"Unless your campaign has a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night," David Ogilvy wrote in his book, "Confessions of an Advertising Man."
What's true for businesses certainly applies to the state of Connecticut's two-year, $27 million tourism initiative. The first-year spending of $15 million includes the new, much-discussed brand campaign titled "Still Revolutionary."
The tagline is undoubtedly big and grand — to inspire tourists to explore the state's many revolutionary aspects, past and present. The concept has received two thumbs up from several creative heads of local advertising agencies as well as from several of the state's museum educators and historians.
The catch, they say, lies in how the idea is going to be conveyed to a large and diverse audience ranging from state residents to potential tourists from outside the state and prospective businesses considering relocating here.
The messaging of course builds upon the Nutmeg State's unique place in early American history.
"Connecticut in many ways was revolutionary as a colony. When most colonies depended upon a charter for their legitimacy, in its Fundamental Orders of 1639, Connecticut mentioned no allegiance to the crown. That itself was revolutionary for its time," said Walter Woodward, the state historian. "The royal charter of 1662 gave Connecticut virtual political independence well before the American Revolution."
Woodward points out that the tagline implies other revolutionary aspects — the machine tool industry that developed in Hartford in the 19th century, Samuel Colt's inventions, Mark Twain's writing, the birth of pioneering technologies in aviation. It's a long list of firsts.
"All of us at the Mark Twain House & Museum are pleased that the state has moved so quickly to develop and implement its new branding strategy," said Jeffrey L. Nichols, executive director. "I do see Connecticut as a revolutionary place, and certainly Mark Twain was a revolutionary writer and provocateur."
The museum is set to incorporate the state's new logo into its marketing material.
Maria Miranda, creative director at Miranda Creative in Norwich, said the forward momentum of the messaging is clearly seen in the two-minute video clip, now on TV and also available on You Tube.
"The images play out very well given the video's emphasis of Americana, going into the Olympics," she said, alluding to the end of the ad. A young girl proudly waves a flag fashioned from a beach towel, implying her aspiration to become an Olympic athlete.
Miranda said the tagline has a broad-based opportunity to use the phrase "revolutionary" in a modern context. She offered as an example the state's rich American Nouveau cuisine.
"The brand fits well with the message we at the Connecticut Historical Society consistently try to shout, which is that Connecticut people are resourceful, imaginative, purposeful, adaptable, responsive to change, and often ahead of the curve — so those are the characteristics that 'Still Revolutionary' brings to my mind," said Kate Steinway, the society's executive director.
But there are huge challenges in conveying this multi-dimensional message comprising history and also revolution in art, writing, industry, food, you name it.
Moreover, focus group studies of 150 people in Connecticut and also Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Austin prior to the campaign revealed that few people knew about all of this. The groups consisted of individuals from diverse backgrounds and age groups, earning an average household income of $70,000 — the category that is expected to spend their money here.
"The similarities were greater than the differences among the focus groups in Connecticut and outside. Participants basically knew nothing about Connecticut. Even residents didn't know much beyond their towns," said Kip Bergstrom, Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). "This is the consequence of the state not having marketed itself for more than two years."
"Cutting the budget to $1 was not a good idea at any time, since we want people to visit and spend their money in our state. Advertising works," said Narasimhan Srinivasan, associate professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut, alluding to the downsizing in the state's tourism budget by the previous administration.
A study conducted in 2011 by the University of Connecticut's Center for Economic Analysis found that the state generates $11.5 billion each year in the form of tourism revenue and $1.15 billion in state and local taxes. The travel and tourism industry creates more than 110,000 jobs, which accounts for 6.5 percent of the total employment.
Nationwide, states have on average increased their tourism budget by 10 percent, said Cathy Keefe, a spokeswoman from the U.S. Travel Association.
"We're seeing more people travel within the U.S. and people's travel intentions are the highest it has ever been in two years," she said.
The campaign will spread across media channels ranging from print, TV, billboards and social media to advertisements at railways stations in New York and Philadelphia.
Bergstrom said return on investments will be measured by Longwoods International, which estimates that the first-year spending of $15 million — which includes media buy of $6.96 million — will result in 4.83 million new visitors in one year, who will spend $585 million, which will lead to $41 million in new tax revenues.
In addition to focus groups, the Connecticut team solicited feedback from more than 1,500 residents. The DECD's "What's Your Connecticut Story?" project, which invites residents and visitors to share what they love most about living, working, and visiting Connecticut, also shaped the campaign.
The marketing initiative was led by New York-based Chowder Inc., an agency specializing in destination marketing. Other firms involved in the project are communications firm Fleishman-Hillard in New York; South Norwalk-based Media Storm; and Waterbury-based research and marketing firm, the Harrison Group.
Bergstrom said the key message is the theme "inspiration."
"That what the TV ad shows without telling. You're going to see a dramatic exposure of this message everywhere," he said.
Online forums on Facebook and You Tube are discussing the branding extensively.
Facebook alone has 101,178 "Likes" as on May 24.
But not everyone is a fan of the how the theme was shown. Images include Gillette Castle, the Mystic coastline, the Goodspeed Opera House and the Essex Steam Train.
Responses to the video on You Tube include: "Well put together a decent production value but a poor representation of CT and what it has to offer" and "It misses so much: the gorgeous Yale campus and culture in New Haven, other shots of cities (Hartford/Stamford)."
When asked why a particular set of images were chosen as opposed to others — including those that capture the vibrant energy — Christine Castonguay, director of branding for the Connecticut Office of Tourism, said these places are unique to the state and these were the images that received the best responses from focus groups.
"But the campaign will include additional imagery that will focus on other locations. We will be going to the northwest corner, for instance, for our fall media campaign," Castonguay said.
Going forward, challenges include creating a distinctive tourism brand for Connecticut, given other states are rich in history as well.
"The fact that other states have similar heritage is not necessarily a barrier. It's like two businesses offering the same type of products or services. You don't have to have a magic bullet that no one else can offer in order to succeed, but you do need to have a more engaging way of packaging the messaging and sustaining the position over a long period of time," said Grant Copeland, president and chief creative officer at Worx Branding & Advertising in Prospect.
Eric Cavoli, vice president and creative director at Cashman + Katz Integrated Communications in Glastonbury, said the tagline aspires to touch people's imagination and allow each person to interpret the word "revolutionary" in a way that appeals most to them.
"But the campaign must work hard to execute the concept that the idea of revolutionary is much more than history."
The writer is not related to Narasimhan Srinivasan, who is quoted in this story.