What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I just need to comment on this recent ad that appeared in Backpacker Magazine recently.

You might be familiar with the publication if you are an individual that likes the rugged outdoors.  I am. I like to backpack, hike, canoe, whitewater raft, and climb…and do not get enough opportunity to do so.  Backpacker reaches this market.NE DOT Tanking Ad

Backpacker’s mission states, “We inspire and enable people to enjoy the outdoors by providing the most trusted and engaging information about backcountry adventure in North America.”

This publication reaches the adventure enthusiast; really those people who enjoy getting out into the rugged outdoors.

Nebraska certainly is not considered a destination for this type of rugged individual.  I do know a bit about destination tourism having worked with this industry in may marketing past.  We may be able to get someone traveling through the state to stop and spend a day or two.  It takes time and tons of marketing dollars to make any location a destination. I also live in Nebraska and certainly promote the natural assets the state has, and they are many, just different from the Rockies or out east like along the Appalachian Trail.

The imagery painted in the minds of non-Nebraskans of the state who are adventure tourists might be: flat, corn, cattle, treeless, perhaps even desert like (a long ago description misrepresenting the state) filled with people who follow the “Cornhuskers” sports teams.  Anyone that has driven through the state on Interstate 80 certainly will have a perception the state is flat.  I-80 runs along the Platte River Valley; which of course is flat, but rises in elevation 10 feet for every mile traveling east to west; up to 5,000 foot above sea-level.   The terrain is very diverse with rolling sandhills to the north, the Nebraska National Forest near the center of the state, hills and trails out west near Chadron and Fort Robinson State Park. Nebraska certainly does not come to mind when you think of rivers, hiking, backpacking, or climbing.

Trouble is the state is very diverse and it is hard to overcome the imagery that has long been around.  Marketing does have a role in attempting to change this perception.  Today that not only includes traditional forms of advertising but social media as well.

In the traditional advertising stable of publications there are a number that can reach this adventure market.  I consider Backpacker one of the best.

Now picture the ad (image with this post) included in the May 2010 issue?

Does this dispel any perceptions that Nebraska is anything but a state that is filled with “hayseeds.” How does floating down a river “in a cattle tank” provide imagery of excitement and adventure to the reader of Backpacker?

Well, it doesn’t.  I wrote to the Director of the Nebraska Dept. of Tourism regarding my concern of this ad sending the wrong message and continues misperceptions of the state.  I suggested that a shot of canoeing down the Niobrara, or hiking in the Nebraska National Forest or out west would certainly provide a better image.

Here is his reply to me:

I have received your email and appreciate your feedback.  Unfortunately, Nebraska’s tourism budget is extremely limited which requires us to use a finite number of visual ads in our new campaign.  I’d rather we spend more money on marketing/advertising than on production, as I’m sure you can understand.  The selection of this picture, one of our few outdoor recreation pictures incorporated into out [sic] new campaign so far, brings not only an outdoor, family-fun-oriented feel to it, but also highlights one of the unique activities that Nebraska can latch onto.  In this world of marketing to the over-marketed, you HAVE to be able to stand out to be noticed and I feel that this picture justifies that direction.  I have the pleasure of working with other tourism directors across the U.S. and with the exception of one state that has taking [sic] available, all of the others are in fact intrigued about it.  Arkansas’s director, a self proclaimed canoeing adventurer, heard about it at a meeting we attended and is planning to come up this summer with his family and try it out, along with canoeing down the Niobrara and other hiking/water-related activities.
I’m excited to continue our movement into highlighting more of what Nebraska has to offer for an outdoor recreation state and am continually looking at ways to increase awareness.  We have a long way to go but I feel that we’ve made some great steps in the right direction with our marketing efforts.  I think you’ll be happy to see more of them in the coming years.
Thanks again for your email, and have a fantastic weekend!
Christian Hornbaker
Director, Division of Travel and Tourism
Nebraska Department of Economic Development

The ad might just succeed “to stand out,”  but any agency worth its reputation will create ads that should arouse interest, create desire, and motivate action. That should be a given.  Another responsibility of the media buying arm of a marketing agency is to create the best match between the ad message and the market of the publication. This is where I feel is the biggest failure on the part of the agency and the state tourism department.  Neither the agency nor the director has a clue who (i.e., persona, demographics and lifestyle) reads this publication which is evident from the placement of an ad that continues to provide the imagery that Nebraska is filled with “hicks.” Perhaps the state will see 48 tourism directors “rush” to Nebraska to try this “exciting activity”, but Nebraska taxpayers could have benefits by having the State Department of Travel and Tourism send a letter and follow-up with phone calls.  That would have been a much better use of our money and his time.

What do you think?

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About Jeff Quandt

Jeff Quandt is an Inbound and Digital Marketing Strategist and owns On-Q Marketing LLC. He helps businesses get found in a Google Search bringing prospects to business' website to generate leads.

Then through Inbound Marketing tactics qualify the lead, nurture the lead, and ultimately converting the lead/prospect into a customer.


  1. Jeff,
    As you pointed out, the readers of Backpacker are probably not impressed with the thrill of cow tanking down down a tame river. So maybe the $ spent to have the add in Backpacker could have been better spent on a publication more family oriented. I’m not so the sure the Backpacker readers who might have given the ad a second glance or thought have any significant impact on influencing the Nebraska “hick farmer” perception. The cow tanking experience is unique. Where else but Nebraska. You did nice job writing the blog Jeff.

  2. Bob Goetschkes, Outings Chair, MVG Sierra Club says

    Nice article. As the Outings Chair of the Missouri Valley Group of the Sierra Club, I am constantly battling the image of Nebraska as a state, or as a state in a region perhaps, with nothing to do for outdoor enthusiasts of the Backpacker Magazine demographic. Although admittedly not as scenic as many other destinations, this area has more to do at an affordable price than any other place I’ve lived, which includes Hawai’i, California, and Upstate New York. Here is my recent list: rock climbing, canoeing, cross country skiing, alpine skiing (Mt. Crescent, IA.),hiking, mountain biking, sailing, triathlons, and 3D archery. The Nebraska area has nothing to apologize for.
    Bob Goetschkes.

  3. Bob,

    Thanks for the observations. I too, agree that Nebraska has nothing to apologize for. I have lived in Wisconsin and Nebraska for over 20 years in each state. I have been amazed at how rich and affordable the area is with plenty of recreational opportunities. I feel this ad conveys the wrong message to the Backpacker reader demographic.

    PS Nice to see you know how to spell Hawai’i like a local.

  4. Jeff,
    Thank you for your well thought blog on this topic. I completely agree with you and hopefully the feedback from this might change the perception of what adventure means to our Tourism Director. Again, nice work!

  5. Mike,

    Thanks. Let’s hope the DOTT sees the post and the survey results, so far 13 NO’s and 1 PERHAPS. No YES’s, but that should not be surprising. Still it is a validation of what I am saying.

  6. Bob,

    Your quote, “admittedly not as scenic as many other destinations” demonstrates your lack of knowledge of what Nebraska truly has to offer in breath taking vistas and scenic destinations! Charles Kuralt who traveled through every state in the U.S. claimed Nebraska’s Sandhills Scenic Byway, Hwy 2 as one of his top ten most beautiful tours.

    I believe you need to do a little more exploring and see the beauty that this state truly holds. It is a destination that has plenty to offer in outdoor recreation. I have experienced many hiking trips through the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge that have given me a greater feeling of euphoria than other parts of the world! An abundance of wildlife and solitude that is unmatched in many states. Stargazing that you feel like you are part of the solar system not part of a overpopulated world.

    Our state offers some outstanding backpacking trails and river trails that a person can find open frontier that has been untouched by plow and human influence. Walk through a midgrass/shortgrass prairie in the late fall and see the abundance of wildflowers and grasses with colors of red, green, blue and all shades of brown and tan! Take a dip in a cold clear Sandhills Lake after a day of hiking! Crest that hill and see a mule deer staring you in the face only 20 feet away. Sit and watch the plethora of shorebirds and waterfowl hanging out at the lakes and if you’re a birder, add more birds to your life list than you could imagine!

    If you feel that Nebraska is not as scenic as other destinations, you need to get out and take a closer look, because obviously your eyes have been closed! I can help you find those places that would match with any destination you want to put up against it! But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so my prairie that blows gently on a spring, summer or fall day, may not be what you are looking for when you trek. I enjoy the vistas and the wide open spaces when I backpack. And look at where people take pictures when they go to the mountains or the ocean… they are usually of the wide open expanses that the hiker comes upon when they are hiking. After they get out of the trees! You can walk a long way in the Sandhills and see vista after vista after vista! Come check it out! You will not have to battle that image you have of Nebraska not fitting the outdoor enthusiast and Backpacker Magazine demographics any longer!

    Tom Tabor, Ecotourism Development Consultant
    NE Division of Travel & Tourism

  7. This picture that “highlights one of the unique activities that Nebraska can latch onto” markets to the college age student who drinks beer while floating down a river because it is a cheap activity to do. This market hasn’t much money to invest into Nebraska state tourism, nor are they going to travel very far to do so. True Nebraska is beautiful in it’s own way, different from mountainous and oceanic states, however, I would suggest spending the marketing dollars towards a more appropriate target audience. This photo, while unique, is quite comical and almost looks photoshopped.

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