Connecticut's past is its future in tourism branding campaign

Greta Warren, with the creative agency Chowder Inc.,  places one of seven tourism branding posters on an easel at the Old State House in Hartford Monday.
Greta Warren, with the creative agency Chowder Inc., places one of seven tourism branding posters on an easel at the Old State House in Hartford Monday.

Hartford - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined tourism officials Monday in rolling out the state's much-anticipated branding campaign, part of a $27 million initiative they hope will generate three times as much in tourism revenues over the next two years.

Dubbed "Still Revolutionary," the campaign banks on the appeal of Connecticut's history and promotes the state as a haven for innovators.

Malloy, addressing an audience at the Old State House, said the campaign "ties into how we want to be perceived by the rest of the world."

Time will tell how well that perception sells.

Between now and Labor Day, the campaign will appear on billboards and in radio, TV, print and online advertising. A two-minute trailer and a 30-second TV spot screened at Monday's event capture the state's attractions, including such southeastern Connecticut stalwarts as Mystic Seaport, Mystic Aquarium, the Goodspeed Opera House, Gillette Castle and the casinos.

The screenings were met with enthusiastic applause.

"It's a good first step," said Tony Sheridan, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, one of several local tourism officials in the audience.

Peter Glankoff, executive vice president of marketing and public affairs for Sea Research Inc., which operates Mystic Aquarium, said the campaign compares favorably with the marketing of any state in the nation. He said the campaign's creators had succeeded in "distilling" the input they'd gathered.

"It's a winner," he said.

The TV commercials, one of which depicts a family visiting Mystic and another a young couple touring Essex, will air during episodes of "House," "Dancing With the Stars," "Celebrity Apprentice" and "Modern Family," according to Christine Castonguay, brand director for the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Kip Bergstrom, the DECD's deputy commissioner, who had hinted at the theme of the campaign in a meeting with business leaders in Mystic last month, said it made sense to tout Connecticut's history.

"Connecticut is not a theme park or a resort," he said. "History is all around us."

He said states tend to market their natural grandeur or their history and that while the West's grandeur might top Connecticut's, history "is ours for the taking." Connecticut, one of the 13 original states, becomes the first of them to embrace its past in a branding campaign, he said.

After years in which state government provided no funding for state tourism promotion, Malloy made good on a campaign pledge to restore it. He said the rule of thumb is that tourism spending provides a "three-to-one return" on investment.

"It's about getting our step back," the governor said. "We wanted a campaign that has legs. We have a lot of stories to tell."

He cited the state taking the lead in stem cell research, the presence of ESPN and plans by Jackson Laboratory and NBC Sports to move to the state.

"We've been a leader in innovation," he said.

Asked if the campaign's history theme would make it difficult to promote southeastern Connecticut's Indian casinos, Malloy said the story of a tribe's struggle for recognition is one that fits in.

"That's a pretty powerful story," he said. "That's a story you can tell."

The campaign is the work of Chowder Inc., a New York City agency hired to lead the branding effort. Its partners include Fleishman-Hillard, a global public-relations firm with a New York office; Media Storm of Norwalk and the Harrison Group of Waterbury. Malloy said Connecticut companies were responsible for the campaign's film production work.

In January, Chowder began interviewing focus groups in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston and Austin, Texas, in an effort to get a sense of how potential travelers perceived Connecticut.

"We found that Connecticut was not on people's radar," said Randy Fiveash, the state's tourism chief. "We needed a rallying cry, a vocabulary." Brands, he said, are born from consumers' insights.

Bergstrom said the campaign team gathered feedback from more than 1,500 Connecticut residents. The DECD launched an online contest, "What's Your Connecticut Story?" in which it invited residents to describe "the Connecticut people, places and experiences you love most."

More than 20,000 people have voted for their favorites among the more than 200 entries submitted so far. The site has been visited some 240,000 times.


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