Skift Take

Government-sanctioned tourism boards strive to avoid politics at all costs, but Travel Michigan has been dragged into a controversy by the state's ill-conceived campaign to attract union-hating businesses. In Michigan, with all its labor history, of all states.

Tourism executives at Travel Michigan knew their bosses at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation were going to use the “Pure Michigan” tourism logo in a newspaper advertisement Tuesday touting the state’s new right-to-work law.

But there was nothing they could say or do.

“I knew they were working on some ads based on business climate, including right-to-work,” George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, said today in a phone interview. Because the state had already appropriated the tourism logo for business marketing two years ago, he believed the use of the logo in the full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal was appropriate.

Was there any discussion about whether it was wise to use a pristine tourism brand on such a controversial issue?

“I’m sure, yes,” he said. “I’m sure there was a lot of conversation about it. But in the end, once Pure Michigan was adopted as the MEDC’s marketing brand, then it is their brand.”

Until two years ago, the state used a different campaign for business marketing, “The Upper Hand,” while Pure Michigan was only for tourism.

“Then when Mike Finney and his team came in to MEDC a couple years ago, they thought it didn’t make a lot of sense to have two agencies and two brands,” Zimmermann said. “Pure Michigan had been so successful (for tourism) that the decision was made to use it for both.”

Until now, that wasn’t a big issue. The tourism brand was enhanced by business marketing, not damaged.

Then came this week.

Now, some worried Michigan tourism industry folks have been calling Travel Michigan offices to ask why a tourism logo is being used for right-to-work advertisements.

“They weren’t aware of the brand use and business marketing,” he said, describing the calls as “nothing really very serious, frankly.”

How does Travel Michigan plan to protect the brand after this hoopla? It plans no changes.

The Pure Michigan brand is so strong and has so much public goodwill that it can survive controversy, even if it is used in more controversial business ads, Zimmermann said. “The thing about Pure Michigan is that we launched it 2006 and we are starting our seventh year. In that time the brand has built up a lot of respect and affection.”

Although “there is more emotion about this particular issue than other business marketing activity, this is the exception,” he added of right-to-work. The words “Pure Michigan” will continue to make people think of beautiful scenery, not nasty politics, he believes: “In the end, that is going to win out.”


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Tags: michigan, tourism

Photo credit: Michigan Travel has been using the Pure Michigan theme for years, but the Michigan Economic Development Corp. created a controversy when it used the logo to tout the state's right-to-work law as a way to attract business.

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