Tuesday, May 28, 2013

U.S. States Sell Their Qualities

While watching the news this morning, I saw an intriguing commercial that make me actually stop my usual routine. I knew it was a tourism ad, based on the imagery and commentary, but I had no idea what destination was being marketed until the final moments when "Missouri" was revealed. I know what you're thinking...Missouri? Really? That was my reaction at first, but then I realized, the state had accomplished exactly what it had hoped from the campaign: Surprise.

The summer travel season officially kicked off over Memorial Day weekend, and states across the country have amped up their marketing efforts to lure tourists to their borders. I have grown accustomed to seeing ads from a few states with big advertising budgets, such as Michigan (Pure Michigan, your journey begins at Michigan.org), Florida (Must Be the Sunshine), California (Find Yourself Here), and Colorado (Come to Life). I have also seen a number of billboards and outdoor signage for Montana (Step Out of Bounds), Wyoming (Forever West) and Arizona (Grand Canyon State). And now, other regions are stepping up their game to nab a portion of the lucrative tourism market, both nationally and internationally.

Missouri is targeting people in bordering states, encouraging them to discover the unexpected treasures that can be found there. The new campaign carries the tagline "Enjoy the Show," and includes television spots, print ads, billboards, a revamped online effort and social media strategy. It highlights a wide range of things to see and do in the state, such as the Bonne Tere Mine, an abandoned mine filled with water where an old village is preserved. Ads also include the Chaumette Vineyards, St. Louis Zoo, and Lake of the Ozarks State Park. What about that famous Arch? No where to be seen in this campaign. Why? Because that's an attraction everyone associates with the state. Sure, it's a popular site and thousands of tourists visit it every year, but had that been shown in the commercial I saw this morning, I would have known right away it was St. Louis, and my interest would have been lost. This strategy introduced me to all the places I didn't know existed, and stirred my curiosity.

Other states have launched new campaigns in recent weeks, including New Jersey, which emphasized the reopening of the Jersey Shore for the summer, seven months after it was crushed by Superstorm Sandy. The theme "Stronger Than the Storm" highlights New Jersey as a vacation destination, and features governor Chris Christie and his wife claiming that the horrors of the storm are behind the state, and that the shoreline is open for business. New Jersey set a record for tourism in 2012, generating close to $40 billion in demand. However, the state still faces challenges in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, and the new campaign is an attempt to convince visitors that it is just as good--if not better--than it was before the storm. The tactic is similar in some regards to what Florida and other Gulf Coast states had to do after the BP oil spill. Mass damage control efforts were employed in order to show that the areas were not hurt by the spill, and that they were still some of the most beautiful places in the country. Not only that, but they had to persuade people to trust the regional cuisine, insisting that it was safe to eat and still delicious. The impact of the spill is still being felt, but tourism has certainly returned to many major cities. While the Gulf Coast had to deal with a corporate disaster that hurt an ecosystem, the tourism campaigns held the same types of messages that New Jersey's does, highlighting the fact that a disaster cannot deter the state from being a prime tourist destination.

Many states keep their marketing at a national level, but with the introduction of Brand USA, a corporation for travel promotion to America, many regions are sending their messages to international countries to encourage those tourists to visit. Discover New England is a marketing group comprised of six New England states and its main objective is to appeal to overseas markets. The group claims that its relatively short flight time (seven hours to Boston from England) and its wide variety of options makes it an ideal location for international travelers. The group has reached out to international tour operators to help promote its destinations abroad, while also maintaining a U.K.-based website and a German-language version. The U.K. has been the biggest market for international travelers to New England, but the region has also seen an increase in Chinese tourists, who tend to spend a lot of time and money in the area. The end goal is to appeal to different cultures and personalities, and Discover New England believes it has all the elements to achieve that. The payoff is a possible boost in international visitors, which not only helps New England, but the U.S. economy, as well.

Tourism plays a major role in our economy. It generates revenue, creates jobs for millions of people, and helps to drive growth. Every state hopes to get a piece of the travel market, which is why they each employ their own techniques to attract visitors from all over the world. Sure, there are some states that will continue to see a large bulk of the action, but if any of the lesser known or visited states receive even a slight increase in visitation numbers, their efforts will have paid off. Because, if nothing else, the campaigns will boost awareness and expose more people to the wonders that diversify our country.
Brand USA campaign. Credit: Eclipse Creative

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