Utah's tourism industry is counting on a sizable return again this year when the state's spring/summer advertising campaign debuts March 17 on nine national cable TV channels, plus local networks in Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix.
Last year's main commercial, which showed all kinds of recreational gear pouring out of a baggage carousel at Salt Lake City International Airport, was a hit. It put Utah on the vacation map as a place with an abundance of fun, physical things to do. It helped lift the campaign's return on investment to $17.14 for every state tax dollar spent.
"It showed we're not just a windshield, drive-through state but a state I want to take my family to and stay as long as we can," Utah Office of Tourism managing director Leigh von der Esch said of the 2007 promotional effort.
With this year's $3.2 million campaign, she added, "we push the image that much farther."
Striking visual scenes of whitewater rafting and other adventurous activities are still there. But this rendition of the "Life Elevated" campaign emphasizes that Utah has cultural and culinary attractions, as well.
Ads show the Utah Symphony performing outdoors at Deer Valley Resort, and a crowded dining room at Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder.
"For rural southern Utah to have restaurants of that caliber, we feel blessed," said Nan Anderson, Torrey-based executive director of the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition. "It's wonderful to see new and unique businesses getting national and even international visibility."
Water also is prominent in the state's self-portrait, part of the campaign's ongoing effort to depict Utah as a land of variety and abundance, of cool mountains, as well as sculptured desert.
And with gas prices above $3 a gallon and undoubtedly headed higher this summer vacation season, von der Esch said Utah's message is that "no matter what the economy is doing, travel is important to our quality of life. Travel is an investment in your family's memories. There's no better value than all the things Utah has to offer."
That sales pitch will be delivered starting St. Patrick's Day through 30-second television commercials.
During a three-week period, 155 Utah commercials will air on nine cable TV channels, networks that reach into big Midwestern and Eastern cities: especially New York and Chicago. At the same time, the state will concentrate more than 100 TV ads in each of three Western cities with a proven track record for sending tourists to Utah: Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix.
"These are markets that certainly make sense to us," said Hans Fuegi, owner of The Grub Steak in Park City and the restaurant industry's representative on the Utah Board of Tourism Development.
"Denver has proved to be a lucrative market for the Moab area and southern Utah in general. The California markets and Phoenix have done well in our neck of the woods, Park City. Our summer product is getting to be an attractive deal for those markets," he said.
Absolutely, added Stein Eriksen Lodge spokeswoman Allie Kelly.
"A lot of people don't see Stein Eriksen Lodge as something within reach of everyone," she acknowledged. "But the state has allowed us to advertise our off-season and what we have to offer the greater population. Where the state hadn't done much in the past, the [recent] campaigns have allowed us to reach a broader audience and to participate in mediums we couldn't do before."
The appeal works differently for a group such as the Cedar City/Brian Head Tourism Bureau in southwestern Utah.
"As gas prices rise, the whole idea of being just a tank or two away really hits home," said bureau executive director Maria Twitchell, noting that her area's collections of transient room tax rose markedly after last year's summer ad campaign.
"The state is going into markets that certainly are our drive markets. And they're buying [ad space] in outdoors and more adventure-oriented magazines, which is certainly something we have to offer here in southern Utah," she added.
Print ads will start appearing March 31 in five magazines: Conde Nast Traveler, Sunset, Outside, Backpacker and National Geographic Traveler.
These publications are oriented to people interested in the outdoors, travel and lifestyles. Their readers have median ages of 39 to 52 and individual annual incomes ranging from $66,850 (National Geographic Traveler) to $91,764 (Conde Nast Traveler).
Confirming Twitchell's observation, von der Esch noted that "Sunset is very family oriented, with lots of subscriptions in the Western driving market that surrounds Utah."
The state campaign also involves a $265,000 investment in Internet ads through five Web groups, the most visible being YouTube.com.
But the main emphasis is on television.
After the initial three-week blitz, the state comes back with more cable and targeted-market ads from late April through mid-May. A final round of Utah commercials hits the air in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver in the first two weeks of June.
Determining precisely where to spend the state's television ad money is a complicated process. Demographic explanations as to which cable channels and network programs were selected filled 75 pages of a book reviewed by Tourism Development Board members.
This year was particularly challenging, von der Esch said. The Hollywood writer's strike pre-empted a number of prime-time programs that the state ordinarily would have chosen for ad time. In addition, massive competition from political campaigns further limited options for available times and boosted the cost of 30-second spots.
"You have to position yourself in those markets where you can cull through the clutter and get to the audience," she added.
The History Channel and A&E are two cable networks whose viewers fit a profile identified by the state as most likely to visit Utah.
In the three targeted markets, pro sports are a big buy. Utah has bought commercial time during broadcasts of Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, L.A. Lakers and Dodgers games.
Even if Jazz fans might not appreciate it, von der Esch said "the better the Phoenix Suns do, the better the viewership we get . . . Shaq [O'Neal] moved to where we're buying media. How serendipitous."
Outside of sports, "Two and a Half Men" and "Dancing with the Stars" are the only two network programs in which Utah ads will be shown in all three cities.
Viewers of the "Today" show in Denver will not see Utah ads, but their counterparts in Los Angeles and Phoenix will. Of the three cities, only Phoenix will not have Utah ads during "60 Minutes" and "Jeopardy," but they alone can see the state's spots during the Kentucky Derby and golf's Wachovia Championship.
"It's a really interesting mix and targets a lot of different demographic groups," von der Esch said.