Tourism marketers seeking to lure visitors to Montana are trying a bit of reverse psychology with a new promotional motto that advertises “there’s nothing here.”
“The message of the ad really is that nothing is something. Having all of this unspoiled spectacular nature is something few other places have,” said Katy Peterson, marketing manager for the state’s tourism bureau Travel Montana.
At first, the state’s marketers worried that selling nothingness could backfire, but the pitch tested extremely well with panels representing its target tourists.
“We weren’t sure if people were going to interpret that headline the way we wanted them to. It’s definitely pretty bold,” Peterson said.
The ad campaign, costing about $800,000, was launched in February. In the ads, the motto “THERE’S NOTHING HERE” runs as the marquee text across wilderness photos of Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, locations that research indicates most people visit on their first trip to the state.
The campaign is running in Smithsonian Magazine, BackPacker, National Geographic and other publications to reach the state’s typical new visitor, who Peterson describes as a well-educated and passionate traveler looking for an experience that is not “manufactured.”
“They’re just as likely to go to New York as they are to Montana,” Peterson said. “They’re just looking for a place that’s really authentic and true.”
Along with promising pristine landscapes, the ads also exalt the down-home charm of the quintessential small town, where there’s a corner store, people are friendly and pies are still made from scratch. “Nothing but fresh huckleberry pie for breakfast – with a friendly conversation on the side” reads the text accompanying the Glacier ad.
Over the years, Montana has been variously tagged the “Land of the Shining Mountains,” “High, Wide and Handsome,” “Big Sky Country,” “Naturally Inviting” and “Unspoiled, Unforgettable.”
“The people definitely like our open spaces and our uncrowded areas,” said Norma Nickerson, director of the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research in Missoula.
About 10 million visitors seeking to explore the state’s mountains, forests and rivers spent more than $3 billion in Montana during 2007, according to the institute.
Still, the state has to distinguish itself from other Rocky Mountain states that are also popular travel destinations.
While Colorado flaunts its high-end amenities, and Wyoming “just owns Western” as a brand, Peterson said, Montana’s best pitch may be making the most of what it lacks.
“It’s not known for its nightlife or its malls or its superhighways or its skyscrapers. It’s really known for its untouched scenery,” Peterson said.
I’m not surprised the ad creative tested well. So many of us are constantly connected — by phone or otherwise — that it get increasingly difficult to get away and clear your mind. As for me, my escape is visiting the Northern Catskills of New York, only 160 miles away. Planning to be there over the Memorial Day weekend.