State of the Arts

Michael Abatemarco looks at Santa Fe’s new ad cam­paign

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As most lo­cal mer­chants are aware, Santa Fe is cru­cially de­pen­dent on its tourist dol­lars. The city’s mul­ti­tude of mu­se­ums, gal­leries, shops, restau­rants, and other busi­nesses and or­ga­ni­za­tions tied to the art and cul­ture scene in New Mexico con­trib­ute $5.6 bil­lion to the state’s econ­omy an­nu­ally. That num­ber comes from a 2014 re­port com­mis­sioned by the New Mexico Depart­ment of Cul­tural Af­fairs and pre­pared by the Univer­sity of New Mexico’s Bureau of Busi­ness and Eco­nomic Re­search. It isn’t a shock to con­sider, then, that the city would spend $900,000 on Tourism Santa Fe’s new mar­ket­ing cam­paign to draw visi­tors. To some busi­ness own­ers, the amount, awarded to Bos­ton-based agency Fu­sei­deas, is a rel­a­tively low fig­ure, es­pe­cially if it in­cludes the cost of a media buy. Maybe you get what you pay for.

In June, an early ver­sion of the de­sign for the cam­paign went out to a com­mit­tee com­posed of a di­verse se­lec­tion of lo­cal mer­chants, gal­lerists, and other busi­ness pro­fes­sion­als (which is to say it went out to just about ev­ery­one, be­cause the best way to en­sure that ev­ery­one knows your busi­ness is to put it in the hands of a com­mit­tee). It wasn’t long be­fore mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als, staff at lo­cal de­sign firms, and gallery own­ers were weigh­ing in, and for the most part, the feed­back was far from good. Some saw the de­sign as an ap­peal to an older, mid­dle-class de­mo­graphic with noth­ing to of­fer the younger, hip­per ur­ban set. Oth­ers felt it did not go deep enough, re­duc­ing the full Santa Fe ex­pe­ri­ence to a few typ­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties — hik­ing, win­dow shop­ping, din­ing, a visit to the opera — rather than high­light­ing what truly sets the City Dif­fer­ent apart from all the rest, a core con­cept at the heart of the cam­paign ra­tio­nale. “I felt like it was a pretty sad start,” said Robert In­nis of Rinse De­sign and co­founder with part­ner Renée In­nis of De­sign Corps, an al­liance of lo­cal de­sign pro­fes­sion­als. “I think any time you’re launch­ing some­thing as im­por­tant as that for the city, it needs to knock ev­ery­one’s socks off. A cam­paign such as this should ig­nite the pas­sion in ev­ery­body that lives here. It shouldn’t be these clichés of shop­ping on the Plaza or ‘Here’s a moun­tain you can go hik­ing on.’ ”

Oth­ers were up­set by the in­clu­sion of stock pho­tog­ra­phy in the de­sign, used as place­hold­ers un­til more suit­able pho­tog­ra­phy could be ob­tained. “You don’t roll out an ad cam­paign and say, ‘By the way, the im­ages are not re­ally what we want. We’ll get back to you with the good stuff,’ ” said Ivan Bar­nett, owner of Patina Gallery and one of the cam­paign’s most vo­cal crit­ics. “They should not have even put im­ages in there if they didn’t want them to be looked at as fi­nal.”

Pho­to­graphs of such things as Na­tive pot­tery, cock­tails, cow­boy boots, and a moun­tain climber on ter­rain that doesn’t look re­motely like that found in the San­gre de Cris­tos may have drawn the most crit­i­cism, but some folks, such as Alex Ig­na­cio, web de­signer at Nar­ra­tive Media, sug­gested that the prob­lem is twofold. “One, they came up with some re­ally poor con­cepts. If the con­cept is go­ing to be, ba­si­cally, 100-per­cent vis­ual, then us­ing ter­ri­ble stock pho­tog­ra­phy is not a great way to ini­ti­ate the con­ver­sa­tion; two, if it wasn’t sup­posed to be re­leased to the public, then Fu­sei­deas has an is­sue with their client re­la­tion­ship. It sounds like a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion all around.”

Fu­sei­deas men­tioned in its cre­ative ra­tio­nale for the de­sign that the pho­to­graphs were meant only to con­vey the con­cept and were not fi­nal. “When we sent the ma­te­ri­als out, we were re­ally test­ing the cre­ative con­cept ver­sus the pho­tog­ra­phy, and we did clearly state that,” said Cyn­thia Del­gado, Tourism Santa Fe’s di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing. “We’ll be do­ing a full photo shoot as well as videog­ra­phy work through Au­gust.”

The city ad­ver­tised its re­quests for mar­ket­ing cam­paign pro­pos­als be­fore it granted the con­tract to Fu­sei­deas, and the sub­mis­sions it gen­er­ated in­cluded only a hand­ful of lo­cal firms. “It was open to ev­ery­one,” Del­gado said. “We only re­ceived one pro­posal from an agency here in Santa Fe. We did re­ceive one from Al­bu­querque and one from Las Cruces. The ad­di­tional pro­pos­als were from out of state.” Af­ter a pe­riod of more than three months, the com­mit­tee se­lected Fu­sei­deas based on its pro­posal and pre­sen­ta­tion. “The com­mit­tee was as­sem­bled by the mayor to help in­ter­view and iden­tify the fi­nal can­di­dates,” said David Eich­holtz, pres­i­dent of the board of the Santa Fe Gallery As­so­ci­a­tion and co-owner of David Richard Gallery. Eich­holtz was on the com­mit­tee. “We spent a cou­ple of days re­view­ing the pre­sen­ta­tions and pitches.” Eich­holtz

The idea be­hind Tourism Santa Fe’s new mar­ket­ing cam­paign is to whet the ap­petites of visi­tors with stun­ning pho­tog­ra­phy and tan­ta­liz­ing hints at what they can find in the city. A cam­paign such as this should ig­nite the pas­sion in ev­ery­body that lives here. It shouldn’t be these clichés of shop­ping on the Plaza or ‘Here’s a moun­tain you can go hik­ing on.’ — Robert In­nis, Rinse De­sign and De­sign Corps

I thought that on the whole, the con­cept was sound, that the City Dif­fer­ent cam­paign af­fords scal­able op­por­tu­ni­ties to tell the Santa Fe story.

— Suzanne O’Leary, JLH Media

has been sup­ply­ing Fu­sei­deas with new im­ages culled from SFGA’s sta­ble of mem­bers.

“Fu­sei­deas are tourism pro­fes­sion­als, and in fact, I think they can of­fer a solid per­spec­tive on iden­ti­fy­ing and at­tract­ing a cul­tur­ally cu­ri­ous, trav­el­ing de­mo­graphic,” said Mara Chris­tian Harris, mar­ket­ing man­ager of the Ge­or­gia O’Keeffe Mu­seum and a mem­ber of the ad cam­paign’s se­lec­tion com­mit­tee as well. “It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the media bud­get isn’t large com­pared to sim­i­lar tourist cities, and that much of the buy will be in dig­i­tal and not these ‘mar­quee’ show­piece print ads.”

The idea be­hind the cam­paign is to whet the ap­petites of visi­tors with stun­ning pho­tog­ra­phy and tan­ta­liz­ing hints at what they can find in Santa Fe and di­rect them to Tourism Santa Fe’s web­site, But the stun­ning pho­tog­ra­phy has yet to be seen, and the tan­ta­liz­ing hints, sug­gested by state­ments that form Fu­sei­deas’ cam­paign ra­tio­nale, men­tion po­ten­tial visi­tor draws like fine choco­lates. I don’t know about these hy­po­thet­i­cal tourists, but the prom­ise of fine choco­lates wouldn’t spark my in­ter­est, much less in­spire a visit.

Fu­sei­deas’ clients in­clude HBO, Sears, Roe­buck & Com­pany, Adi­das, and Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Learn­ing, among oth­ers. It has also cre­ated des­ti­na­tion ad cam­paigns to pro­mote tourism in Maine and Ber­muda. Its rep­u­ta­tion as an ex­pe­ri­enced agency is, in part, why some found the weak de­sign to be so shock­ing. “I’m not re­ally sure what they were hop­ing to achieve by putting it out there,” Renée In­nis said. “It’s not re­ally a typ­i­cal prac­tice. I’m not sur­prised that the city has got­ten the sort of feed­back that they have. It’s also pre­ma­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, it isn’t a strong cam­paign. It’s re­ally de­rived from clichés that we don’t think ben­e­fit our com­mu­nity.”

Kathrine Erick­son, owner of Evoke Con­tem­po­rary, stressed the im­por­tance of in­clud­ing art in the cam­paign. “Art and cul­ture have been omit­ted in past cam­paigns, and this has been a dev­as­tat­ing over­sight. What hap­pens next in the city’s mar­ket­ing at­tempts is crit­i­cal at this point for the re­main­ing busi­nesses and com­mu­nity.”

City of­fi­cials main­tain that trans­parency is at the heart of the de­ci­sion to send out the de­sign for feed­back. “A lot of thought and energy went into it,” said Tourism Santa Fe’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Randy Ran­dall. “Whether it had gone out too soon? Well, one could de­bate it. It would have been eas­ier for us if we had waited, but if you’re re­ally try­ing to test a con­cept and you have the fi­nal pho­tog­ra­phy done but the con­cept falls on its face, then you’ve wasted an aw­ful lot of time and money. I feel we got the feed­back we were look­ing for, so I don’t re­gret do­ing it. I’d do it again.”

Of course, none of the peo­ple I spoke with want to see the cam­paign fail, and there are a few de­fend­ers. Suzanne O’Leary of JLH Media took a bal­anced, diplo­matic ap­proach. “I be­lieve the im­por­tance of ev­ery brand­ing cam­paign is to evoke emo­tion, a pull, a re­ac­tion that cre­ates a sense of de­sire, as­so­ci­a­tion or in this cam­paign, a cu­rios­ity. I think the strat­egy to align with the City Dif­fer­ent [con­cept] is right. Link­ing the rank­ings to ads are also good,” she added, re­fer­ring to the rank­ings of publi­ca­tions such as Travel & Leisure, who con­sis­tently list Santa Fe among Amer­ica’s best cities. Chris­tian Harris agreed. “I thought that on the whole, the con­cept was sound, that the City Dif­fer­ent cam­paign af­fords scal­able op­por­tu­ni­ties to tell the Santa Fe story.”

The ques­tion is to what ex­tent the com­ments that Tourism Santa Fe re­ceived will have an im­pact on the fi­nal prod­uct. “We wanted to get as much feed­back as we could ear­lier in the process ver­sus later in the process be­cause we wanted to in­cor­po­rate it,” Del­gado said. “I was ex­cited that peo­ple were pas­sion­ate and en­gaged enough to give us feed­back, and that they cared.”

Fu­sei­deas’ mock-ups for its ad cam­paign

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