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Michigan’s tourism campaign is a reminder that destination marketers everywhere can spark economic investment — provided that governments entrust them with significant amount of funding.

Pure Michigan is back. The advertising arm of Travel Michigan, the state’s official tourism promotion office, is launching a national winter marketing campaign for the time since 2019, featuring videos showcasing Michigan as a prime destination for cold weather adventures.

The popular winter campaign — a fixture for 13 years — is coming back to ads across TV, radio, print and digital devices after Pure Michigan saw state government funding return to near 2019 funding levels. Michigan’s decision to restore funding for a program once completely eliminated from its budget was a relief for travel executives constantly fearful about tourism marketing funds being on the chopping block.

“Destination organizations are always defending their funding,” said Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer at Destinations International, an advocacy group for organizations throughout the travel industry.

“It was so shocking with Michigan because it is such an iconic campaign. Very few other destination campaigns have been so well done and received.”

A November 2022 Pure Michigan video showcasing one of the state’s winter attractions

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer axed Pure Michigan’s entire $36 million budget in December 2019. But the timing of her decision worked out well for the state work as the pandemic brought large-scale tourism to Michigan to a standstill the following year. Travel Michigan did receive $15 million of funding in 2021, which it used to run a small in-state campaign with no national exposure outside of a few digital ads.

“With a limited budget, we invested almost all of it into the warm weather months,” said Travel Michigan Vice President David Lorenz, underscoring the importance of marketing budgets for driving tourism outside of peak seasons. 

Travel Michigan received $30 million worth state funding in 2022, which the organization used to launch this year’s winter campaign and its year-round marketing efforts.

“We’re a four season state, and we’re proud about that. It’s also a positioning statement for us,” Lorenz said. Winter tourism generated $2.9 billion in traveler spending in 2021, according to data analyzed by TravelUSA and market research consultancy Longwoods International. Michigan tourism officials estimate that for every dollar invested in Pure Michigan, nine dollars are injected into the state’s economy.

“We’ll make the most with whatever budget we get. The interesting thing that happened during Covid is policymakers learned a real appreciation for travel,” Lorenz said. “They had just stopped believing that travel was important for society and the economy, but when we couldn’t travel, and the economy stopped, they remembered how important travel is to who we are as a people.”

Lorenz says he tries not to worry about state lawmakers’ decisions. He stated his focus is on making the Pure Michigan campaign while promoting a message of inclusivity. The winter campaign returned to national TV in November with ads running on both the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel.

“The audience who watches those seasonal shows on the Hallmark channel is generally a family audience, and Michigan has always done well with that sector. We’re considered a very family-friendly state,” said Lorenz, adding that the state’s ski resorts appeal to families. “It’s truly amazing all the things you can do in our state.”

The winter campaign isn’t the only one that Pure Michigan is pushing now that its coffers are nearly full. It launched a Support Local campaign on November 21 encouraging locals to buy holiday gifts from small businesses. Pure Michigan tapped influencers to write guides for destination marketing organizations across the state.

What Pure Michigan Gets Right

Johnson believes Pure Michigan’s campaign is respected throughout the destination marketing sector and often looked to as an example for its tone, consistency, and delivery. 

“It goes back to the beginning of the campaign — they did a really good job of paying attention to what the people of Michigan found amazing about where they lived. There’s a very authentic element about the Pure Michigan campaign,” Johnson said.

Johnson advises destination marketing organizations to center their marketing efforts around a single brand and the repeat the concept for different campaigns. One thing he sees Travel Michigan doing right is running the campaign throughout the state itself.

“It’s been embraced as much by the people in Michigan as those outside the state. I always urge destination organizations to take a small part of their budget and show their campaigns in their home market, so people know what they’re doing,” said Johnson.

And Johnson believes views the return of Pure Michigan symbolizes the trend of budgets increasing for destination marketing organizations across the United States.

“We’re actually seeing an increase in funding for destination organizations right now in the United States and Canada,” he said. “Travel is back with a vengeance. Even business travel, which can be hard to predict farther out than three months, is much stronger than we thought it would be. It’s a very resilient industry.”


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Tags: advertisements, advertising, michigan, pure michigan, tourism marketing

Photo credit: Pure Michigan is resuming its winter tourism campaign that it had paused prior to the pandemic. Pierre Herman / Unsplash

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