Star Wars: What’s a Celebrity Worth to a Destination?

By Kelsey Ogletree, October 12, 2015

Using celebrities in marketing campaigns is not a new concept, but it’s a strategy that’s been gaining in popularity among CVBs and DMOs this year. From Visit Baltimore’s latest promotion featuring nine famous locals and Tennessee Department of Tourist Development’s reincarnation of Elvis to Visit California’s experiment with pseudo-celebs and NYC & Company’s partnership with Taylor Swift, destination marketing execs can find inspiration in star-studded campaigns based on one critical factor: authenticity.

“Because the qualities we often look for in celebrities are very similar to what we look for in our friends, the storyline is something we can believe in,” says Angela Watts, president and CEO of 10 Squared, an Atlanta-based marketing communications firm.

Charm City Charmers

When Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, and his team set out looking for celebrities to be a part of the CVB’s new marketing campaign, they came up with a list of 80 or 90 people who were diverse in gender, race and background. Out of that list, there were 22 they decided to hone in on, and as they reached out, the response was overwhelmingly positive: Nine of the first 10 accepted.

Included in that group is “Modern Family” actress Julie Bowen, music artist Common and baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., among others. Each of the nine has a unique tie to Baltimore, whether he or she was born there, lived there, has done business there, filmed a movie there or simply has a strong tie to something in the community.

“There’s a real believability when you start talking to these celebrities,” says Noonan. “When we say, ‘Tell us what you love about Baltimore,’ we’re not scripting them.”

Due to requirements by the Screen Actors Guild, the stars of the campaign couldn’t contractually do it for free, so they were paid a grand total of $1,312 each, the minimum allowed by the SAG. “There really was no significant cost,” says Noonan. “They were doing it for their sheer love of the city.”

Each of the personalities filmed 15- or 30-second spots for Visit Baltimore’s website and appear in print ads, on billboards and even in Pandora radio ads, all targeting a national audience—with the Pandora foray especially aimed at Millennials.

“It’s not only selling our consumer campaign, it’s also our trade campaign,” Noonan explains. Some of the personalities are not only advocates for Baltimore, but customers driving business there too—Cal Ripken Jr., for example, brings youth sporting events to the city through a partnership with Ripken Baseball.

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