I am ‘In Bruges’ this week presenting a paper at the Travel & Tourism Research Association annual conference. My paper is about America’s use of branded entertainment as a way of attracting international tourists. Branded entertainment is a relatively new term to describe a more contemporary, sophisticated use of product placement, and involves co-creation and collaboration between entertainment, media and brands. Although there are only a few examples of destinations employing branded entertainment as a communications tool, it has been acknowledged that placing a destination in a film or television is the ultimate in tourism product placement. Just witness the success of In Bruges. Tourists have been flocking to Bruges since the debut of the 2008 movie (despite the fact that it depicted a city full of contract killers, racist dwarfs and prostitutes), and I used the movie map yesterday to get around the beautiful city.
But the resulting tourism from this film was more chance than actual marketing strategy, whereas the U.S. recently has been more proactive in using TV and film to attract tourists. Last year, Brand USA, the group that is spearheading the nation’s first global marketing effort to promote the US overseas, launched a website in London accepting confidential television ideas from producers. Following an external committee selection, entries were shortlisted to three, and the first program to be produced was Extreme Frontiers: USA, which was broadcast in the UK on Channel Five late in 2013. Produced by director Russ Malkin, owner of Big Earth, the four-part series followed well-known thrill-seeker and adventurer Charley Boorman, whose expedition began in Hawaii before he and Malkin travelled over 8,000 miles across 22 states.
Brand USA developed a dedicated web page on their consumer website for the show featuring video excerpts from the series, photographs, and links to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. On the website were also links to travel information and to the show’s own website. The program is currently being sold globally and will appear in over 90 territories, but as a result of the program being broadcast in the UK alone, EagleRider, an official sponsor of the show created an, ‘Extreme Frontiers Guided Tour’, of which they have already sold 60 packages.
Building on this initiative, this April, the US Travel Association, in conjunction with Brand USA, launched a new broadcast/production program at the annual IPW conference in Chicago. This allowed broadcast and production media from the UK, Ireland and Australia to participate in face-to-face appointments with US travel and film organizations to find out more about filming in the US. Once again, the idea was to encourage producers to feature the US as a premier destination and leverage the new brand promise. In addition, Brand USA is spending $10m on an IMAX movie that will showcase the country’s national parks, and the group has also teamed up with National Geographic Travel on a digital campaign to showcase iconic road trips across America to international travelers.
What all this shows is that if destinations can think creatively and work closely with the film and television industries to facilitate production, they will capitalize on the subsequent exposure. Brand USA not only exploited the power of entertainment to promote the US as a travel destination, they supported the initiative with a promotional campaign around the brand integration, a tactic that has proved successful in the past with consumer brands.