Bureau of Tourism Tries Something New

Vacation season has arrived, and with it comes a new $10 million ad campaign from the Illinois Bureau of Tourism that isn’t likely to do much for our state’s underwhelming reputation as a travel destination. Designed around the tag line “Illinois: Don’t Miss It!” the campaign is a lackluster attempt to spark interest in weekend trips to Illinois tourist attractions.

Because of its size and the number of visitors it traditionally attracts, Chicago receives special attention in the new campaign with TV commercials centered on the slogan “Club Chicago: America’s Summer City.” The commercials use a calypso-inspired sound track and feature quick cuts between lots of shots: sailboats, girls in swimsuits, people golfing, a guy playing trumpet. It’s OK to try to make the city look sexy and fun, but making it look like a Club Med vacation is all wrong.

The new campaign, which kicked off earlier this month, is a far cry from the sophisticated soft-sell, image-oriented efforts of recent years, which used arty visuals and tried to portray the state as a culturally enriching vacation spot with the slogan, “Illinois: The American Renaissance.” Now the push is more down-to-earth, purely “product driven,” according to Donna Shaw, appointed director of the tourism bureau last September by Governor Edgar. Shaw believes the campaign is right for these economically tough times because people are taking more short weekend vacations closer to home.

“We’re trying to boost the perception of Illinois as a weekend destination,” says Shaw. “The perception out there is that there is nothing to do in Illinois.” Shaw previously was a management supervisor at Bozell, Inc., where she oversaw advertising for the Illinois lottery; before that she was an account supervisor at Zechman and Associates, which produced the first major Illinois tourism advertising campaign in 1985.

When Shaw came aboard last fall, she immediately invited ad agencies to compete for the state tourism account; in February Mc-onnaughy Stein Schmidt Brown, creators of the American Renaissance campaign, were dumped in favor of Ogilvy & Mather. O&M had only three months to produce its debut campaign, which includes ads, TV spots, and an “Illinois Road Tours” brochure.

Because time was tight, O&M used previously existing film footage for its TV commercials. Much of what was used are pedestrian shots of sun-dappled waterfalls, lakes, riverboats, and landscapes wedded to an upbeat but unmemorable jingle.

But all of the spots are tailored to the specific markets where they will air. The commercials appearing on Chicago stations, for instance, indicate how many hours of driving time are required to get from here to the tourist destination shown. “We want to let viewers know how easy it is to get to a particular attraction,” explains Shaw.

No matter how admirable Shaw’s intentions, the payback from this mundane campaign may be limited. Research shows that many vacationing Illinoisans seem to gravitate toward Michigan and Wisconsin instead of their own state. Chicagoans alone spend more than $1 billion on vacations in the midwest. Of that total, only about 4 percent, or $38.7 million, currently stays in Illinois, while $539 million is spent in Wisconsin and Michigan. To top it off, Wisconsin and Michigan don’t spend very much to attract that money; Michigan’s tourism ad budget is $2.26 million, while Wisconsin’s is $3 million, less than a third of what Illinois spends annually.

It remains to be seen whether Shaw and O&M can significantly alter those statistics. The reality just may be that Chicagoans and other ]Illinois residents prefer what Wisconsin and Michigan have to offer. The Bureau of Tourism could wind up concluding that it needs to spend less on advertising and more on upgrading and expanding the state’s tourism infrastructure–the destinations tourists are encouraged to visit–if the numbers ever are going to change in Illinois’ favor.

Modest Marlo

The preopening publicity for Six Degrees of Separation at the Briar Street Theatre suggested that Marlo Thomas was the star of the production, but in reality she’s turned out to be more of a team player. The title page of the Six Degrees program lists Thomas below the title, on the same line with the other featured performers, Bryan Hicks and Ned Schmidtke. Thomas apparently had the option of above-the-title billing, but Michael Leavitt, the show’s producer and director, said she chose not to exercise that option. “She’s a star working in an ensemble show,” says Leavitt. Then again, Thomas is leaving the show June 28, which means Leavitt will have to line up a replacement almost immediately.

Nasty Mike’s New Place

Colorful club man Michael Blatter never succeeded in making his short-lived nightclub Nasty Mike’s work on a Mondays-only schedule. But he’s helping Lucky’s billiard parlor launch a new Tuesdays-only club called La Lounge Deluxe in its basement on Institute Place. Dark and cushiony, the club has been attracting a sizable mix of club types and yuppies in the 21-45 age range since it quietly opened several weeks ago. A DJ plays what Blatter calls “comfortable, older, nonrave music.”

Continuing Saga of Annie Warbucks

The slow but sure development of a sequel to the phenomenally successful musical Annie continues when Annie Warbucks reopens May 31 at the Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace. Since the sequel ended its well-received run at Marriott’s Lincolnshire Theatre April 5, creators Martin Charnin, Charles Strouse, and Thomas Meehan have written a new opening scene and added three new songs, including an act-one closer with Kurt Weill overtones called “I Got Me” that Charnin describes as a “song of survival.” Another tune from the show, “Somebody’s Gotta Do Something,” is under consideration as the theme song for the Democratic National Convention in July. If all goes according to plan, Annie Warbucks will run at Drury Lane through mid-July, then tour the west coast and arrive on Broadway next December.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peggy Zarnek Photography, Inc..