Skift Take

Some of it may be aspirational, but Travel Oregon's ad is hitting the right notes at a time when we're all looking to feel the magic of travel again.

Travel Oregon might rank among the last U.S. tourism boards to promote out of state since the pandemic, but its new campaign is poised to outdo the competition.

Its “Oregon, (Still) Only Slightly Exaggerated” ad takes a stunning animated and cinematic approach to showcase the state’s outdoors, cultural activities and its diverse communities in a way that stands out from tourism recovery campaigns that have emerged this year. 

It’s not the first time Travel Oregon resorted to animation — the campaign is the third installment in a series that launched in Spring 2018. Ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, in partnership with animation studio Psyop and Sun Creature Studio, as well as Emmy Award-winning composer Jim Dooley, produced the series.

What’s different now is that Travel Oregon crafted this message by reaching out to multiple diverse and community-based focus groups for feedback on the script to make sure it is authentic and inclusive. The destination marketing organization worked closely with members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, who are depicted in the video.

“The campaign celebrates the spirit and diversity of Oregon’s people and shares the magical feeling of being in Oregon through the wonder and beauty of our state,” said Todd Davidson, CEO of Travel Oregon in a press release.  

From cameo appearances by famous Oregonians — George Fletcher, an African American rodeo legend on a bucking horse at the Pendleton Round-Up, and Cheryl Strayed having s’mores with families around a campfire — to masked residents buying hand-stretched Chinese noodles at Portland’s farmer’s market and the Umatilla Tribe members riding across vast public lands, the detailed animation evokes Oregon’s Wild West feel while appealing to travelers of all backgrounds.

“Our agency is always like what’s next and well, we’ve got something that’s working, we don’t need to throw it away,” said Kevin Wright, vice president of global marketing at Travel Oregon. “The first two were very based in outdoor recreation and showing off our outdoor assets. The shift was, let’s focus on the people of Oregon, and let’s showcase the diversity that we do have here in the state.” 

The ad has rolled out in Oregon’s traditional market, which includes destinations in the triangle that stretches from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho and Vancouver, British Columbia.

This campaign could in fact serve as a solid before and after case study for the evolving world of tourism marketing, one in which the pandemic and ensuing racial reckoning have pushed destination marketing organizations to place host communities at the heart of the narrative, as consumers increasingly seek inclusivity and visit places where they see themselves reflected in ads.

Anime’s Childlike Optimism Speaks to Stressed Americans

The first time the concept came to life in 2018, the idea revolved around the fact that Americans were stressed and their happiness index was shrinking, Wright said. Anime helped to bring out Oregon’s scenic beauty in a more creative way while evoking a childlike, innocent feeling better than any camera could, Wright added. 

“People are stressed from their text messages and meetings and all of that, and we’re going to position ourselves as the antidote to that,” said Wright, in describing the motivation behind the original installment of this ad series. 

“Since then, we’ve had a global pandemic, a social reckoning, we’ve had catastrophic wildfires in the West Coast — so that idea that people are stressed out is even more, so I think that’s why this creative is still very relevant and I think it really speaks to people.”

The first animated ad in the “Only Slightly Exaggerated” series in 2018 drew 10.5 million views during the campaign and resulted in $1.5 million in hotel revenue through 6,375 hotel bookings. Data from Arrivalist also showed that visitors who had seen the ad were 1.7 times more likely to travel to Oregon than those who hadn’t.

The second in the series, launched in 2019, drew $4.5 million views and $3.6 million in hotel revenue from 17,806 hotel bookings.

A Community-Centered Approach to Marketing

Perhaps the most stand out feature of Travel Oregon’s animated campaign is the diversity of the showcased local characters, all of whom are shown participating in cultural and outdoor activities. They include a Black solo female hiker and a senior citizen in a wheelchair enjoying a glass of wine at a vineyard with sweeping views of the Willamette Valley. 

And of course, none of these depictions were accidental. 

“Historically we haven’t done a lot of focus groups with our work,” said Travel Oregon’s Wright. “In this case, we shared scripts with agency employees and we just had conversations around them, and then we did larger focus groups to capture even more feedback, and so we did eight community based or diversity based focus groups and we just pulled all of that in, and we adjusted the original scripts from the learnings that we pulled out of there.”

Wright said for the Native American scene, Travel Oregon had 10 to 15 meetings with the Umatilla Tribes.

“That was our approach — let’s showcase the people, and it can’t be the four of us sitting with our agency doing it and we brought in a pretty wide group of folks to help us build it, and we learned a ton along the way.”

Wright said that Travel Oregon brought in diverse perspectives for the first time in 2018 with a focus group, albeit it was a much smaller one. 

“In the subsequent years it’s gotten bigger and bigger, and now we’re talking about the future, what does that look like?”

Less Big Anthem Spots, More Year-Round Messaging  

Wright said that Travel Oregon doesn’t have expectations of major returns from the campaign, simply because it isn’t its first iteration. “I don’t expect to see 10 million views out of this, but if we get half of that, if we get half of the exposure and that sentiment stays positive, we’re happy.”

Oregon’s tourism industry being primarily made up of small businesses, which were hit hard by the pandemic, the campaign aims to boost visitor traffic with the aim of driving recovery primarily to those stakeholders and their communities. That meant, for Travel Oregon, spending on media in the Fall even though Spring is when the returns are traditionally the highest. 

“We flipped it. It might be less about big anthem spots that take a lot of energy to create and more of an always on type strategy and more smaller campaigns, so during this time we can speak to this community’s needs and basically you know, marketing is getting more and more fragmented.”

Different regions need advertising at different times, and tourism boards are now increasingly attuned to that rather than just focusing on the return.  “We’re OK with that because we know that’s what businesses needed the most.”

Travel Oregon is currently in the midst of working on a new strategic plan, in which it will continue focusing on working with diverse communities, Wright said.

“I think we’ll be working more with our residents, you know, like these focus groups I was talking about. We haven’t really engaged with the residents in this work so I can see us working more in that vein.”

Aside from its diversity push, Travel Oregon’s newest “Only Slightly Exaggerated” ad joins a growing number of destinations looking to non traditional creative forms, including cinema and pop culture, to stand out in the sea of competition post pandemic.

The early positive response it’s receiving confirms that more than ever, travelers are seeking places that whisk them away from the mundane as free movement resumes. Not least, however, is the depiction of an America that many people wish to feel again, beyond the epic scenery — welcoming to all and brimming with optimism.

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Tags: arrivalist, diversity, DMO, focus groups, marketing, tourism campaigns, travel oregon

Photo credit: Animated vineyard scene from Travel Oregon's new Only Slightly Exaggerated ad Courtesy of Travel Oregon

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