Forget the smog, the traffic, the urban sprawl and the bankruptcy that made national headlines. To many residents, Orange County is as close to perfection as it gets. And soon, tourists will be getting the message as well.
"Orange County: The Perfect California."
That lofty declaration is the much anticipated slogan cooked up by local tourism officials hoping to entice visitors, according to sources familiar with the campaign.
Six months in the making, the tag line is the brainchild of the Orange County Tourism Council, a mostly volunteer group of tourism heavyweights who have joined forces to market the region.
The new slogan and an accompanying palm tree logo will form the linchpin of an upcoming promotional campaign, whose details are scheduled to be revealed at a news conference next week.
"I think it's catchy," said Lynne Sorensen, a destination marketing expert and a professor of tourism at La Canada College in Redwood City. "It brings to mind all the glamour and attractions and the activities that have come to personify California. What you are saying is that it's all here [in Orange County]."
The first-ever county tourism slogan has been a closely guarded secret among council officials and local advertising executives who donated their services to the effort. It has also created quite a stir among some civic-minded county residents.
News of the council's efforts prompted would-be Madison Avenue types to flood the council with calls and postcards suggesting pithy phrases such as "Orange County: Sea Us to Believe Us" and "Orange County: Where the Fun Never Sets."
"The interest has been phenomenal," said Jack Lindquist, a tourism council member and former president of Disneyland in an interview last month. "We had a lot of good suggestions . . . but I think we came up with a real winner."
That remains to be seen. Few tourism slogans other than the venerable "I (Heart/Love) New York" campaign have ever shown much staying power.
And while sources familiar with the Orange County slogan say the adjective "perfect" was chosen to summarize the county's enviable combination of balmy weather, pristine beaches, world-class tourist attractions and other amenities, some marketing experts say it could come off as a smug affront to the rest of the state. That's significant considering that 80% of the state's tourists are California residents.
"It's like saying we're better than you are," said Robert Butterworth, a Los Angeles-based psychologist who has studied the emotional impact of advertising on consumers. "It could be interpreted as competitiveness and one-upmanship rather than civic pride. It may anger some people."
Getting any reaction at all could be the toughest challenge for the tourism council. It typically takes big bucks to drill a tag line into consumers' brains, and the council is running on a shoestring compared to its well-heeled competitors.
Las Vegas, for example, will spend nearly $50 million this year on tourism advertising and promotion. That kind of money has spawned several star-studded ad campaigns such as "The American Way to Play" and "Open 24 Hours."
In contrast, the Orange County Tourism Council is starting from scratch, and hopes to raise a modest $1 million by asking local tourism businesses to fund the "perfect" campaign.
The timing isn't exactly ideal. Local tourism businesses are also being asked to help fund a statewide marketing program to attract visitors to California.
"You can have the best slogan in the world, but if nobody knows about it, it won't do much good," said Wes Spiker, owner of a Montana-based advertising agency specializing in destination marketing. "Bottom line, you've got to have the media budget to have any impact."
Others say creativity will prove more important than money.
"It's all in the execution," Sorensen said. "It sounds like they're off to a good start."