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Sara Otte Coleman, Published January 19 2012

Letter to the editor from state tourism director: North Dakota is no ‘Jersey Shore’

North Dakota Tourism recently unveiled its 2012 advertising campaign, consisting of six new television ads and 10 new print ads. The unveiling received a great deal of positive local and national media attention. We also posted the campaign on our website and social media channels like Facebook and YouTube.

The overall purpose of the ad series is to promote travel to North Dakota. The focus of the advertising is North Dakota’s rich history, culture, beautiful scenery and fun things to see and do. Two ads in the series highlight our state’s city experiences and target key audiences in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Research shows that North Dakota has what these potential visitors seek. One particular print ad generated dozens of online comments on our Facebook page and website, as well as a few emails.

Our first reaction to the negative feedback was, “Wow! Some people have too much time on their hands and watch a little too much ‘Jersey Shore.’ ” But as the comments evolved, we realized that some people read much more into this ad than what we were trying to communicate and that their interpretation was certainly not what we were trying to accomplish. Frankly, we were surprised by their reaction, and we apologize to anyone who was offended by the ad.

As a result of these concerns, we plan to develop a new ad that better communicates the intended message, which is that North Dakota’s cities boast a vibrant and fun nightlife. The original city-experience ad in question has not, and will not, run in any paid media. Our entire investment in the ad development was less than $5,000, including photography, model fees, design, writing and production. And it will cost nothing additional to create a new ad to better communicate our message.

Unfortunately, which is all too often in the online world, the online comments turned downright personal and mean-spirited and were accented with vulgar language, especially in regard to the models appearing in the ad. We had no choice but to immediately remove this city-experience ad and related comments from our Facebook page and our website due to the inappropriate nature of those comments.

North Dakota Tourism relies extensively on market research to drive our marketing strategy and advertising development. And while the dozens of ads and promotional tools we produce every year effectively sell the Legendary brand, this ad taken alone missed the mark.

Even though we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the ad, we know we can showcase our city experience even better and are retooling the ad. We will also improve our ad review process to catch these problems before the ads are made public.

The good news is that the Legendary brand campaigns are working. An independent third-party tourism research firm has measured the results of our ad campaigns since 2003 and documented their success. In fact, the 2010 advertising campaign alone brought in more than

1 million visits to North Dakota, $176.9 million in visitor spending and $13.6 million in tax revenue.

North Dakota is a great place to visit. Whether dining and shopping in our cities or enjoying our Western heritage and beautiful scenery to everything in between, we are proud of all that North Dakota has to offer. And North Dakota Tourism will continue to aggressively promote this state as a tourism destination for people throughout the Upper Midwest and Canada.

Otte Coleman is director, Tourism Division, North Dakota Department of Commerce.