The state tourism department’s new tag line, “Honest to Goodness Indiana,” is so folksy that some wonder whether there’s a disconnect between what it says about the state and how the city of Indianapolis is trying to distinguish itself as cosmopolitan.
“What we are is not awe shucks, golly gee whiz,” said George Evans, founder and creative director of Brandwidth LLC, an Indianapolis-based advertising and marketing agency. “We’re progressive, a destination. What does ‘Honest to Goodness’ have to do with any of that?”
After a lengthy process, three finalists emerged to replace “Re-Start Your Engines” as the state’s tourism brand platform: “Seasoned Just Right,” “Savor the Unexpected” and “Honest to Goodness Indiana.”
“The other two felt more like campaigns than sustainable brands,” said Mark Newman, Indiana Office of Tourism Development executive director, adding that the other finalists could still be used in some segments of the campaign.
Bruce Bryant, whose Indianapolis firm, Promotus Advertising, worked on the state’s campaign from 1989 to 1994, said the tag line “falls flat.”
“‘Honest to Goodness’ doesn’t mean anything that has to do with travel, tourism, being a destination or people’s expectations,” Bryant said. “It works if you’re talking about the police department.”
Worse than disconnected, some local tourism officials think the campaign is potentially damaging to Indianapolis’ efforts to market itself as a destination with a vibrant downtown, new airport, expanded convention center, and state-of-the-art stadium and fieldhouse.
“We bend over backwards to host a Super Bowl to make sure people don’t see us as a bunch of yokels and then [IOTD] comes out with a campaign that plays into the stereotype that we’re all a bunch of hayseeds,” said Evans, who’s done branding work for the likes of Heinz, Nestle, Bayer, Tums, Harley Davidson and Pennsylvania’s tourism department. “I would understand the city of Indianapolis wanting to distance itself from this.”
It might not be just Indianapolis that wants to distance itself from the state’s campaign. In November, the Hamilton County Convention & Visitors Bureau ditched its folksy logo that looks like a postal mark in favor of a logo that looks like a map pin commonly found on the Internet.
“We’re going from a mark that signifies charming, quaint and old-fashioned to one that conveys energetic, contemporary and fun,” said HCCVB Deputy Director Karen Radcliff, noting that the county’s new campaign is designed to appeal to “millennials who are set to surpass [baby] boomers in travel spending by 2017.”
Highly politically charged
Bryant said the tourism department should focus on central Indiana to draw people in and then “up-sell them to the rest of Indiana.”
“You have to be honest—central Indiana is the biggest selling point to the state,” he said. “That doesn’t sit well with the other pockets of the state, but that’s the reality.”
The state’s tourism business is highly politically charged, with regions fighting to get their destinations highlighted in the state campaign. Many tourism officials around the state complained that the last brand platform was too Indianapolis-centric.
While IOTD’s Newman acknowledged there were concerns about “Re-Start Your Engines,” he said the “Honest to Goodness” platform’s primary mission is not to answer those concerns. Instead, he said, it’s an attempt to “represent all areas of the state.”
At the core is the notion of Hoosier hospitality, Newman said, “but it’s so much more than that. It’s an attempt to elevate all the good things this state represents.”
In March, IOTD will roll out its campaign in St. Louis and Indianapolis and will kick it into high gear from May through September. It’s difficult not to notice that all the ads set to hit the market are of small towns and picturesque countryside landscapes. Those ads highlight attractions in towns like Borden, French Lick and Roanoke and counties like Brown, Parke and Porter.
Indy left out?
But Newman promised “the campaign will be expanded.” He said he plans to run ads that feature the Indianapolis Zoo, Mass Ave, Fountain Square, the Central Canal and Cultural Trail.
“There’s no attempt here to keep Indiana in the 1950s,” Newman said. “We want to show people you can be hospitable but also be on a path to growth and prosperity. Whether attractions are in urban centers, small towns or the countryside, those can all be great honest-to-goodness Indiana stories.”
The state’s relatively small budget might temper any harm the “Honest to Goodness” campaign could cause the efforts of Visit Indy, the city’s tourism marketing arm, to sell Indianapolis as a major-league city.
The city’s tourism marketing budget dwarfs the state’s. Visit Indy has a budget this year of $13.5 million, while IOTD’s budget has been slashed in recent years to just more than $2 million. Indiana ranks 47th in tourism spending among U.S. states, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
The marketing budget for the start of the “Honest to Goodness Indiana” campaign is being spread across two years, with $500,000 being spent this year and $500,000 in 2015. The annual “Honest to Goodness” campaign spend is about one-eighth of what Visit Indy spends a year on advertising. Newman has asked Visit Indy to chip in $100,000 in co-op money to help bolster the “Honest to Goodness” campaign, but Visit Indy hasn’t yet committed.
Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops appreciates how challenging Newman’s job is.
“Even when an organization uses a sound, research-driven process, as it appears to me that the state and [Williams Randall Marketing] did, it doesn’t mean that the result of that process will get universal support from stakeholders,” Hoops said. “I think that’s especially true when trying to capture the essence of something as diverse as an entire state and what makes it a compelling visitor destination. You’re hunting for unicorns.”
Jonathon Day, a professor of hospitality at Purdue University who specializes in brand destination, isn’t convinced the state’s campaign is counterproductive to Visit Indy’s efforts.
“I think ‘Honest to Goodness’ is broad enough and true enough for tourism products around the state to rally under,” Day said. “Talking about the authenticity of the people and places here, the warmth of Hoosier hospitality—what a great way to start the conversations.”
Internet message board commenters—along with local advertising executives—have been overwhelmingly negative in their early appraisal. Several local tourism executives told IBJ they advised Newman to quietly roll out the brand and to consider not even putting out a press release.
Instead, Newman opted for a glitzy press conference that featured Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann at the Indiana Historical Society.
In general, Hoops said, slogans are “incredibly overrated.”
“At the end of the day, Indiana is the brand and ‘Honest to Goodness’ is just a brand strategy,” Hoops said. “Whether that brand strategy is a good one or not will ultimately depend on how well the campaign works with its target audience. And we don’t know the answer to that as yet.”
Given that Indianapolis is one of two markets where the campaign will debut, and that’s where a majority of the criticism is coming from, the “Honest to Goodness” campaign is off to a rough start.
Success at hand?
In the face of harsh criticism, Newman is undaunted.
“The chatter through social media notwithstanding, I think the approval rating is pretty good,” he said. “Anytime you do something like this, you’re going to get positive and negative feedback. You tend to hear from the people less satisfied first, then you hear from the people who are more positive.”
Newman has urged critics of the tag line to look at the entire campaign before passing judgment.
Brandwidth’s Evans, who has seen some of the early “Honest to Goodness” ads, said that “tactically” some of those ads “are good,” but, “unfortunately they’re built on a very shaky platform.”
Neither Evans nor Bryant blamed Williams Randall, the local agency that was paid $100,000 last year by IOTD in part to work on this campaign.
“Williams Randall is a good agency,” Bryant said. “But sometimes, the client paints you in a box. This campaign is so often client-driven. And it’s made all the more difficult by all the constituencies pulling at [IOTD].”
Early in the process to find a replacement brand message for “Re-Start Your Engines,” IOTD convened a brand-development panel, composed of more than 30 individuals from the travel, tourism and hospitality industries, as well as government leaders. Visit Indy’s Hoops was among those consulted.
IOTD officials were looking for a platform that would be versatile, durable and one the state could take ownership of.
“We wanted something with a potentially long shelf life,” he said. “Something we can build on. I think ‘Honest to Goodness’ could be part of our campaign for years to come.”•