South Bend Apologizes for Lifting Salt Lake’s Tourism Campaign Almost Wholesale

'There's Nothing to Do' work is practically a carbon copy

There are imitations, and then there are copies. Unfortunately, Visit South Bend's new tourism and convention advertising is the latter—a pretty blatant knockoff of a well-received 2015 campaign by Visit Salt Lake, from the overall theme down to the very typography.

Salt Lake's campaign was themed "There's nothing to do in Salt Lake." South Bend's is themed "There's nothing to do in South Bend." The idea was basically identical—to address a negative perception head on. And the campaign videos, as you can see below, are remarkably similar in style.

Understandably, Visit Salt Lake and its agency, Love Communications, were pretty peeved when they saw the work out of Indiana. Love sent out a press release Wednesday with the headline, "If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, South Bend CVB's carbon copy of Visit Salt Lake's campaign is flat-out adulation."

Love creative director Chip Haskell also contacted Adweek on Wednesday about the South Bend campaign, and shared a long, sarcastic letter he had sent to South Bend's agency, Explore Media.

"All I can say is 'Wow.' As in, 'Wow!' " Haskell wrote. "The color palette, the fonts, the headlines, the copy, the photos—they're all so cool and really work together! Now I hate to use the word 'brilliant' unless I'm writing copy for a dentist who's selling some sort of whitening gel for people's teeth, so I won't use that word. Instead, I'll use the word 'unbelievable'—as in, it's really unbelievable how fresh and awesome your campaign is." 

Later in the letter, Haskell added: "What's important here is that Love and Explore Media have finally found one another and we didn't even have to use eHarmony or Tinder or that seedy section of Craigslist. Nope, we found each other naturally. And as far as I can tell, we're like marketing, video-producing soulmates of some sort.

"Instead of wasting our efforts thinking up ideas independent of one another, we could maybe just use one another's ideas. … Of course, some people might have a real problem with this—even going so far as call it unethical or plagiaristic (if that's even a word)—but I choose to think of it as just being more efficient." 

Adweek contacted Explore Media, which said it was merely a production company and had executed the client's creative idea exactly as asked. So, Adweek reached Visit South Bend's executive director, Rob DeCleene, who owned up to having been influenced by the Salt Lake work. He even said he had set out basically to copy it.

"I saw the video on Facebook last August and was blown away at just how fantastic it was," DeCleene said. "We face a very similar perception issue in South Bend, and we just thought, 'What a brilliant, proactive way that Salt Lake took it on. Should we do something similar?' And so we did pursue something similar." 

DeCleene said the difference is that "There's nothing to do in South Bend" isn't meant to be a full-blown campaign, but rather just a "one-off" promotion. 

"We did quote-unquote debut it last week. But we have no intention of doing anything with it, if you will," DeCleene said. "It's literally a one-off, isolated promotion. If anything, it's truly meant to give props to Salt Lake, because for a city that size, 1,500 miles away from us, we just thought, 'Wow, that's killer.' "

DeCleene did acknowledge, though, that copying another tourism board's work is a funny way to give props. And he apologized for the whole controversy.

"It was not in any way intended to create this stir," he said. "I'm very, very sorry that they're taking offense to it, because I would give them all the props in the world. I would certainly like to clear up anything negative. We've removed [the video] from anywhere we were displaying it prominently."

As of Thursday morning, theresnothingtodoinsouthbend.com was still live, and was still hosting the video. UPDATE: The video has now been removed from YouTube, and that URL now points to VisitSouthBend.com.