Missouri Asks: What's Your M-O?

The good news for Missouri is that it touches eight other states, with another half dozen within an easy day’s drive –a great regional tourism market. The bad  news is that all those other states are competing for the same regional market.

How to stand out in that crowded cluster? The state had been rolling along for quite a while with user-generated content, according to Stephen Foutes, director of the Missouri Division of Tourism -- providing family groups, getaway vacationers and others with video equipment and sending them off in a particular direction. It was called the “It’s Your Show” campaign -- as in the Show Me state.

But with a new agency,  Osborne Barr Paramore (OBP) out of St. Louis, the state decided it was time for a fresh approach. The agency came up with five different concepts  -- including a character-driven campaign starring, yes, “Mo,” as in the state’s postal abbreviation.

The way to stand out, the thinking went, was to highlight attractions  that would have appeal for every market segment. That approach began with two questions: Who could be visiting? And: Why weren’t they? Research found that Missouri was not top of mind even among regional travelers.



With the character-driven mission in mind, a young actress was chosen to become Mo with the theme of “What’s your M-O?” -- playing off the state’s postal abbreviation and the character’s name. Just as different people seek different experiences on vacations, there’s a different M-O for everyone. The message was to re-introduce Missouri as an easy place to get to where there was no pressure and lots of hidden gems that were budget- and family-friendly, and with lots of outdoor activities.

More than 200 people auditioned to be Mo. Ashley Santana, a native Missourian,  was chosen because, “she really stood out on camera,” said Foutes. A video was made featuring Mo that became part of a fully integrated campaign with paid components, shared social and more . The campaign generated a lot of media and  drove potential visitors people to the VisitMO website where they could take a quiz to learn what their M-O was and be connected to appropriate activities and attractions.

The results were impressive: $884 million in incremental spending, two billion impressions and almost 5 million visits to the website in two years. There was also a lot of award winning, including high-profile Adrian Awards from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International. And The Travel and Tourism  Research Association (TTRA) awarded the campaign with the first-ever Cheryl Schutz Award for Destination Marketing and Research Excellence.

Santana herself became a celebrity, with crowds at parades calling out, “Hey that’s Mo from TV” and with people stopping to take selfies with her at events. This demonstrated the success of the idea , of offering travelers an approachable, fun-loving, easy-going and down-to-earth character – traits ascribed to Missourians, according to Foutes.

With that success,  Missouri hopes to continue the campaign for a while. With Kansas City in the Super Bowl last February, the state bought a regional ad, which marked the debut of a second 30-second video -- starring Mo, of course.

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