North Dakota responds to ad criticism

Frank Cooper, Chief Consumer Engagement Officer of PepsiCo once said, “You as a brand have to be completely confident about your position, because you will get criticism. You will have a negative reaction. If you didn’t get a negative reaction, that means you’re standing neutral and you have no point of view. Who wants to participate in that?” For North Dakota Tourism, that criticism came yesterday, January 12, 2012. On Monday the 9th, North Dakota Tourism unveiled their advertising campaign for the new year, including six new :15-second television ads and 10 new print ads.  The unveil received a great deal of attention including an AP story picked up by more than 50 online and print publications to include the Boston Globe, Bloomberg Businessweek and the Huffington Post.  The television ads are shared on YouTube and NDtourism.com and the print ads were also shared on our website and Facebook fan page. Yesterday afternoon, one print ad started being widely shared on Facebook generating a great deal of comments - a majority of them negative.  Our first reaction was, "Wow!  Some people are just crude and watch too much reality TV."  But as comments became, in some cases, downright offensive, we decided to remove the image from Facebook and our website.  We also became aware of blogs criticizing not just the ad but the entire state. The media and public reaction that has followed in the past 24-hours has been a mixture of supportive, cautionary and critical.  This isn't a canned statement - but just the honest way we feel:  This ad was intended to highlight nightlife, youthfulness and a girls-night-out in one of our city's downtowns.  While we did not personally see the negative connotations that have since been implied, we take that feedback very seriously and are responding to it.  The ad will not run in publications as originally presented.  We are committed to promoting our vibrant city experiences and will create an ad that more accurately conveys the message we intended. What's most bothersome to those of us who have been involved in the creative campaign is not the fact that the ad has been attacked, but the fact that the models - who had such a fun experience at the photo shoot - have been personally bashed.  These are beautiful, REAL people who we are proud to have represent North Dakota and the fun, downtown Fargo nightlife that they truly do enjoy.  We apologize to them for the senseless and inappropriate things that people posted about them. Here at North Dakota Tourism we aren’t “standing neutral with no point of view.”  We care passionately about North Dakota.  Criticism against the overall campaign and the state is unjustified.  We have research on our visitation, about our ad campaigns and our branding.  And the creative strategy and media buy are based on this research. According to the U.S. Travel Association, North Dakota has been outpacing the nation with increased visitor spending in seven of the past eight years.  Since the introduction of the Legendary brand 10 years ago, we’ve made great strides in showing more people the great history, culture, scenery, adventure and fun in North Dakota.  We have measured the results of our ad campaign since 2003 and the 2010 advertising  generated more than $277 million in visitor spending. This ad series works to showcase many of the experiences found here and that our visitors tell us they love. Like Cheryl Dunning from Winnipeg, Manitoba who recently wrote us: I plan on coming back into North Dakota fairly regularly … Grand Forks is a favorite as is Fargo. I'd like to see Bismarck, Jamestown and well a lot of other places. I always find ways to have fun in North Dakota - from finding new places to eat to finding new things to take photos of. I look forward to returning time and time again to North Dakota.” Thank you Cheryl.  We’re good enough and gosh darn it, people like us!  As travel expert and blogger Ted Sullivan wrote in his blog about Fargo – it’s quirky, unexpected and great place to visit. Thank you to all of you sending us your tweets, posts and emails of support, like St. Paul Pioneer Press freelance writer Julie Forster who tweeted, “Yay, North Dakota! Love your ad. Can't believe you pulled it” and Arla Jean Wood who told us on Facebook: “Fargo is a friendly college town! I really don't see the intention of harm or insult in that ad. Downtown bars are an easy place to meet new people. That has ALWAYS been the case for me; when I was young and lived there and 10 yrs late when I go back to see friends. It's always a fun party and that's one of the biggest reasons why I love going home.”