Fireworks explode above the glittering night skyline of Singapore—obviously a metaphor for the burst of passion between the lead characters of Crazy Rich Asians—but that wasn’t the end of the fireworks. Another explosion would occur after this film’s release in August of 2018 as the internet spiked with travel inquiries to its location—Singapore.
According to Carey Malloy, Orbitz’s director of brand marketing, in this article from The Wrap, “They are significant increases… When you’re able to sit back and watch a story come to life it makes you want to go there and have the same experiences.”
Tourism Australia knows this well after experiencing what the Crocodile Dundee franchise did for them. To recreate that hype, they created a trailer for a fake sequel film and promoted it during Super Bowl in 2018 which led to 38.5 million social media impressions, an 83% increase in intent to book, and an 11.5% increase in tourist visas as reported by AdWeek.
Need more proof? Consider how Game of Thrones has affected tourism in its shooting locations.
I didn’t need these recent examples back in 2016 when Team Two Entertainment, the production company behind successful films including Ambush at Dark Canyon and critically-acclaimed music videos for country music artist Randy Houser, Like a Cowboy and We Went, approached me at Visit Tucson to support their short film, Common Threads. I had only to sit back and watch a film or a TV show with a strong sense of place to convince me that narratives reach a consumer on a more profound level than promotional marketing videos.
In the 21-minute, award-winning, period western, Common Threads, old west Tucson is as much a character in the narrative as its lead characters. Straight out of the gate, the location is front and center. In the opening scene, a weather-worn wooden sign lets viewers know they’re in Tucson.
Filmed on location over three days, this emotionally provocative short film offers an authentic glimpse into Tucson’s past (satisfying romanticized notions of the Old West) while also confronting social issues that people care about today—opioid addiction, child abandonment, race relations.
Here’s what director, William Shockley had to say about the script, “We did not want to make a ‘Western’ per se, but more of a ‘Period Piece’ that happens to take place in 1887 in the Sonoran desert of Arizona. Films depicting the American Old West are typically laden with bullets, booze and bravado. Our intent was the exact opposite. We wanted to explore a parable of family, fortitude and faith in humanity.” The main characters are female.
Following a standing-room only premiere at Tucson FilmFest in October, Common Threads continued on the festival circuit and won multiple awards. Of course, I wasn’t shy about putting Visit Tucson’s name on the project, as seen here on the promotional poster.
In the afterglow of that cinematic experience, we decided to step it up a notch in May 2017 with Team Two Entertainment to support You’re Gonna Miss Me, a feature also filmed on location in Southern Arizona. Directed by Dustin Rikert and starring John Schneider, Kix Brooks, Morgan Fairchild, Eric Roberts, Leo Howard, Justin Deeley (many of whom walked Visit Tucson’s red carpet premiere at Old Tucson), is a present-day road trip comedy about a family coming back together.
Road trip films are an excellent way to showcase the diversity of a destination without it seeming “promotional” and once again, Southern Arizona was front and center. In addition to the ongoing promotional benefits to the region, the film production contributed more than $6 million in direct spending to the local economy. And, ticket sales for the local premiere which included an on-stage Q&A with cast and crew as well as a live performance by Kix Brooks (of Brooks & Dunn) benefitted the Arizona-Sonora Western Heritage Foundation. A big win on many levels.
You don’t have to wait for a feature movie to be filmed in your destination to get in on the action. Short films of less than 10 minutes are highly effective—arguably more effective. According to this article on HubSpot, video comprises one-third of all internet activity, and while users respond to video content, 73% of them want the video to entertain them. And what’s more entertaining than a movie?
Destination marketers have hours and hours of promo videos, but how captivating are they when they all seem to showcase drone shots of landscapes, beautiful people dining out or browsing upscale shopping centers, and seemingly enjoying outdoor adventure? It’s everywhere you look. As MMGY Global brand maven Stewart Colovin likes to say, “If no two destinations are alike, why do they all look alike?”
“There’s a lot of clutter in the marketplace,” said Geoffrey Campbell, senior director of content and production at WPP-owned media firm MediaCom, in this piece from PRWeek. “If you want to have a human connection with the consumer and you want them to share it, you need to create something more relatable and authentic.”
BMW has been producing short, action films featuring their cars for decades, but other brand marketers have recently jumped on the bandwagon (or make that sports coupe). Marriott’s 17-minute, short action comedy Two Bellmen, which released in 2016, was so popular they’ve already spun off two sequels featuring other locations. Lyft’s seven-minute animated narrative, June, has more than 7.8 million views on YouTube. The list of innovative marketers blurring the line between advertising and entertainment goes on.
In recent years our industry has adopted stronger content strategies that have produced more authentic storytelling. Bravo to Travel Oregon and long-time advertising partner Wieden + Kennedy, for successfully conspiring to create a standout animated series Only Slightly Exaggerated with animation by Psyop and Sun Creature Studios in the anime style of Studio Ghibli (a genre much celebrated by Millennials). By using animation, Travel Oregon has stepped beyond the contested and cluttered marketplace by offering a unique perspective to viewers that visualizes the emotional experience of visiting Oregon.
An estimated 43 million Americans traveled during the recent Memorial Day weekend and an estimated $226 million was raked in at the box office. Put the two together and you’ve got fireworks.