The Impact Up North: Pure Michigan’s Post-Summer Report Card

REGION – It's a safe bet that if you watch TV or listen to the radio, you've heard the honey-smooth voice of actor-comedian Tim Allen extolling the virtues of our state in the Pure Michigan ad campaign.

Since 2006, Pure Michigan ads have described the wonders of Michigan and the state's marketing arm, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, has steadily brought all of its activities under the popular brand, voted one of the 10 best destination brands ever by Forbes magazine.

In 2008 the campaign gained national, even international, attention when Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm approved $45 million in added funding for the campaign. That enabled the ads to broadcast nationally beginning in March 2009.

But the popular campaign almost expired this year before lawmakers approved legislation funding it. As one of his first pieces of legislation, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation providing $25 million to support Pure Michigan advertising, marketing and communications efforts.

But has Pure Michigan been effective in luring visitors to northern Michigan? Tourism data for the summer of 2011 are not yet compiled, according to Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's premature to look at exact numbers for this summer, but the numbers are definitely up," says Van Dommelen. "We're getting reports that hotels are up slightly in occupancy and up significantly in revenue, mostly due to increased demand."

Van Dommelen estimated that summer revenues will be up 11 to 15 percent over the 2010 figures, which were 12 percent more than the summer of 2009.

That success can be attributed to several factors, including increased efforts by the TCCVB and Pure Michigan, according to Van Dommelen. "Many of our visitors are coming from out of state," he says. "We've increased our marketing in Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Columbus and other areas. That, plus Pure Michigan, has been very effective."

The research firm Longwoods International said Pure Michigan has spurred 680,000 new trips to Michigan from outside the Great Lakes region and 1.3 million regional visits in 2009, the latest year for which data is available.

According to Crain's Detroit Business, the Longwoods report said visitors from outside the Great Lakes region spent $250 million in Michigan in summer of 2009 as a direct result of Michigan advertising.

Those visitors paid some $17.5 million in state taxes, creating a $2.23 return on each dollar invested in the ads. Visitors from within the Great Lakes region spent $338 million, upping the Pure Michigan regional return on investment from $2.86 in 2004 to $5.34 in 2009.

Van Dommelen has tale after tale of how Pure Michigan has lured visitors to the region, especially the ad that highlighted Traverse City. It aired in June and July of this year and featured scenic views of downtown Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and more.

"We heard from local hotels about visitors standing in the lobby when the Traverse City Pure Michigan ad came on TV," he says. "One guest pointed to the TV and said 'That's exactly why we're here.'"

Another tourist from the West Coast was vacationing in Chicago when he saw the Traverse City ad and decided to make the drive north from Chicago to visit Northern Michigan.

Early last month, the fall ad campaign for Pure Michigan hit the airwaves. The TV and radio ads, with a budget of $2.4 million, will air regionally and statewide through early October.

In Michigan, the autumnal Pure Michigan ads will run in Traverse City, Detroit, Flint, Lansing and Grand Rapids.

"The state had to cut back the fall ads last year," says Van Dommelen. "It's great to have them run again. We need to be more than just a summer destination. We have to get out the consistent message that Michigan is a four-season destination."

The fall ad campaign features the cities of Holland and St. Ignace. These destinations will be featured in radio ads airing in-state as well as in Fort Wayne, Ind., Toledo, Ohio, and South Bend, Ind. Other regional markets targeted by the fall campaign include Chicago, Ill.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; and Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis.

"Whether folks are planning one last warm-weather getaway or looking ahead to next year, we want to make sure Pure Michigan is at the top of their list," says George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. "As we continue working to grow our travel and tourism industry in the state, this fall campaign will also help highlight Michigan as a four-season destination for travelers." BN