SANTA FE New Mexico this year is celebrating 100 years of statehood, but many people still confuse the Land of Enchantment with its south-of-the-border neighbor. And some who do know the state think its nothing but a boring, desert wasteland they would visit only on the way to Arizona or Colorado.
Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson hopes to finally change some of those perceptions with a new $2 million statewide branding campaign that puts a heavy focus on the states unique culture and outdoor adventures. It also gives the state a new slogan, New Mexico True.
Development of the campaign, which tourism officials launched in April, has been Jacobsons almost sole focus since taking over the department last year. Jacobson is the daughter of a Taos Ski Valley hotel owner who returned to New Mexico a year ago after spending several years in marketing with Quaker Oats in Chicago.
The ads which feature people kayaking on the Rio Grande, hiking around archaeological sites in Chaco Canyon, running among petroglyphs at a national monument on the western edge of Albuquerque, hanging out in hot springs and eating and shopping in art enclaves such as Santa Fe and Taos have two key goals.
The first is to combat the No. 1 misconception that there is nothing to do in New Mexico, Jacobson said, noting the focus is on sight-doing, not sightseeing.
The second goal, Jacobson said, is to connect emotionally, to build a lifestyle brand ... a place (people) want to go back to year after year.
Focus groups held last year in Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston underscored how tough her job may be.
While the participants gushed about Colorado and its beautiful mountains, crisp air and snow, two people in Los Angeles wrote snooze when asked about New Mexico. Someone from Houston noted he drove through it on the way to Colorado. Others referred to it as boring, the lost state and a desert wasteland. And several people noted New Mexico, which is landlocked, has nice beaches.
Still, Jacobson and industry officials have high hopes for the comprehensive branding effort. It was developed by the Austin-based Vendor, which has worked with such brands as Southwest Airlines, Nike, Wal-Mart Stores, BMW and AT&T.
The campaign will be launched first on television and in print ads in neighboring Arizona, Colorado and Texas. Digital niche versions targeting golfers, skiers, bikers, runners and families will launch this summer and fall. And the goal is to take the campaign national this fall, Jacobson said.
Similar efforts have proved highly successful for Michigan, California and Oregon as well as the city of Philadelphia, according to industry officials and research from Longwoods International for the United States Travel Association.
One of the questions in New Mexico, however, is not just whether the states message will be a winner, but whether the tourism department has the resources to be heard over neighbors Colorado and Arizona, who have better-known attractions and larger marketing budgets. Colorado, for example, just launched a $9 million Come to Life marketing campaign.
The New Mexico campaign was developed and launched with the bulk of the departments total annual $2.5 million annual advertising budget. That compares to more than $12 million Michigan spent to launch its Pure Michigan branding campaign, featuring Michigan native Tim Allen, in 2009, according to a report from Longwoods International. That budget was doubled to $28 million for a national launch after research showed the regional campaign generated almost 2 million additional trips to the state with a 3-to-1 return on investment for every taxpayer dollar spent.
But even $2 million can have a huge impact, said Nan Marchand Beauvois, senior director of national council relations for USTA.
Its not how much you spend, she said. Its using what you have efficiently and being extremely targeted and consistent with your messaging.
Most important, she said, is that the state has developed a brand to create awareness of the state.
Such campaigns, she said, are truly, truly crucial. Its an investment, not an expenditure. Its growing the business of the state through tourism.
Jacobson said the department will be closely monitoring the campaigns impact in hopes of being able to take winning results to lawmakers for a budget boost next year.
The state has done television ads in the past, but the efforts werent tied to a comprehensive multi-media message that would create a brand that could resonate for the whole state. One of its more recent efforts, for instance, played off the city of Roswell by featuring aliens. That created buzz, Jacobson, said, but didnt sell the state as whole.
Sharon Schultz, president of the Tourism Association of New Mexico, says the new campaign brings New Mexicos advertising efforts to a new level.
I think it will resonate well, she said, noting a preview of the ads was well received by the industry.
Colorados tourism head Al White, who earlier this year joked New Mexico could save its money by adopting the theme just south of paradise, complemented Jacboson and said he was pleased to see the New Mexico effort.
New Mexico really has a great product. It has natural beauty and powerful culture, history and heritage, he said. It behooves us all to work together, especially as international tourism picks up. An international traveler is going to want to see the whole region.
If successful, however, the ads could mark the death knell for a long-standing feature in the tourism departments monthly New Mexico Magazine.
One of our 50 is Missing, is a column where readers share tales of friends and acquaintances who dont know New Mexico is part of the United States. The state would like to erase impressions like this one, offered by a reader quoting a friend: New Mexicos been a country for a lot longer than 100 years, and it was never a U.S. state.