Michigan is pure, Louisiana is passionate, and Virginia is for lovers, according to the state tourism slogans adopted and promoted by these states’ tourism boards.

Almost every state has a tourism slogan, a two- or three-word line that hopes to capture the spirit of a destination, but their ultimate role in attracting visitors is open to debate. The sometimes-million-dollar campaigns built around the slogans can be a lynchpin for a state’s marketing efforts, but do consumers really care or even know the personas that states are pushing?

Testing Awareness

To test the awareness of the general American consumer, we took one of the oldest and most famous of state tourism slogans, “Virginia Is For Lovers,” and asked 500 random respondents through Google Consumer Surveys to identify the state associated with “is For Lovers.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 11.28.27 AMAbout half, or 52 percent, of the respondents correctly chose Virginia from five choices including California, New York, Florida and Louisiana.

Older respondents, aged 55 to 64, were the most likely to correct choose Virginia while younger respondents, aged 18 to 24, were the least likely. This is an interesting data point given the considerable focus that brands have on millennial travelers.

Given the underwhelming response to our survey, we sought out state tourism boards that have put significant efforts into building and spreading their slogans. Although each consider the slogan an integral piece of their marketing make-up, there is no proven method for measuring and testing their continued effectiveness.

Tourism leaders (below) from Virginia, Michigan and Louisiana share their experiences developing and maintaining their slogans.

State’s Branding Lessons

“Virginia Is For Lovers,” for example, was developed by an agency in 1969 and remained the the state’s slogan for the past 45 years. In that time, it’s become a part of the state’s overall branding, co-opted by local businesses and even merchandized.

“The accrued value of 45 years as a tourism slogan is almost immeasurable,” says Thad Smith, Virginia Tourism’s brand director. “The slogan tends to be used organically, in conversation — it has become part of the fabric of Virginia. It represents equally the entire state.”

The tourism board continues to measure the efficacy of the slogan through visitor input, but it has in many ways taken on a life of its own.

Michigan’s tourism slogan, “Pure Michigan,” is just shy of a decade old and an agency likewise created it. Ad agency McCann Erickson spent three years conceiving and refining the concept before winning the account in February 2006. It continues to evaluates the slogan based on travel to Michigan, traveler spending in Michigan, return on advertising investments, and consumer surveys.

Just as important as a slogan drawing visitors to a destination is an ability to internally organize an organization’s marketing strategy and tone behind a single concept or message.

“When we launched the campaign in 2006, we underestimated the power that a good campaign could bring to the travel industry and the DMOs (destination marketing organizations),” says David West, vice president of Travel Michigan.

“The Pure Michigan campaign became a rallying cry for the entire state and offered the opportunity to align our partners and the industry underneath one core idea: Pure Michigan. All of a sudden, everyone was singing from the same song sheet and delivering consistent message.”

Louisiana, on the other hand, spent significantly less time and money on the creation of its tourism slogan, “Pick Your Passion.” Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne created the slogan and logo quickly upon his appointment with the goal of driving traffic to Louisiana Travel’s website, where consumers can research and plan trips based on their passions.

The organization last evaluated the effectiveness of the slogan in July 2014 and found recognition and positive response rise to 75 percent in an RRC Associates poll.

Photo Credit: Everyone knows that "Virginia Is For Lovers," or do they? Virginia Tourism