Situation: "There's nothing here."

Sacrifice and discipline are not often words associated with groundbreaking marketing campaigns. But when your marketing strategy is focused on attracting quality customers and not just quantity, this less-is-more approach is essential.

For Montana, that meant embracing, and not running from, the conventional wisdom in the travel world that there is nothing here. To some travelers, that unknown is a deal breaker, but to the Geotraveler—the traveler interested in unique, authentic, and less generic experiences—that mystery was the appeal. Together with the Montana Office of Tourism, MERCURYcsc developed a brand strategy and campaign to overcome these obstacles and increase brand awareness, intent to travel, and tourism-related revenue.

"Language that feels like an advertisement takes me out of the moment, reminding me that I am in an ad."
- Alexis, Geotraveler research participant
"I want to use my own imagination, instead of being told exactly what to think about and exactly what I should feel." 
- Mike, Geotraveler research participant

The Brand

Beginning in 2008, we led an 18-month branding process that included the identification of the Geotraveler as the type of traveler most likely to visit Montana.

Montana's new brand distilled the state's many tourism attributes, including two national parks, into three brand pillars:

We distributed two brand books to tourism partners throughout the state as part of ongoing educational outreach efforts. These books encouraged the various entities marketing Montana to unite their efforts and to speak about the state in a more cohesive voice. They also established a solid foundation—the brand, its tone, and its personality—on which all creative strategy for the Montana Office of Tourism has been based since 2009.

What is the Geotraveler?

A National Geographic Traveler study originally identified this emerging target audience of 55 million people in the U.S. who are interested in Geotourism—a type of tourism that sustains or enhances the geographic character of the place visited, including its environment, culture, heritage, landmarks and the well-being of its residents.

Proprietary research by MERCURYcsc and its partners has further defined and explored this segment, and the data suggest it is an underserved and potentially rewarding audience.

These people are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, college educated and have above-average disposable income. They take 3-5 leisure trips per year with some specific qualifications:

  1. They have the desire to get off the beaten path—they want to localize as much as possible.
  2. They seek the authenticity of people and places, and want to immerse themselves in the culture.
  3. They use technology to plan and explore a destination before they arrive, and are frequent and heavy Internet users.
  4. They still find inspiration in travel, leisure, lifestyle and outdoor recreation magazines.

Powerful, Innovative Messaging

In order to reach the Geotraveler, we have developed a series of campaigns that speak directly to them, even if they may not resonate as well with other segments of the audience.

The underlying strategy of all these campaigns is to let Montana sell itself through photos and film, removing as much of the traditional advertising language and style as possible to get past the bullshit filters of a savvy audience.

We took the audience's opinion of the Montana—"There's Nothing Here"—and flipped it into a surprising and effective national campaign. Montana's "nothing" held big appeal for Geotravelers who want to explore new cultures and are not satisfied with prepackaged itineraries.

We then evolved the message into even less ad speak by using a more authentic voice—a set of Montana "influencers." These charismatic, adventurous, and thoughtful Montana residents told the story of their experiences in Montana's unspoiled landscapes and small towns, connecting to the audience on an emotional and sensory level.

The next step was to make Montana's breathtaking landscape more accessible by featuring stories told through raw photos and found footage, asking the audience to "Step Out of Bounds" and find their own once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-Montana moments.

Integrated Media

The right message is useless without the right distribution strategy. With our media partners, we put Montana's unique message in front of the Geotraveler across paid, earned, and owned media channels.

A national print and digital campaign was expanded upon in three key markets: Minneapolis, Chicago, and Seattle. In these markets, the Geotraveler was literally surrounded by Montana.

Print ads in publications with high MRI indexes and reach

Although the central experience was handled in-house by the client, we created dedicated landing pages tied directly back to the messaging in the marketplace that continued campaign storytelling.

Outreach to endemic travel and tourism media, outdoor adventure media, and influencers in the industry as well as in national and key markets


In-market qualitative research conducted before, during, and after each year's key market campaigns have enabled us to track the results of the campaign in terms of the client's primary goals.

In 2012, awareness of Montana as a travel destination increased by


percentage points, from 15% to 26%, in target markets.

In the same year, intent to travel to Montana increased


percentage points, from 25% to 31%.

Most importantly, non-resident tourism spending in the state increased


from $2.7 billion
to $3.2 billion

And since taking over Montana's social media strategy, the Facebook audience has grown almost exclusively organically from 25k to 185k and counting.

In a sea of formulaic sameness, Montana’s campaign demanded attention and continues to receive press coverage for its key market presence. The New York Times highlighted the campaign in its July 11, 2011, article about Washington state closing its tourism office and quoted its former executive director as saying, "Even I want to go to Montana."



Silver Effie


Print, Interactive






HSMAI Adrian Award