‘WTF’ sticker shock in Fruita
Despite popularity, city leaders cool to idea for tourism promotion
Steve and Denise Hight thought they had hit on something quirky — and little more — when they stamped a simple double-entendre in black letters on a white background.
They quietly circulated 500 stickers, reading “WTF” in big, bold letters and “Welcome to Fruita” in smaller type, to downtown Fruita businesses and left a stack at the Fruita Civic Center. City employees who saw the stickers fly off the table phoned the Hights and inquired about translating their idea into a possible marketing campaign.
And that marked the jumping-off point for a three-letter abbreviation generating far more buzz for the Hights than the 128-page book detailing the history of Fruita that the couple published last year.
Within a day or two, customers snapped up nearly all of the stickers and slapped them on car and truck bumpers. Downtown businesses have been hounded for more. The Hights have placed an order for an additional 1,500 stickers for windows and mountain bikes and passed the logo along to a local T-shirt shop for merchandise.
But while WTF may cause many in Fruita and elsewhere in the Grand Valley to LOL, it doesn’t appear the hot commodity will become the Fruita City Council’s BFF anytime soon.
A majority of council members, bombarded with hundreds of emails, phone calls and in-person contacts from overwhelmingly dismayed residents, say they will not agree to use WTF or the separately developed phrase “hell yeah” in any future city-funded promotional materials. Most said while the ideas behind the off-color letters and words are creative, they’re too crude to incorporate into a broad advertising pitch.
“We just don’t need the vulgar language,” City Councilman Terry Moss said. “We just don’t need to go that route. That’s how I think (motorcycle rally host city) Sturgis would be portrayed. We don’t need to be Sturgis.”
It’s not the first time Fruita has been promoted in an irreverent way. Some years ago, Over the Edge Sports began hawking FU stickers (accompanied by “Fruita•Colorado•USA” in smaller letters). The city has included socks reading “F-town” in goodie bags during the annual Mike the Headless Chicken 5K race.
Love it or hate it
The banter about WTF illustrates the fact that the people whom city and business leaders are trying to draw to Fruita (largely a younger set) and the people who are already there (largely a traditional, conservative population) aren’t necessarily one and the same.
“Who we market to for tourism might not be who is in our community,” City Manager Clint Kinney said. “That’s the tough balance to strike, between finding out who our target market is and being mindful of the sensitivities of the community.”
In the end, community sentiment tipped the scales.
Kinney said city officials knew residents likely would either love or hate WTF, so they sought public feedback before making any formal decisions. Within two weeks of the city posting two possible versions of a WTF ad on its website, Human Resources Director Odette Phelps had received roughly 150 emails. The “clear majority” opposed using the abbreviation, Kinney said. The phrase “hell yeah,” featured in an ad produced by Grand Junction advertising agency Cobb & Associates, barely registered a blip on the radar of those who shared their input with Phelps.
Polled last week, most City Council members said they heard loud and clear from their constituents that they don’t want any part of either slogan in a marketing campaign.
Henry said some people he talked to didn’t know the meaning of WTF — “what the (expletive)?”
“When I’ve explained it to them, or had my grandson explain it, they’ve come unglued,” he said.
The day an article appeared in The Daily Sentinel about the Hights’ brainchild, Moss estimated he was approached by 50 people who wanted to share their two cents. At least 80 percent were opposed.
“The comments I’ve gotten is that it would make a good bumper sticker, but we don’t need it all over the place,” he said.
Councilwoman Stacey Mascarenas said she heard similar thoughts.
“A lot of people think it’s clever, catchy, edgy, but no one is agreeable to using it in a mass campaign,” she said.
On the other hand, the feedback two council members say they’ve received, coupled with how quickly the WTF stickers have disappeared from business’ countertops, indicates there are segments of the community that have embraced WTF.
Councilman Mel Mulder said five people in Grand Junction have asked him for the stickers. Councilman Bruce Bonar said the comments he’s received “overwhelmingly” favor the acronym. People, he said, think it will attract the sort of visitors Fruita desires.
“This would be incredibly popular, even if it’s not what some people want,” Bonar said. “This would get your attention. What’s the point of advertising?”
Passing it on
For his part, Steve Hight seems genuinely surprised at the chatter surrounding his and Denise’s idea. He said he used WTF as military speak — Whiskey Tango Foxtrot — while in the U.S. Army 25 years ago, long before anyone typed it in exasperation in an email or text message.
He said he’s fine with the city declining to use WTF in a marketing pitch, noting city officials reached out to him, not the other way around.
“This wasn’t meant to be an advertising campaign. It was meant to be a fun thing. It was just supposed to be a bit of fun, an extra toss-into-the-bag sort of thing for customers,” he said.
He and his wife have ordered 1,000 bike stickers and 500 window stickers and, like the initial round of 500, will distribute them to local businesses. He said he’d be happy to pass along the logo to businesses interested in printing more stickers themselves.
But giving away the 1,500 WTF stickers will end the Hights’ involvement with WTF. They have no plans to spend any more of their own money. And they have no designs of making any money off their idea.
“I don’t have any intention of doing that,” Steve Hight said. “I would rather it benefit Fruita than benefit me.”