State springs for beefed-up tourism campaign: Early study shows “Restart your Engines” works

When the state kicks off its spring tourism ad campaign April 22, it will have a little more staying power thanks to a 38-percent surge in spending.

The increase, made possible by cutting back in other areas, means a total of $550,000 will be spent on TV, radio and magazine ads targeted not only at neighbors in Chicago and Cincinnati but also Hoosiers from Evansville to South Bend.

“We thought it was really important to put more money into that campaign, so we took a sharp knife to some other projects,” said Amy Vaughan, director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.

The reason is as simple as dollars and cents. A state-commissioned study found that every dollar spent on tourism advertising garners a $542 return via incremental tourism spending.

This year’s spring advertising blitz represents about 9 percent of the tourism office’s $6.2 million budget. And if legislators approve a proposed $750,000 funding increase in the pending budget bill, advertising efforts will get another boost.

“We’ve looked at what our neighboring states are doing and we’re trying to position our efforts to be more competitive,” Vaughan said.

Last year, the tourism office spent $680,000 on ads. The office gets the bulk of its funding-$4.4 million in 2006-from the state and the rest from selling ads in state-produced tourism publications. The money pays for a staff of nine people, printing costs for publications, and general promotions.

Still, the Indiana office would need the proposed boost and more to get the state in line with its competition. Indiana’s state tourism budget ranks 42nd in the nation and is dwarfed by efforts in the neighboring states of Illinois ($47 million), Kentucky ($15 million) and Michigan ($15 million).

The only nearby state in a similar position is Ohio, which has an annual budget of $7 million. And Indiana’s own research finds that Ohio has a “weak image” among travelers.

Even increased ad spending closer to $1.4 million would be “just a drop in the bucket” of what’s needed, said Richard Shoemaker, who teaches advertising and journalism at Ball State University.

“How much [advertising] money does it take to get at the table and play? Probably $5 million or $6 million,” he said. “But then again, I’ve never seen a campaign that had enough money to do what it wanted to do.”

Even on a meager budget, Indiana’s recent efforts get high marks. Industry observers praised the first year for the state’s “Restart Your Engines” marketing motto.

“I think we’re finally turning the corner and recognize the impact of tourism for the state,” said IUPUI Tourism Department Chairman Sotiris Avgoustis.

And observers said the state’s efforts to tie images and concepts into the slogan are working.

“It appears that all the elements are working together,” Shoemaker said. “It’s maybe the first time in a long time that it’s all come together.”

The academics’ impressions are mirrored in the results of a state-commissioned study by Carmel-based Strategic Marketing & Research Inc., which found that consumers remember the new slogan better than the state’s previous “Enjoy Indiana” slogan.

And the new catch phrase is slowly moving the perception of the state from merely sleepy to peaceful with possibilities for excitement.

According to the survey of 1,034 people, 79 percent correctly associated “Restart Your Engines” with Indiana and 57 percent could recall details of the Indiana ads.

The new slogan also works well as a way to tie together different attractions-from day spas to racing events.

“Local tourism organizations can put their head under that tent, too,” Shoemaker said.

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