|By Beth Kassab, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Jan. 8, 2007 - If Las Vegas can corner the market on tourists looking for a wild, slightly naughty escape for adults, then call Orlando the anti-Vegas.
The region's new $68 million marketing campaign is a methodically designed strategy in which nearly every word and image was tested in front of groups of mothers -- the target audience. The result is kid-friendly and decidedly tame.
But will it work?
Some ad experts aren't convinced the approach will cure Orlando's dwindling hotel occupancy and eroding hold on leisure travelers' attention.
"A destination like Orlando positioning to families makes a lot of sense, but that may not really surprise anyone," said Kelly O'Keefe, a brand-management expert at Virginia Commonwealth University's Adcenter. "You have to surprise them to get them to notice."
The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau is betting people will notice, estimating 1 million additional visitors representing an additional half-billion dollars pumped into the local economy from the tax-funded campaign. If that projection proves accurate, Orlando can expect more than 52 million visitors this year.
"It's a big return on investment to the community," said Jose Estorino, senior vice president of marketing for the bureau.
A new message
In the highly competitive world of tourism marketing, slogans and ad campaigns are yet another way to create buzz. No slogan is perhaps more famous than Las Vegas' "What happens here, stays here," a phrase so well-known that it has become part of pop culture with references on The Simpsons and late-night television.
The centerpiece of Orlando's campaign are two 30-second television spots that are scheduled to start airing on cable by the end of the month followed by a national network debut. Print ads and a billboard in New York's Times Square will be rolled out in early February, but the Web component of the campaign is still under development.
The campaign is centered on the slogan, "Built for families. Made for memories."
The intent is to draw on parents' emotions -- creating a sense that an Orlando vacation will bring families together, the effects of which will last long after the trip is over. It's a theme similar to one the Walt Disney Co. is striking in its national "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion.
A tracking study by the visitors bureau is planned to find out just how well its new message resonates once the advertising starts.
O'Keefe of VCU is concerned it might get lost in translation.
"It's too long," O'Keefe said of the tagline. "It's telling me the only two things I already know about Orlando."
Mike Beirne, who tracks travel marketing for Brandweek Magazine, said many destinations fall into a rut because the campaign creators try to please too many people and the concepts become watered down.
"Maybe the chamber of commerce was happy with it, but it didn't really speak to the consumer," Beirne said of failed destination-branding attempts.
Orlando's new commercials, still in the final editing phase, feature parents and kids bonding on theme-park rides. WestWayne, an advertising firm with offices in Atlanta and Tampa whose clients include Publix Super Markets and Buffalo Wild Wings, developed the campaign.
The idea is to tap into the strong feelings people have about their vacations as times for families to reconnect. That intangible aspect is what the campaign's creators think will draw parents and grandparents to consider Orlando for their next trip.
"We feel we've nailed the positioning and it speaks to them in a very compelling and emotional way," said John Sierota, senior vice president at WestWayne. "We feel very strongly that Mom is really the key decision maker."
The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau is spending more than it ever has on a branding campaign through a 1 percentage-point increase in the tourist development tax. About $27 million will be spent on TV commercials this year, with $6 million more on print ads.
The campaign's concepts were tested in focus groups in Chicago, Dallas, New York and St. Louis and then refined and tested again through online surveys.
"Based on that research, it should work," said Alan Villaverde, general manager of the Peabody Orlando.
He said the campaign is smart to stay focused on the family market, which a study commissioned by the visitors bureau last summer showed to be the segment with highest growth potential for Orlando.
The exclusive focus on the traditional family, though, means Orlando is not directing ads at other growing segments such as gays and lesbians and singles.
"The singles market is growing, but do you advertise to singles and disregard families?" Villaverde said. "We don't have an unlimited budget."
Villaverde said he has heard some feedback that the campaign isn't fresh enough.
"I've heard that lament: That it's a good, solid campaign, but it's nothing new," he said. "The images are new and the tagline is new. And being a grandparent and a father, it kind of grabs your heart."
Las Vegas, meanwhile, will continue to try to grab your desire for guilty pleasures.
Beth Kassab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5448.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
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