Pure Michigan updating brand to reach younger audiences

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Long associated with calm music, soothing landscapes and the soft tones of Tim Allen’s voice, Michigan’s campaign to promote tourism will get an update to appeal to younger audiences.

David Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, said the updated campaign  marks the first time Pure Michigan has targeted young individuals.

“They’re more interested in experience than stuff,” he said. “Mostly Baby Boomers and Gen Z are looking for experience rather than the bigger TV set or the nicer car. That provides a great opportunity for the travel industry.” 

The new ads will be more vibrant, Lorenz said. “You’ll see more people and more activity in the ads. The music is more uptempo.”

“For 17 years, we’ve always used the music from Cider House Rules, we’ve used Tim Allen’s voice, we’ve had this very calm, subtle approach,” Lorenz said. “That reaches the older folks, but we really felt by lifting up the spirit and showing the diversity in this way, we’re going to be more appealing to younger people as well.”

The campaign, billed as “Keep it Fresh,” will include spots focusing on Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Traverse City, “using the sights, sounds and artistry that reflect the range of unique experiences and stories to be found in Michigan,” according to a news release from the office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“We know that people, when they come to Michigan, expect to see beautiful nature. They’re going to find that,” Lorenz said. “But now they’re also starting to realize they can find vibrant, interesting cities.”

“It’s unbelievably cool. I never thought Detroit would come back the way it is in my lifetime,” he said.

The new campaign will mark Pure Michigan’s return to national airwaves, with spots airing on Discovery, Food Network, HGTV and Magnolia Network, and in local regions throughout the Midwest

Digital portions of the “Keep it Fresh” campaign launched in late February, with TV ads beginning in March.

The council also launched Pure Opportunity, a business marketing campaign touting the state’s skilled labor pool, freshwater resources and top ranking in climate change preparedness.

 That campaign will feature images of Michigan companies like Pfizer in Portage, Orbion Space Technology in Houghton, Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire, Daddy Dough Cookies in Grand Rapids and Detroit Denim.

“Michigan is a place that will drive the world forward through grit, our world-class workforce, and stunning natural resources,” Whitmer said in a news release. 

Modernized music

One of the first changes people may notice in the new campaign is more upbeat music. 

“We were limited because of the slow, soft, beautiful, emotionally evocative music style of Cider House Rules,” Lorenz said. “It’s kind of hard to say, ‘Hey, let’s go snowmobiling!’”

Nicole Churchill, a co-founder of Assemble Sound, the Detroit company that developed the new score, said they wanted to refresh the music without completely deviating from what people have grown to know and love.

“That Cider House Rules score that’s been used for so long has become such a connection with the brand, I think the biggest challenge was how you maintain the integrity and pay homage to that while still bringing a little bit of newness and youth, and how you get people who are across different generations to like the same thing,” Churchill said.

Julian Wettlin, director of creative licensing for Assemble Sound, said “It was kind of a tightrope to walk between this modern, kind of poppy, electronic, indie-rock world that they wanted to play in with keeping the sincerity that Cider House Rules has.”

The company used all Michigan talent for the demos, and the score that was selected was composed by Ann Arbor native Ben Collins.

Wettlin said he didn’t allow the project to overwhelm him while working on it.

After seeing rough cuts of the spots, he thought to himself “Oh, right, this will live for a very long time.”

While the state only contracted for one song, Wettlin said it was designed to be adaptable enough to fit multiple spots.

“We basically gave them a toolbox of sounds,” Wettlin said. “When they get into mix, they can take down some of the bass and let the synths live a little higher in the mix on the more nature ones, and the nightlife ones maybe pull some of that sentimental quality and bring up more of the fun quality.”

A new voice

Another auditory change people are likely to quickly latch onto: the introduction of a new voice, Detroit poet jessica Care moore.

Moore, whose first and last name are not capitalized, came to national prominence after winning “It’s Showtime at the Apollo” a record-breaking five times in a row.

Oprah shared in 2022 one of moore’s poems, “Her Crown Shines,” which was written for then-Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson following her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lorenz said the Michigan Economic Development Council had looked at introducing a second voice for years, but “they just didn’t seem right until we found jessica.”

“We’re using her in a different way. We’re using her writing talents as well as her voice,” Lorenz said. “I love her kind of grainy, granular, earthy voice. It’s going to blend really well with Tim.”

Focus on diversity

Highlighting diversity is one way the new campaign will appeal to younger audiences, Lorenz said.

“We have a lot to be proud of with our diversity, and we think that’s very appealing to a lot of people right now,” Lorenz said. “With our TV and radio ads, you’re going to hear an additional voice with Tim Allen this year – you’ll hear a woman. That, in itself, demonstrates in a subtle way that we’re not the same old state you think we were. We’re so much more.”

But he acknowledged that  some audiences may feel that capitalizing on diversity may seem superficial or opportunistic. It’s a concern that they considered. 

“That’s one of the reasons why it’s taken us a while to really take this approach, because we felt that it had to be genuine. It had to be authentic. It had to be real,” Lorenz said.

“We tell the truth about things that are important to people, and things that we know are gaining importance in the future,” he added. “The state has changed in the last 17 years, and we’re trying to represent that change.”

Moore joins Allen in the campaign, who has faced backlash in recent years. After attending the inauguration of former President Donald Trump, Allen told Jimmy Kimmel that, “You get beat up if you don’t believe what everybody else believes. This is like ‘30s Germany.”

Asked whether that factored into the decision to introduce a new voice, Lorenz emphasized that “Tim is not our spokesperson, he’s our voice,” and that he is not being replaced, but rather joined, by moore.

Marketers have to be careful with  political debates, he said. “It’s really important that we stay out of that, because we’re in a very divided time politically.” 

But it’s tricky.

”Everything seems to be perceived as being political these days,” Lorenz said. But he isn’t concerned about backlash to a more diverse campaign.

“As long as we’re doing the right thing and we’re trying to do our best to articulate that we’re trying to make sure that all persons of goodwill know that they are welcome here, that’s what counts.” Lorenz said. “If there are others out there who take that as some kind of a political statement, they just don’t understand.”

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