Don't shoot, it's a tourist

Reel Civil War: Seeking to woo tourists, Maryland has launched a television and print campaign that focuses on the state's Civil War heritage.

March 25, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

In this made-for-television epic of the 1862 Battle of Antietam, Union soldiers storm Burnside's Bridge as Confederate troops defend the site from a nearby hill. Plumes of smoke rise, and booming cannons create explosive splashes in the water below.

The lead Union soldier runs across the bridge carrying the Stars and Stripes, and the camera zooms in on the red, white and blue.

Suddenly, half a dozen camera-toting tourists pop into view.

"Hey guys, I just ran out of film. Could you hold it a second while I reload?" says one woman. "This is going to be such a great shot," she coos. "Say `Cheese,'" yells another woman.

The soldiers stop in their tracks as the frame fades to sepia.

"Maryland. Welcome," says Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The commercial, which cost roughly a quarter of a million dollars to produce, is part of the state's latest tourism push -- a $2.3 million national television and print campaign that was launched this month.

It also marks a shift in strategy from previous campaigns, focusing on what state tourism officials see as a new product -- Maryland's Civil War heritage. Motorists soon will be able to follow a 70-mile historic trail tracing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's 1862 invasion route that ended on Sept. 17 at the Antietam battlefield and the single bloodiest day of the war.

"In our research we're finding that this is the kind of experience people want," said Hannah Byron, the state's new director of tourism.

Allan Charles, the commercial's creator, said he wanted to create a big impact with the relatively low budget he had to work with.

"When you're thinking about doing marketing for a state, you look at what the other states are doing," said Charles, president and chief creative officer at Baltimore's Trahan, Burden & Charles Inc. "There's a lot of similarity. Most of these commercials are kind of bland and predictable. ... I wanted to do something dramatic, epic, unpredictable and fun."

"We tried to make it look like a Civil War epic, and show where the present meets the past," Charles said. "You see these tourists enjoying their trip to Maryland. The whole army stops to help one of them, because she has to reload her camera. ... We're playing with the metaphor that authentic history is here. It's so real that you're going back in time or it's coming to greet you."

Although tourism generated $7.7 billion in economic impact in 1999, according to numbers just released by the Travel Industry Association of America, Maryland spends much less on advertising than neighboring states. Pennsylvania spent $3.4 million on advertising in 1999, New York spent $6.7 million and Virginia about $3.4 million, according to Byron.

With the new Civil War Trail, Maryland officials are hoping to capitalize on a formula that has worked for Virginia. Visitors to Virginia's trails spent $115 more per trip in 1999 than did visitors to Maryland's historic and cultural sites, Byron said.

The 60-second television commercial airs through May on a variety of cable networks including A&E, ESPN and ESPN2, the History Channel, the Learning Channel, the Weather Channel, CNBC, MSNBC and E! But the spots are expected to be around for years, rotating onto television with new commercials.

The goal of the campaign -- Trahan, Burden & Charles' second for the tourism office -- is to prompt at least 144 telephone requests for Maryland's tourism information packet for each $1,000 spent on media.

TBC officials and industry experts say that is an optimistic goal -- translating to about $7 a lead. But the agency already has cut its cost per lead from $18.71 to $10.62 between 1999 and 2000, Byron said.

"We'll certainly be looking closely at the results and whether or not it's been effective," Byron said. "I feel confident that it will be." The spot brought in 1,000 calls during its first two days, she said. Byron projects that $1.1 million spent on media through June will draw 109,000 visitors -- for about $25 million in economic impact.

The print ads are more traditional, resembling photo albums of snapshots of a Maryland visit -- including fishing, white-water rafting, sailing, crab feasts and other scenes. Those ads will appear in Better Homes and Gardens, Coastal Living and elsewhere.

Officials wanted to appeal specifically to travelers interested in history because they typically stay longer and spend more than do other categories of tourists.

The Travel Industry Association says the average stay by visitors interested in history was 3.2 nights and average spending was $385 per trip. In contrast, the average stay for visitors to Maryland was 2.7 nights, according to 1999 numbers -- the most current available. Average spending per trip was $312.

Joseph F. Durocher, associate professor of the University of New Hampshire Department of Hospitality Management, said there are risks to such niche targeting.

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