Utah Wanted All the Tourists. Then It Got Them.

Utah had a problem. Shown a photo of Delicate Arch, people guessed it was in Arizona. Asked to describe states in two adjectives, they called Colorado green and mountainous but Utah brown and Mormon. It was 2012. Up in the governor’s Office of Tourism, hands were wrung. Anyone who had poked around canyon country’s mind-melting spires and gurgling green springs knew it was the most spectacular place on the continent—maybe the world—so why did other states get the good rep?

The office hired a Salt Lake City ad firm called Struck. The creatives came up with a rebrand labeled the Mighty Five, a multimedia campaign to extol the state’s national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches. By 2013, a 20-story mashup of red-rock icons towered as a billboard over Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. A San Francisco subway station morphed into a molten ocher slot. Delicate Arch bopped around London on the sides of taxicabs. The pinnacle was a 30-second commercial that was—let’s face it—a masterpiece.

An attractive, young, and somewhat cool family of four—Dad sports shaggy hair to the chin, stubble, and wraparound sunglasses—takes a road trip for the ages. They splash through the trippy slo-mo waterdrops of a slot canyon seep, spin beneath psychedelic pillars the voice-over calls “giant orange drip castles,” behold a rapturous explosion of Milky Way stars framed by rock walls, punch their J-rig through a gargantuan wave in Cataract Canyon. Then finally—and this is the shot I’m sort of embarrassed to admit still fills my eyes with tears—the little girl, who’s about ten years old, scrambles along a slickrock bench with a headlamp in the dark until she catches a heart-stopping sunrise glimpse of… well, you’ll just have to watch it yourself.

“I was like, Holy crap,” says Lance Syrett, chairman of the state’s Board of Tourism Development, remembering his first viewing. “You get that feeling—like hair standing on end—this is lightning in a bottle!”

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