We got an informative and humorous presentation on May 17, on Nebraska Tourism from Executive Director John Ricks.
Some wanted an explanation of the latest Nebraska Tourism motto change and some wanted to learn more about the man behind the drive. Either way we were informed and entertained.
John has 25 years experience in marketing - particularly destination marketing. He said the first thing is that you need to be prepared to look at things objectively.
He was aware that Nebraska was facing some huge challenges:
- Ad awareness was low
- familiarity of Nebraska as a vacation destination was low
- Likelihood of visiting Nebraska for a vacation was low
From 2012 to 2017 the statistics indicated that Nebraska was the least likely state to be visited. In fact one person described it as "it may be a nice place to live but I wouldn't want to live there". 
One year later, we moved from 50 to 48 on the list of destinations. This is a much larger change than it may seem on the surface.
Looking at the marketing plan of tourism, it was found that we weren't marketing to people outside of Nebraska. We were marketing internally - moving money from one part of the state to another. But we weren't bringing any money in. People tend to go where they are invited. It was decided that we need to spend money outside of Nebraska and invite those people to visit.
Results of the focus group were:
- We know what Nebraskans think, we need to know what people outside of Nebraska think
- - - It is more than merely a lack of awareness
- - - consumers have a strong preconceived notion that there is nothing to do in Nebraska
- - - Nebraska is not considered to be in the vacation / leisure trips category
- - - We can't just inform our audience we need to change their perceptions
- Nebraska faces brand apathy
- - - indifference
- - - consumers won't put for the effort to research
- Nebraska has a perceived product problem
- - - lack of activities and attractions
- - - not enough to do
We were faced with an advertising challenge. We needed a campaign that would catch the attention of the audience, interrupt their thinking, challenge and ultimately change the perception of Nebraska. It had to be mind jarring and take people out of their comfort zone.
We viewed a number of ads that truly do show the different sides of Nebraska.. Some of the video tag lines:
- Famous for our flat, boring landscape
- Lucky for you, there’s nothing to do here
- Another day on the dusty plains.
- Maybe calling them plains was a poor choice of words.
-Like Stonehenge, but a newer model
-Nothing but fly-over country
-Festivals for everything from music to Testicles. Some of you are shaking your heads.
Many of the videos can be viewed at:
For more on Nebraska Tourism visit https://visitnebraska.com/
John Ricks is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission. He joined the Commission in January of 2017.
John has helped increase excitement surrounding tourism in Nebraska with the new marketing campaign, “Nebraska. Honestly. It’s not for everyone.” The new campaign garnered press worth over $7.1 million in the month after the unveiling and has since continued to receive attention nationally and internationally ever since.
John has spent more than 25 years working in tourism destination marketing for a number of different states. As an advertising agency executive, he led marketing efforts for Wisconsin and Wyoming. Working with Wyoming, he led strategy efforts that created the award-winning “Forever West” campaign. Previously he was Associate Director of the Colorado Tourism Office where he was architect of the very successful “Come to Life” marketing strategy that resulted in five consecutive years of record-setting results in terms of visitation, visitor spending, tax revenue generated and marketing ROI.
Son of an Army officer, he was born in the Philippines and has lived in destinations around the world including Hawaii, Japan and Okinawa, where he graduated from high school. He’s also an adventure traveler having trekked on Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the wide open spaces of Patagonia and in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in Bhutan.