Tennessee Invests More Tax Dollars Than Ever Before in Tourism Advertising

Kansas City-based VML created the "Made in Tennessee" ad campaign, part of a $60 million contract. (Credit: VML)

Kansas City-based VML created the “Made in Tennessee” ad campaign, part of a $60 million contract. (Credit: VML)

The state’s tourism department is pumping more taxpayer money than ever before into luring new visitors. A Kansas City advertising agency this month rolled out the “Made in Tennessee” campaign, coming after Tennessee officials granted the company a $60-million contract.

The marketing agency VML, which has opened a Nashville office, produced two 30-second TV commercials promoting getting outdoors in Tennessee, with dramatic waterfalls, green rolling hills and horseback-riding amid a forest scene. The ads will play in about a dozen markets around the country.

Governor Bill Haslam’s current budget included a nearly $11-million tourism budget, $6 million of which is being dedicated to the VML contract. It’s a five-year agreement, and the firm’s total maximum payout is $60 million, though that doesn’t guarantee that’s what the company will be paid.

Susan Whitaker, who runs the state’s tourism department, said at a time when other states are investing heavily in tourism promotion, Tennessee needs to keep up. Plus, ABC’s “Nashville” has helped spark new interest in visiting the city, Whitaker said. VML’s ad campaign is aimed at turning that interest into a visit.

According to Whitaker, publicly financed advertising yields big turns. For every taxpayer dollar invested, around $19 are sunk back into local and state coffers, she said.

Whitaker said if tourism efforts continue to receive strong funding, they’ll be able to hit their goal of making it into the top 10 states for tourism. Right now, in terms of revenue, Tennessee ranks 17th.

“Part of the reason for that, and I don’t broadcast this to people when they come, is that we have a very high sales tax,” she said.

When VML was competing for the state of Tennessee’s selection, executives from the firm immersed themselves in the state, John Godsey, VML’s executive creative director, told the New York Times. “So five of us took this epic road trip, six or seven days, 1,200 miles, filming everything with GoPro cameras.”

Here are the commercials.

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