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‘This is my Steamboat’

Ski area unveils new ad campaign

— Everyone who has formed an emotional attachment to Steamboat Springs can spin a different version of their own personal Steamboat. That includes natives, longtime locals, five-year locals, second-home owners and even vacationers.

It’s a trait that marketing executives at the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. are counting on this month as they roll out a new national advertising campaign, aptly themed “This is my Steamboat.”

The campaign marks a departure from the familiar campaign that has been running since the autumn of 2001 and the build-up to the winter Olympics in Utah. That campaign was successful in building on Steamboat’s brand: family friendly, Ski Town USA, home of Olympians, genuine Western friendliness and powder. However, it fell short in some areas, according to interviews with casual focus groups.

“The ads didn’t connect emotionally to the people who viewed the ads,” said Doug LaPlaca, Steamboat’s director of marketing.

The new campaign, featuring sepia-toned portraits by commercial photographer Raymond Meeks and understated copy lines executed in handwritten script, is meant to change that.

One advertisement meant for publication in ski magazines features two dominant photographs. On the left-hand side is a portrait of a wistful young woman. The right side of the ad portrays a trio of horses grazing through the snow in front of the iconographic More Barn, with the slopes of Mount Werner looming in the background.

The main body of text reads: “I count horses through my windowpane. 5 … 6… 7 … I watch them pawing quietly at the snowy earth, snorting short billows of steam, listening to the mountain like I do.

“This is my Steamboat.”

The ad is completed with a brief call to action in small type and a trio of more standard Steamboat photographs by photographer Larry Pierce that appear to be tucked into the frame of a bulletin board or picture frame.

The campaign offers added flexibility in tailoring ads to specific target audiences. It also offers some continuity from the last advertising campaign.

Coincidentally, Steamboat is in the midst of hunting for a new ad agency at the same time it rolls out the new campaign by its former agency, VIA, and creative director David Abend.

The fact that Steamboat, and along with it American Skiing Co., are changing agencies, shouldn’t be misinterpreted as a sign that Steamboat is disenchanted with the new campaign, LaPlaca said. Quite the opposite, the process of selecting the new agency involves challenging creative teams to describe how they would carry “This is my Steamboat,” forward.

ASC announced a year ago that it had signed with VIA, based in Portland, Maine, in an effort to achieve efficiencies in advertising among its seven ski resorts and to develop common themes in its advertising messages.

It was an experiment that didn’t work, LaPlaca said.

“We put them in an unfair challenge,” LaPlaca said.

Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for ASC’s Western resorts (Steamboat and The Canyons, Utah), said one of the difficult challenges for VIA was that the different resorts in New England and the Rockies have distinctly different customer bases. Now, ASC resorts each are going in their own direction with ad campaigns.

Wirth is seeking an agency that can bring more formal research methods to advertising campaigns for Steamboat and The Canyons.

“Every agency will tell you they can test ads, but only a few can do it very well,” Wirth said.

Wirth wants ad campaigns that are effective with Steamboat’s existing clientele as well as people “who should be skiing here and aren’t.” Beyond that, he wants research that supports the notion that the ad campaigns contain content that will trigger a purchase of a $4,000 ski vacation.

One of the two-page ads in the new campaign depicts a young family — adults and children enjoying a snowball fight in front of a snowy cabin. It captures one of the qualities that is driving people to take ski vacations, Wirth said: Families are seeking to be reunited and reinvigorate stressed relationships.

“A vacation to Steamboat is about reconnecting” with family members, Wirth said. An innocent snowball fight among adults and youngsters can mean as much as anything that takes place on a winter vacation, he added.

One of LaPlaca’s goals is to stand out from the standard ski area advertisements that feature familiar images of young male skiers jumping off small cliffs under impossibly blue Colorado skies. Not coincidentally, the majority of the ads in the new Steamboat campaign feature portraits of women rather than men.

“We consciously tried to reach out to female decision-makers,” LaPlaca said.

And Steamboat hasn’t entirely abandoned the powder shot. One ad features skier Audrey Williams navigating the deep fluff.

Steamboat’s print campaign must serve dual purposes — reaching out to the younger generation of skiers and snowboarders without alienating Steamboat’s core customer base of families.

A trio of single-page ads in the campaign feature homegrown members of the Mavericks Free Ride Team. The ads picturing Lex Carrigan Koski, Gina Gmeiner and Tory Carrigan Koski continue the “This is my Steamboat” theme. They are aimed at the 17-year-old demographic and will appear in magazines such as Freeze, and Transworld Snowboarding.

“This is my Steamboat” will be a theme used in e-mail campaigns, printed brochures and training manuals for employees.

— To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com


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