, you can do all the same stuff, but we wanted to convince people that Colorado was the place to do it,” White said.
Matt Ingwalson, a creative director for Karsh Hagan who oversaw the “Come to Life” campaign, said from the beginning his goal was to help Colorado become more than merely “a list of stuff to see and do.”
“We wanted the state to stand for something, that personal exhortation to get up off your couch and live life to the fullest,” he said. “When you see that, you think, ‘Oh my God, this is something I’ve got to get out and do.'”
When he was first envisioning the campaign’s target audience, White said he had a very specific customer in mind.
“My image is someone in a high rise looking out on a crappy Chicago day, and he sees our ad and says, ‘Wow, I’ve got to get out there,'” said White.
Many of the ads are perfectly attuned to such a viewer.
One shows a sun-drenched family smiling in a high mountain meadow, and includes the voice over, “Our skin was meant to feel the sun, our legs were meant to travel, our eyes were meant to see great things…”
Yet in spite of their emotional power, such messages are also riskier to convey than the conventional marketing campaign that offers a laundry list of attractions.
“A lot of this rides on the client,” said Fogel. “Are they willing to take a risk? Historically, the state has been quite conservative, but they were willing to do that in this case.”
The $898 million in tourist spending is roughly double the economic return of the state’s last concerted tourism campaign, which was titled “In a Land Called Colorado.”
The money provides a needed infusion to hotels, restaurants, ski areas, and other industries that cater to tourists, but it also translates into roughly $72 million in sales tax revenue for towns, cities, and the state as a whole, according to the recent impact study.
“When we get more people into the state, it really floats everybody’s boat,” said White. “But once I have them interested in coming here, it’s up to individual businesses to attract tourists to their part of the state.”
Although ski areas like Aspen/Snowmass and Vail do some national and international marketing, many destinations don’t have the budget for that sort of promotion, White said, and that’s a niche that his office can fill.
With the “Come to Life” winter ads on the air across the country now, White said there are no concrete plans for another ad campaign. Instead, his office will keep using the content produced by Forge and its partners during the last year, including images and photos that haven’t been used in the campaign so far.
“Even though it’s a year old now, by marketing standards that’s fairly young,” he said. “Seeing it for three months doesn’t make people tired of it.”
When the time does come to freshen the state’s image once again, White said, Forge Motion Pictures would be a strong contender for the job.
“I told them that I wanted the hair on the back of my neck to stand up when I saw these films, and it did,” White said.