I just need to comment on this recent ad that appeared in Backpacker Magazine recently.

You might be familiar with the publication if you are an individual that likes the rugged outdoors.  I am. I like to backpack, hike, canoe, whitewater raft, and climb…and do not get enough opportunity to do so.  Backpacker reaches this market.NE DOT Tanking Ad

Backpacker’s mission states, “We inspire and enable people to enjoy the outdoors by providing the most trusted and engaging information about backcountry adventure in North America.”

This publication reaches the adventure enthusiast; really those people who enjoy getting out into the rugged outdoors.

Nebraska certainly is not considered a destination for this type of rugged individual.  I do know a bit about destination tourism having worked with this industry in may marketing past.  We may be able to get someone traveling through the state to stop and spend a day or two.  It takes time and tons of marketing dollars to make any location a destination. I also live in Nebraska and certainly promote the natural assets the state has, and they are many, just different from the Rockies or out east like along the Appalachian Trail.

The imagery painted in the minds of non-Nebraskans of the state who are adventure tourists might be: flat, corn, cattle, treeless, perhaps even desert like (a long ago description misrepresenting the state) filled with people who follow the “Cornhuskers” sports teams.  Anyone that has driven through the state on Interstate 80 certainly will have a perception the state is flat.  I-80 runs along the Platte River Valley; which of course is flat, but rises in elevation 10 feet for every mile traveling east to west; up to 5,000 foot above sea-level.   The terrain is very diverse with rolling sandhills to the north, the Nebraska National Forest near the center of the state, hills and trails out west near Chadron and Fort Robinson State Park. Nebraska certainly does not come to mind when you think of rivers, hiking, backpacking, or climbing.

Trouble is the state is very diverse and it is hard to overcome the imagery that has long been around.  Marketing does have a role in attempting to change this perception.  Today that not only includes traditional forms of advertising but social media as well.

In the traditional advertising stable of publications there are a number that can reach this adventure market.  I consider Backpacker one of the best.

Now picture the ad (image with this post) included in the May 2010 issue?

Does this dispel any perceptions that Nebraska is anything but a state that is filled with “hayseeds.” How does floating down a river “in a cattle tank” provide imagery of excitement and adventure to the reader of Backpacker?

Well, it doesn’t.  I wrote to the Director of the Nebraska Dept. of Tourism regarding my concern of this ad sending the wrong message and continues misperceptions of the state.  I suggested that a shot of canoeing down the Niobrara, or hiking in the Nebraska National Forest or out west would certainly provide a better image.

Here is his reply to me:

I have received your email and appreciate your feedback.  Unfortunately, Nebraska’s tourism budget is extremely limited which requires us to use a finite number of visual ads in our new campaign.  I’d rather we spend more money on marketing/advertising than on production, as I’m sure you can understand.  The selection of this picture, one of our few outdoor recreation pictures incorporated into out [sic] new campaign so far, brings not only an outdoor, family-fun-oriented feel to it, but also highlights one of the unique activities that Nebraska can latch onto.  In this world of marketing to the over-marketed, you HAVE to be able to stand out to be noticed and I feel that this picture justifies that direction.  I have the pleasure of working with other tourism directors across the U.S. and with the exception of one state that has taking [sic] available, all of the others are in fact intrigued about it.  Arkansas’s director, a self proclaimed canoeing adventurer, heard about it at a meeting we attended and is planning to come up this summer with his family and try it out, along with canoeing down the Niobrara and other hiking/water-related activities.
I’m excited to continue our movement into highlighting more of what Nebraska has to offer for an outdoor recreation state and am continually looking at ways to increase awareness.  We have a long way to go but I feel that we’ve made some great steps in the right direction with our marketing efforts.  I think you’ll be happy to see more of them in the coming years.
Thanks again for your email, and have a fantastic weekend!
Christian Hornbaker
Director, Division of Travel and Tourism
Nebraska Department of Economic Development

The ad might just succeed “to stand out,”  but any agency worth its reputation will create ads that should arouse interest, create desire, and motivate action. That should be a given.  Another responsibility of the media buying arm of a marketing agency is to create the best match between the ad message and the market of the publication. This is where I feel is the biggest failure on the part of the agency and the state tourism department.  Neither the agency nor the director has a clue who (i.e., persona, demographics and lifestyle) reads this publication which is evident from the placement of an ad that continues to provide the imagery that Nebraska is filled with “hicks.” Perhaps the state will see 48 tourism directors “rush” to Nebraska to try this “exciting activity”, but Nebraska taxpayers could have benefits by having the State Department of Travel and Tourism send a letter and follow-up with phone calls.  That would have been a much better use of our money and his time.

What do you think?

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