State tourism officials, local agencies unveil ‘nimble’ $7.6 million ad campaign, influenced by Johnny Cash, millennials and mobile phones

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 155 views 

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism unveiled a preview of the proposed $7.6 million spring and summer advertising and marketing campaign that makes greater use of mobile, social media and other web-influenced digital products to get adventure-seeking millennials and other travelers to visit the Natural State.

And unlike campaigns of the past, when finished TV spots and glossy marketing materials were readily available for state Parks and Tourism commissioners to review, this year’s proposal from Little Rock advertising firms CJRW and Aristotle offered a “customizable” campaign that will allow state officials to quickly develop and create new TV spots, digital media and marketing collateral as needed.

Before CJRW and Aristotle unveiled the 90-minute presentation, state Parks and Tourism Chief Kane Webb told APTD commissioners and attendees at the 72nd Annual Arkansas Hospitality Association (AHA) Convention in downtown Little Rock that Arkansas has more to offer to tourist and nature thrill-seekers than ever before.

“Arkansas is a great place. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and now we have international attractions like Crystal Bridges, the Clinton Library and Johnny Cash’s boyhood home,” Webb told more than 300 attendees at the presentation. “We plan to take advantage of them all.”

Still, the new marketing outreach proposal looks to expand the growing list and diversity of attractions that the state has to offer to new audiences. In a nod to the growing area of mobile and digital media, Webb and CJRW Chairman and CEO Darin Gray said much of this year’s budget will be aimed at reaching those millennial audiences through untraditional means.

For example, some of the potential campaign options presented to the tourism commission featured digital campaigns aimed at Gen X, Y and Z travelers interested in biking trails, hiking and river rafting. Other more traditional campaigns will rely on TV spots, online marketing and trade magazines to entice Baby Boomers to visit the childhood home of country music star Johnny Cash, play golf in Arkansas or take their families to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville.

“Our creative plans have been designed with flexibility and efficiency in mind,” Gray said. “For that reason, the work you will see …is the framework of our campaign. In other words, what it might look like when it is done.”

Webb, who took over as APTD executive director nearly a year ago, told the roomful of Arkansas hospitality and tourism industry workers at the AHA convention that the state is in a great position to take advantage of recent momentum that has brought a record 28 million visitors to the state in 2015.

“I know this. There is a market for great content, and Arkansas is great content. You can smoke-and-mirror your way out of a poor product and we don’t have too – ‘thank God we live in Arkansas,’” Webb said. “I know that ‘unique’ is an overly used word these days. But unique is the only way to describe this small, wonderful state.”

In order to give APTD commissioners and AHA convention-goers a feel for potential new ads, TV spots and digital campaigns, CJRW and Aristotle staff provided a colorful, video, graphic and music-filled 90-minute presentation that displayed an impressive and comprehensive toolbox of advertising and marketing products that will be at their disposal in time for the 2017 vacation season. The presentation offered a snapshot of potential new mobile, digital and online marketing campaigns targeted for a wide range of audiences, age-groups, mediums and markets under the new promotional tagline, “Own The Cool.”

After the presentation was completed, Parks and Tourism Commission Chairman Jim Dailey and other commissioners praised Webb and the Little Rock advertising firms concerning the new advertising reach. Two commissioners advised the ad agencies and APTD staff to make sure the marketing outreach touches in-state and international visitors too.

“This is an excellent, excellent campaign. When I first came on the Commission, it was all about hunting,” said Commissioner Cindy Smith of McGehee, who was appointed to the tourism panel by Gov. Mike Beebe in 2009.

The state Parks and Tourism Commission is expected to vote on the marketing proposal at a later meeting of the AHA convention, which ends Thursday. If approved, Webb, Gray and CJRW Creative Director Wade McCune said they were ready to immediately develop the first TV spot and other advertising and marketing collateral.

Once the campaign gets underway, McCune said CJRW will first complete one or two commercials that “speak to everyone.”

“Then we will start diving into these more niche audiences, microbreweries, motorcycling, mountain biking and things like that,” he said. “More and more, our resources are going to rely less on the big, broad stuff and more on the narrow (campaigns).”

Gray said historically, a traditional yearly ad campaign does advance work 14 to 16 months before any actual TV spots, print ads, and other marketing is unveiled. He added the advertising reach of mobile phones and other digital products is changing the way he and other marketing executives operate such campaigns.

“It is not just print or online with the web, it is social media like Snapchat that changes so quickly that we can’t tell you 14 months out what things will look like,” Gray said.

Gray and McCune said the challenge of offering APTD a nimble and flexible campaign strategy is staying on top of changing trends and adapting media strategy to reach those audiences that travel or plan to visit Arkansas in the future.

“The benefit to the taxpayer is that we are going to use their money wisely because we are going to be able to see what’s going on and say, ‘this Johnny Cash thing is blowing up,’ so let’s double down on that,’ but this other thing over here is maybe not successful,” McCune said. “It does present a challenge because we have to be more flexible, but it is going to be better for the industry to react that way.”

Webb said the main difference between this year’s campaign proposal and others is that the commission was unable to review potential new ads today. “This changes so quickly that I think we have to be able to do it this way,” he said.

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