Pure Michigan is Back: Rebooted ad campaign gets $15 million state-funded boost

After going dark a year ago for lack of funds, the popular Pure Michigan ad campaign got the green light to reboot, with a $15 million blessing from the state.

Initial campaigns included a business-focused effort launched in late November to support retailers, restaurants and others; then with a winter travel campaign aimed at outdoor and indoor pursuits; and finally a warm-weather drive that includes partnering with Traverse City Tourism and others on promotion.

Though the revival was made possible by state funding, its relaunch has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are the realities of our current situation, and then there’s the potential of the future,” said Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, the state’s tourism marketing agency. “So we’re making a lot of assumptions based on real-time information that’s available to us.”

As of early December, those assumptions included a potential ease in the pandemic by this coming summer – a season upon which Travel Michigan traditionally has spent most of its money, probably $8 million to $9 million this year, Lorenz said.

The warm-weather campaign usually centers around nationwide cable TV ads. But this year, with the state’s $36 million tourism-marketing budget reduced by more than half, the summer campaign will tap digital, broadcast and other media, focusing on Midwest regional markets and Canada. The campaign’s timing remains fluid; it could possibly launch by March.

Even with less money and reach, the warm-weather campaign will still give a boost to destination marketing organizations like Traverse City Tourism, which joins the state in advertising local areas. The cooperative ads are funded 50-50 by the state and local organizations, many of which are still grappling with reduced revenue from the impacts of COVID-19 on hotel room assessments that support their budgets.

Traverse City Tourism will spend $400,000 in the warm-weather campaign, matched by the state for a total $800,000 ad buy, said President and CEO Trevor Tkach.

It will be the same TV ad that had run in a prior national campaign, which featured a broad general promotion of the Traverse City area, Tkach said.

“The ad is still great, it’s timeless,” he said. “I think it will run really well. I think people will be itching to get on the move.”

Tkach said he thinks the state lost travel momentum with the Pure Michigan campaign’s year-long absence, but he’s hopeful “that the work we’re doing now can get us caught back up.” Pure Michigan remains “the strongest brand campaign out there” and “it’s fabulous” it again has funding, he said.

“There’s a great deal of importance for our state to have a positive marketing campaign all the time,” Tkach said. “It transcends travel and tourism.”

Like Lorenz, Tkach is watching for the best time to spend tight promotional dollars. He said TC Tourism’s revenue is down significantly year over year but the organization has been conservative with its money, “holding as tightly on to the dollars as we can, so we can make them pay off when the time is right.”

Locally and statewide, part of the Pure Michigan welcome is reassuring travelers of their ability to safely experience the state.  Lorenz has encouraged all in the travel industry to spread the word about COVID-19 safety measures by taking the Pure Michigan Pledge – a commitment by tourism businesses to maintain disinfecting and social distancing protocols. Those who take the online pledge can have their property listings tagged as such on the state’s website and also can also request a logo to use in their own promotion.

The pledge, elements of which also extend to Michiganders and travelers, weaves into campaigns including the first new Pure Michigan effort – an $865,000 campaign to support local businesses and encourage people to shop, eat and travel locally. Travel Michigan and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which Lorenz said is funding the campaign, launched the “Support Local” effort in partnership with Michigan business associations.

The in-state campaign began Nov. 30 and runs through March 31. It’s business promotion, job support and travel promotion all in one, Lorenz said, aimed at helping small businesses survive the adverse impacts of the pandemic and related operating restrictions.

“The campaign is designed to help businesses and communities make it through the cold winter months, to encourage people to travel safely and to support our retail, restaurants and attractions in a safe way,” he said.

A second promotion – the state’s winter travel campaign – was slated to launch in late December. It will use in-state and regional advertising to highlight outdoor activities, but also include indoor activities people can do safely, like visiting museums, Lorenz said.

He said that even as the pandemic continues, travel competition among states remains and is likely to grow.

“Competition will be fierce. Going into the warm weather months, because of this drastic need to get the economy going again, you’re going to see some pretty aggressive marketing for travel. We’re going to do our best to counter those,” Lorenz said.

Travel is an activity that “people are ready” for, he said, adding that Michigan has “the product that will provide the sense of comfort” and fill desires to “discover again.”

“People will be ready for a positive something, and travel will be one of the most important things that people will want to do to feel better about life,” he said. “We need to be prepared to offer that solution to them.”

Amy Lane is a freelance journalist and former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.