SANTA FE, N.M. - New Mexico this year is celebrating 100 years of statehood, but many people still confuse the Land of Enchantment with its south of the border neighbour the nation of Mexico. And some who do know the state think it's nothing but a boring desert wasteland they would only visit on the way to Arizona or Colorado.
Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson hopes to finally change some of those perceptions with a new $2 million statewide branding campaign that puts a heavy focus on the state's unique culture and outdoor adventures. It also gives the state a new logo, "New Mexico True."
Development of the campaign, which tourism officials launched on Tuesday, has been Jacobson's almost sole focus since taking over the department last year. Jacobson is the daughter of a Taos Ski Valley hotel owner who returned to New Mexico a year ago after spending several years in marketing with Quaker Oats in Chicago.
The ads — which feature people kayaking on the Rio Grande, hiking around archaeological sites in Chaco Canyon, running among petroglyphs at a national monument on the western edge of Albuquerque, hanging out in hot springs and eating and shopping in art enclaves like Santa Fe and Taos — have two key goals.
"The first is to combat the No. 1 misconception that there is nothing to do in New Mexico," Jacobson said, noting the focus is on "sight-doing, not sightseeing."
The second goal, Jacobson said, "is to connect emotionally, to build a lifestyle brand .... a place (people) want to go back to year after year."
Focus groups held last year in Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston underscored how tough her job may be.
While the participants gushed about Colorado and its "beautiful mountains," ''crisp air" and "snow," two people in Los Angeles wrote "snooze" when asked about New Mexico. Someone from Houston noted he "drove through it on the way to Colorado." Others referred to is a "boring," ''the lost state" and a "desert wasteland." And several people noted New Mexico, which is land locked, has nice beaches.
Still, Jacobson and industry officials have high hopes for the comprehensive branding effort. It was developed by the Austin-based Vendor, whose principals have worked on such brands as Southwest Airlines, Nike, Wal-Mart Stores, BMW and AT&T.
The campaign will be launched first on television and in print ads in neighbouring Arizona, Colorado and Texas. Digital niche versions targeting golfers, skiers, bikers, runners and families will launch this summer and fall. And the goal is to take the campaign nationally this fall, Jacobson said.
Similar efforts have proven highly successful for Michigan, California and Oregon as well as the city of Philadelphia, according to industry officials and research from Longwoods International for the United States Travel Association.
One of the questions in New Mexico, however, is not just whether the state's message will be a winner, but whether the tourism department has the resources to be heard over neighbours like Colorado and Arizona, who have better known attractions and larger marketing budgets. Colorado, for example, just launched a $9 million "Come to Life" marketing campaign.
The New Mexico campaign was developed and launched with the bulk of the department's total annual $2.5 million annual advertising budget. That compares to more than $12 million Michigan spent to launch its Pure Michigan branding campaign, featuring Michigan native Tim Allen, in 2009, according to a report from Longwoods International. That budget was doubled to $28 million for a national launch after research showed the regional campaign generated almost 2 million additional trips to the state with a 3-to-1 return on investment for every taxpayer dollar spent.
But even $2 million can have a huge impact, said Nan Marchand Beauvois, senior director of national council relations for USTA.
"It not how much you spend," she said. "It's using what you have efficiently and being extremely targeted and consistent with your messaging."
Most important, she said, is that the state has developed a brand to create awareness of the state.
Such campaigns, she said, "are truly, truly crucial. It's an investment, not an expenditure. It's growing the business of the state through tourism."
Jacobson said the department will be closely monitoring the campaign's impact in hopes of being able to take winning results to lawmakers for a budget boost next year.
The state has done television ads in the past, but the efforts weren't tied to a comprehensive multi-media message that would create a brand that could resonate for the whole state. One of its more recent efforts, for instance, played off the city of Roswell by featuring aliens. That created buzz, Jacobson, said, but didn't sell the state as whole.
Sharon Schultz, president of the Tourism Association of New Mexico, says the new campaign brings New Mexico's advertising efforts to a new level.
"I think it will resonate well," she said, noting a preview of the ads was well received by the industry.
Colorado's tourism head Al White, who earlier this year joked New Mexico could save its money by adopting the theme "just south of paradise," complemented Jacboson and said he was pleased to see the New Mexico effort.
"New Mexico really has a great product. It has natural beauty and powerful culture, history and heritage," he said. "It behooves us all to work together, especially as international tourism picks up. An international traveller is going to want to see the whole region."
If successful, however, the ads could mark the death knell for a longstanding feature in the tourism department's monthly New Mexico magazine.
"One of our 50 is Missing," is a column where readers share tales of friends and acquaintances who don't know New Mexico is part of the United States. The state would like to erase impressions like this one, offered by a reader quoting a friend: "New Mexico's been a country for a lot longer than 100 years, and it was never a U.S. state."