With more than 145,500 square miles, there's a lot of Montana to explore. Now, Montana's Office Of Tourism, Spark Communications, and Aim Media, publisher of Backpacker magazine, are teaming up to encourage tourists to visit all of Big Sky Country.
"We launched this program with Backpacker to find people who want to 'step out of bounds,'" says Steve Carlson, VP, Media Director, Spark, part of Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest Group. "That is, those thrill seekers who want to get off the beaten path and find their way into new areas of the state of Montana."
The multifaceted “Out Of Bounds" promotion launches with the March issue of Backpacker by inviting readers to submit a two-minute video to become an "ambassador" for the state. "We [had] an ambassador program last year, but that was using professional writers as the ambassadors," says Carlson. "It’s the first time we are using consumer ambassadors to talk about the state and to share their stories."
To participate in the campaign, entrants must demonstrate how they "step out of bounds" in their everyday lives and why this makes them the best candidate to represent Montana. Then, Backpacker readers select the winner and in the May issue, magazine readers will select one of four itineraries they want this ambassador and a traveling companion to explore.
These two ambassadors will document their week-long adventure in July via social media and will write articles for the September issue of the magazine.
"Spark has worked with Backpacker in the past, and they have been a good partner of ours," says Carlson. "Specific to this campaign, they fit our audience profile -- they reach that geo-tourist -- that person who wants to get away from their everyday experiences to do something unique and different, and really step out of bounds."
It was important to develop a campaign that encourages interactivity and dialogue with potential tourists, says Carlson. "This is kind of like a 'choose your own adventure,'" he says. "The audience is directing the plan, so it’s not a cookie-cutter program. It’s really up to the Backpacker audience, and going back to the makeup of their readership, we feel they are the most qualified readers to determine how this dream vacation plays out."
At the same time, there is some risk with a campaign that requires heavy consumer engagement. "Giving up control of the brand to consumers always presents a challenge," says Carlson. "Anything can happen, and you have to work hard to keep track of everything. For example, someone who wants to be an ambassador can blanket Facebook to get a ton of votes, but they might not be the most qualified individual to become an ambassador. These individuals have to deliver on Montana brand values, and there is a risk that the chosen consumer may not be the right fit."
Still, this campaign is designed to serve as inspiration to explorers and those that live vicariously through them. Montana's Office Of Tourism Board hopes that readers develop a relationship with
the ambassadors and then book the same trip themselves.
"Readers of Backpacker will be interested in following this campaign, and that’s another reason why we are working with Backpacker. Fans of the magazine like reading about what other readers have done. They are going to want to follow along because Montana is a dream trip for the Backpacker audience," says Carlson.