‘Made in Tennessee’ tourism campaign to be crafted by out-of-state ad firm

Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) speaks at a Washington Post Live event in 2013.
Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) speaks at a Washington Post Live event in 2013.

Tennessee is hot right now. ABC’s hit show “Nashville” has visitors flocking to the country music capital, and the state is eager to capture every tourism dollar it possibly can. Two new 30-second advertisements, promoting the “Made in Tennessee” slogan, are running on television.

But while the waterfalls, horse trails and rolling hills sure are made in Tennessee, the advertisements themselves are not.

That’s because the state tourism board signed a deal worth up to $60 million more than five years with VML, a marketing agency based in Kansas City, Mo., to produce the ad campaign.

Gov. Bill Haslem’s (R) budget includes almost $11 million for tourism advertising, $6 million of which is earmarked for the VML contract. And state tourism director Susan Whitaker says it’s a good investment: Every dollar they spend yields about $19 in tourism revenue, Whitaker told Nashville Public Radio.

Here’s an added bonus: While VML might be headquartered in Kansas City, the new contract convinced them to open an office in Nashville. So, jobs! David Smith, a spokesman for Haslem’s office, said just about every other component of the advertisements are homegrown. The man doing the voice-over is Rivers Rutherford, a native son; all the music was created by Tennessee musicians. The spots were even edited in VML’s Nashville offices.

The footage definitely came from inside the Volunteer State’s borders. The firm filmed both commercials on GoPro cameras during a six or seven-day roadtrip around the state, creative director John Godsey told The New York Times.

Here’s one of their new ads:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvmurDr-21g&feature=youtu.be

Haslam’s office hopes the advertising helps Tennessee generate enough tourism revenue to land in the top 10. The $11 million the state will spend on tourism advertising, though, is far below what other states spend: In fiscal  2013, 20 states spent more than $12 million on their tourism offices.

A survey by the U.S. Travel Association found Hawaii spent the most, $75 million, advertising its islands. Florida, Illinois and California all spent more than $50 million bragging about themselves. States spent an average of $14.9 million on tourism, the association found.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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