Four new Illinois tourism ads will debut March 22 and run on television, in movie theaters and online throughout the Midwest.
When it came to advertising the charms of our state, Cory Jobe, the director of the Illinois Office of Tourism, had two challenges.
Appeal to a new audience. And find a new message.
The result was "Up for Amazing," a campaign launched last spring with only modest resources behind it. After deciding it was on the right track, the tourism office is amplifying the message for "Up for Amazing," including a lively new $800,000 ad campaign that debuts Wednesday.
"We felt we needed a tone and voice to support the message," Jobe said.
The new "Up for Amazing" spring and summer ads will air in 13 Midwestern markets and overseas through July. Fall and winter ads debut in September. The state is spending $15 million to market the campaign globally.
If that sounds like a lot of money for a state without a budget, well, Jobe doesn’t disagree.
"We made sure to be as efficient as possible in the creation of this campaign, shooting multiple seasons at one time," he said. "We also worked with an Illinois-based production team — both to infuse a homegrown creative vision into the production and to keep revenues in the state. In total, the cost to create this campaign was $800,000. Considering visitors to Chicago and Illinois bring tens of billions of dollars in expenditures to the state’s economy, the marketing of state tourism is an important investment for us."
The campaign includes one 60-second spot that showcases all of Illinois’ charms (Chicago! Starved Rock! Galena! The Cubs!), plus three 30-second spots: one focusing on Chicago, one that spends more time highlighting the rest of the state and one geared toward LGBT travelers. It also includes print advertising, billboards and a revamped website at www.enjoyillinois.com.
Spun against a peppy soundtrack supplied by local rock band The Gold Web ("They’re a cool group of guys; they opened for Kiss," Jobe said), the ads move from the classic tourism approach of family fun and relaxation to exploration and inspiration.
We chatted with Jobe about "Up for Amazing" and how he is trying to make the heart of flyover country an appealing destination. The conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
Q. "Up for Amazing" — what does that mean, and what are you trying to say about Illinois with those three words?
A. We ask, "Are you up for amazing?" because we are challenging our visitors. We are asking people to immerse themselves in our local cultures and to return with compelling stories that they can share in person or on their social media channels. We’re inviting them to take this challenge with us.
Q. How is that different from previous efforts, and how is it different from other Midwestern states?
A. The market has changed, and this campaign is really speaking to our target — millennials and the Gen X market. We are trying to set ourselves apart from the other states within the Midwest market. We’re trying to showcase various things that are different than spending a weekend at a beach. That’s the key here. Past campaigns had us on an even keel with our competitors — I should add that it’s a friendly competition — but "Pure Michigan" inspires a relaxing and low-key vacation. Our ads challenge visitors to explore new cultures and places around the state.
Q. Another line that struck me was in the international spot — "The America you expect is somewhere unexpected." Explain that. Implicit is that Illinois has some challenges when it comes to attracting foreign tourism.
A. We did that to convey the idea that we’re not just a flyover; people land at O’Hare and then move on to the next stop. But a lot of the things people want to experience are right here, from an icon like Route 66 to the history of Abraham Lincoln to a world-class city like Chicago. The international visitor typically chooses New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles — we’re often the third or fourth choice. But we’ve seen an increase in terms of international travelers coming here to explore Chicago and to take road trips. The German and the U.K. market is really fascinated with Route 66, which starts in Chicago and ends on the West Coast, and in Illinois, we have the most complete collection of attractions and roadside stops.
Q. One of the four advertisements is geared directly to gay and lesbian travelers. Why is that?
A. This is the first time the state has had an ad campaign marketed to the LGBT community. We’re hearing a lot about how the LGBT community is looking for new destinations. There are not many states in the Midwest advertising to the LGBT market. The LGBT traveler knows about Chicago but may not know a lot about Chicago. We’re showing them iconic things they can do like Millennium Park, Navy Pier and the lakefront, but also that they can experience unique neighborhoods like Boystown and Andersonville. We’ll also be doing a lot of international print advertising to the LGBT community.
Q. It’s interesting that you’ll launch a winter tourism campaign. It seems unlikely that people tend to think of Illinois and Chicago outside of spring, summer and fall.
A. Absolutely, there’s an opportunity to talk about all the great things to do in the winter months. Eagle watching is huge in the state in winter. We have great snow skiing and snowboarding up at Chestnut Mountain in the Galena and Jo Daviess County area. All those waterfalls that are great in the spring and summer turn to great ice climbing in winter in Starved Rock country. And in Chicago, it’s the best time to experience restaurants and theater during Theater Week and Restaurant Week. There’s a lot of great opportunity to tell our story outside the summer and fall months, when everyone thinks that they have to rush to Illinois.
Q. We’re not blessed with many natural wonders in Illinois. Is it difficult to get people thinking about visiting Illinois outside of Chicago?
A. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people about experiences they can have outside Chicago. Recreation. Hiking. History. I think we make Abraham Lincoln look very cool in the ads. And obviously history is very important with millennials and Gen Xers. Our research says 78 percent of millennials today prefer to learn something new while traveling. We have a lot of that with our ad campaign. People think they need to go out of the state for the outdoors and nature, but we have all that right here. We’re just trying to disrupt the message a bit and tell our story in a different way.
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