Surf City USA 

The city’s visitors bureau have guaranteed its exclusive Surf City USA trademark, ending a legal battle with a Santa Cruz shop owner who sued them over the brand use. Huntington Beach City reached a settlement with Santa Cruz, after a dispute reignited in 2004.

The Surf City USA brand began as a concept proposed at a brand discovery workshop of the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau on July 20, 2004. At the time, workshop participants felt that the City’s official nickname, “Surf City” – representing the idealized Southern California beach town celebrated in a Jan & Dean song by the same title – represented a potential brand position that could be used to promote the city.

The Surf City name was not unique, however. It belonged to other municipalities in America. Nothing distinguished it from the popular song title of the 1960s. As such, the “USA” phrase was placed at the end of the title to give it more cache and international stature. The intent was to create a brand position that could be clearly associated with a lifestyle and state-of-mind rather than a song or place on the map.

Six potential brand positions including the Surf City USA phrase were subsequently tested in an online focus group, visitor intercept study, local industry survey and on-line survey of 40,000 travelers in the western U.S. The research revealed immense potential for the Surf City USA name. A subsequent trademark and online search determined the phrase was not trademarked nor being used to promote any other city, product or service.

On November 17, 2004, four applications to register the Surf City USA trademark were filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Only nine days later, the news was reported in the Orange County Register, picked up by the Associated Press and spread across the U.S. No one in their wildest dreams had imagined the newly minted trademark would interest so many people.

News of the trademark registrations was greeted by a laugh from the Mayor of Surf City, N.C. The Borough of Surf City, N.J. didn’t respond at all. But in the northern California beach community of Santa Cruz, officials appeared to be fighting mad. The Mayor told reporters, “I think they’re [Huntington Beach] a bunch of wimps.” He suggested a surf-off to settle who should own the trademark.

Media interest skyrocketed. Why the controversy? Bureau officials were surprised to read that “Surf City” was considered a nickname for Santa Cruz, too. Furthermore, Santa Cruz officials had fought an attempt by Huntington Beach during the 1990s to pass a resolution in the state legislature naming it “Surf City.” The ancient conflict had triggered a knee-jerk defensive reaction. There was really nothing to fight about but no one in the press seemed to care.

A tsunami of news coverage followed over the next 10 months to report about the new brand name and which town was the real “Surf City.” More than 200 articles appeared in major publications across the world, in additional to international news broadcasts on radio and TV. The publicity had an equivalent advertising value worth millions of dollars as both cities were thrust onto the world stage for comparison and commentary.

Looking back in history, one of life’s many ironies may be thatofficials from a small college town in northern California unwittingly helped to make the official brand of Huntington Beach a huge success from almost the day it was launched. The irreverent and defiant response from Santa Cruz officials helped to give the Surf City USA brand public awareness and equity that normally would have taken years to cultivate.

Even as heightened public attention placed heavy demand on Bureau staff to respond to inquiries, its Board of Directors stayed focused. In January of 2005, an internet-based survey of Huntington Beach citizens discovered overwhelming local approval for marketing the community with the Surf City USA brand. With a margin of error of +/- 6.6 percent, 92 percent of residents thought the name fit from “fairly well” to “perfectly.” Bolstered by the findings, the Bureau summarized the key research findings to date and commissioned five local graphic artists to design 44 different potential brand logo designs.

In May of 2004, four final logo treatments were selected and published on the internet for a public vote. Within three weeks, 1,110 visitors and 505 residents had logged online to register their thoughts in the debate.

In a Board meeting covered by reporters from the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and the community’s two weekly newspapers, the Bureau’s Board of Directors voted to support the election results. The surfboard shaped logo with the Huntington Beach Pier in the upper left hand corner was adopted on July 12, 2005. Few brands or brand logos have been created with an equivalent foundation of research and public input. Following 18 months of review and questioning by the U.S.

Patent & Trademark Office, three of the first Surf City USA trademark registrations were granted on May 11, 2006. The news again generated worldwide media coverage worth millions of dollars.

More than 100 articles appeared in significant publications worldwide, as well as national news coverage on most of the major cable TV stations including CNN and MSNBC.

As a nonprofit entity where “profits” are not distributed to shareholders, the long-term vision of the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau is to create a 501(c)3 philanthropic subsidiary – the Surf City USA Foundation – to perpetuate the Surf City USA spirit in Huntington Beach. A portion of revenues derived from the brand could be used to construct the world’s ultimate surfing museum, as well as other projects.

Source: Surf City USA