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Selling Newfoundland: Province fights copy-cat tourism ads

The number of tourists visiting the province has risen more than 20 per cent since the start of the popular ad series.

Whenever Terry French sees an out-of-province licence plate, he acts like a quintessential Newfoundlander and strikes up a friendly conversation with a stranger. And when Newfoundland and Labrador's Minister of Tourism, culture and recreation asks those strangers what brought them there, the answer is music to his ears.

"Seven out of 10 people, immediately, say, 'I saw the ads,'" Mr. French said.

This kind of explicit return on marketing investment is rare, and highly prized by agencies and clients alike. But as the province launches its newest tourism ads on Monday, it will be fighting against becoming a victim of its own success.

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The 14 ads that have come before – filled with memorable images of spirited ginger-haired children, rolling emerald hills and motley-hued houses – were so arresting that Newfoundland has now found itself with a host of imitators. So many, in fact, that for a time a woman on the province's marketing team began tacking up examples from around the world of ads that looked just like theirs, and quickly filled a wall with them.

It's easy to see why: The "Find Yourself Here" campaign has, at last count, racked up 173 awards globally. Non-resident visits to the province rose 22 per cent from the campaign's launch in 2006 to the end of 2010, and those visitors' spending was up 37 per cent in the same period.

Exact numbers from 2010 on are not available, because the province has launched a new exit survey to track tourism results being tabulated now. However Mr. French says indications are that the growth trend has continued in recent years.

"We're knocking on the door, in Newfoundland and Labrador, of tourism becoming a billion-dollar industry," he said.

But as the ads gained fans, the ministry and its St. John's-based ad agency, Target Marketing, began to notice some familiar-looking images and its general style in other tourism campaigns. Gorgeous high-definition shots of clotheslines swaying in the breeze against green hills became more popular, for example. And so Newfoundland has had to fight to continue developing the campaign so that it remains differentiated.

The newest "chapters" (the internal name for each commercial, which the minister likes to see as installments in a serial tale of the province) will run until May, and focus on two elements that no other destination can claim. The first boasts about North America's most easterly point, Cape Spear. The other advertises Newfoundland and Labrador as having "more dialects than any other place on the planet." There are so many, in fact, that they would not fit into a 30-second spot. Instead, the commercial opts for a tune playing over images of people chatting away.

While each ad has changed, one element has remained constant: the end of each spot has a phone number and an entreaty to "Call Seamus," or "Call Joan." This first-name-basis ending was a conscious decision – to conjure up a feeling of intimacy and friendliness (though it also suggests a comical image of a solitary representative manning the phones for the entire province.)

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It has worked. In 2006, the province was mostly known as a hunting and fishing destination, Mr. French said. It launched the campaign to attract a wider range of travellers, with a budget of $6-million. Its success has warranted more investment, and this year that budget has more than doubled, to $13-million.

"It's a challenge for our tourism industry. You have to work to get here. That's one thing we've tried to overcome," he said. "You've got to get on a ferry and drive or you've got to fly ... You don't happen on us. We have to say we're different."

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