Pure Detroit

After 10 years of statewide success, Michigan’s publicity campaign steers its focus toward the Motor City

A little more than 10 years ago, Dave Lorenz, who was then Travel Michigan’s industry relations and marketing manager, was called into the office of his boss.

“I think we’re ready,” said George Zimmerman, Travel Michigan vice president.

When Lorenz asked his boss just what they were ready for, the answer was Pure Michigan.

Travel Michigan, the state tourism office and part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s travel arm, was in the beginning stages of creating the brand that would help the state loom large on the tourism map.

A decade later, the Pure Michigan campaign is now well known for its commercials featuring iconic Michigan destinations, swelling music, and poetic narration by actor Tim Allen. The elegant and nostalgia-inducing ads have helped generate 22 million trips to Michigan and nearly $23 billion in visitor spending in the state of Michigan in 2014, according to a report by the Toronto-based research firm Longwoods International.

But while the campaign has succeeded in its strategy to engage new tourists by flaunting Michigan’s natural assets, Lorenz says that over the past decade, that strategy has grown.

“Eventually we started to morph and become more open to other audiences with travel passions like urban (travel),” Lorenz says. “Over time we’ve expanded into city promotions … small towns like Ann Arbor and others we brought into the promotional mix like Mackinac Island and Traverse City.”

One city noticeably missing from that list? Detroit. And after 10 years of the Pure Michigan campaign, Travel Michigan now plans to put a special emphasis on the Motor City.

‘America’s Great Comeback City’

According to Lorenz, the Pure Michigan campaign has always tried to appeal to people’s emotions by showcasing the beauty of the state with an emphasis on the connections formed among families and friends in certain destinations.

Of course, there have been other elements to the equation as well. Zimmerman and Lorenz had talked many times about their joint belief that Michigan is unique. “We’re such a diverse and big state, we have all these natural wonders,” Lorenz explains. “But we (also) have unique experiences to offer and authentic destinations — places like Hitsville U.S.A. that you can only find here (in Detroit).”

The city of Detroit — as well as metro Detroit — has largely been missing from the Pure Michigan campaign, save one commercial about The Henry Ford museum. More recently, however, the city has received more attention as a destination city.

“Detroit has become more and more important to our overall mission and more central to our promotional effort,” Lorenz says. “We feel that not only are we ready as a brand to get to that next level and be more urban-based, but Detroit’s ready for us to tell the world, ‘Look at America’s great comeback city.’ It’s not just a slogan — it’s really happening and you should come see it while it’s happening because it’s pretty awesome.”

Bill Bohde, senior vice president of sales and marketing at the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the bureau has contributed “in excess of a couple hundred thousand a year” to the Pure Michigan campaign to promote metro Detroit and now to create a commercial highlighting the region with an economic-driven message.

“We believe that if people understand the investment being made — not just from the tourism eyes but from the investment overall, that it will change the perception and image of our city, and therefore lead to greater visitation both for leisure travelers as well as meeting planners from throughout the country,” Bohde says.

Typically, the Pure Michigan advertisements have been aimed toward a specific audience. The radio or television commercials target the 35-to-54 age demographic, specifically women, who are typically the travel decision makers.

The new Detroit campaign is set to air this spring and will be targeted at the same age group but will also home in on people who live within a six-hour drive of Detroit, along with other key markets across the country.

Beating Detroit’s Bad Rap

Jean Giroux, who lives in Peterborough, Ontario, (about an hour and a half east of Toronto) is within the targeted driving range of the ad campaign.

In August 2014, she drove five hours to Detroit with her husband and a friend for the Eminem and Rihanna concert at Comerica Park in Detroit.

But her experience shows that despite the recently changing perceptions about Detroit, there are lingering effects from the city’s bad reputation, from outsiders and locals alike.

“We had friends when we told them we were going to see Eminem in Detroit say, ‘Do you have a death wish? Are you crazy? What are you doing going to Detroit?,’ Giroux says. “We were so nervous going down there.”

Giroux did her research before the overnight trip, looking up reviews of different hotels and information about transportation. She ultimately decided to stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel because it was close to Comerica Park and the expressway, and because she liked the idea that it offered a restaurant, casino, and nightclub all in one place.

“I would go back again, for sure,” Giroux says. “I felt like we really didn’t get to experience it, but I would like to see more of (the city). I had actually wanted to go to Eight Mile but everybody (even the locals) told us ‘No, don’t go.’… I was a bit discouraged. I had never gone somewhere where I had to be that careful before, even in the daytime.”

The Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau and Travel Michigan have taken on the challenge of changing perceptions of the region. Both groups acknowledge that the city of Detroit and the state, along with private and public organizations, must first offer amenities that attract tourism, such as easily accessible public transportation and a vibrant nightlife.

“For this upcoming year and the years ahead, when you talk about the significant investment in (M-1) Rail and District Detroit, and you have the new Penguinarium out at the Detroit Zoo and the aquarium and Legoland out at Great Lakes Crossing, there’s a number of significant new amenities that really are attractive to leisure visitors that will make them not just want to come back to Detroit, but also attract new visitation,” Bohde says.

Although the primary goal of the new Detroit commercial is to draw tourism to the region, it may also have a secondary effect. Just as the Pure Michigan campaign seems to have instilled a sense of pride among Michiganders for their state, the campaign’s new focus may also reinforce the sense of pride Detroiters have for their city. According to Lorenz, creating that sense of pride among residents was one of the original goals of the Pure Michigan campaign.

“(We thought that) pride could not only help draw travel and tourism, but help people to get behind other efforts, community efforts, (as well as) help them to believe in the state again and encourage them to expand their businesses and move their businesses here and not give up on the state.”