Was the Marketing for Utah National Parks Too Effective?

Mar 3, 2020

It’s a problem everyone working in marketing would like to have — a campaign that works too well. 

But too much attention on your brand can have serious unintended consequences. Just ask the Utah Office of Tourism. 

In 2013, Utah tourism officials did a little market research about what would-be tourists thought about their state. The two most common words people used to describe it? Brown and Mormon. When shown a gorgeous photo from Utah’s Arches National Park, people assumed it was in Arizona. 

So the state turned to an ad agency to create a campaign to start taking credit for Utah’s natural beauty. The Mighty Five was born, bringing the state’s five biggest national parks to life through 20-story building wraps, experiential subway installations and a breathtaking anthem video.

The undeniably cool campaign had the intended effect. Millions of people around the world made pilgrimages to witness Utah’s breathtaking sights for themselves. Visits to the Mighty Five increased by nearly 70 percent in the years after the campaign’s launch.

National Park Marketing Brings Crowds

But the runaway success of the campaign has created challenges. Park infrastructure can’t handle the influx of hikers, bikers and campers, and the surrounding communities are suffering. Some of the most beautiful places in the world are now contendning with miles-long traffic jams and overflowing toilets.

“It’s like the area is being loved to death,” one resident living near Arches and Canyonlands told the Wall Street Journal.

The campaign wasn’t solely responsible for the rise in visitors. But the Utah Office of Tourism has shouldered most of the blame for the overcrowding. That’s created a PR problem in its own right.

In response, the state is scaling back its ad spending in favor of improving capacity and signage at parks. But for many naturalists, park employees and local residents, the damage has already been done.

For marketers, it’s an important reminder — think about the impact any campaign will have on all stakeholders and make sure you have the capacity to handle the increased focus on your offering. For Utah, that means parking spots and water fountains. For B2B brands, it could be sales reps, social media bandwidth or production capabilities.

Long story short: When scoping marketing ideas, don’t overlook planning for the best-case scenario. It pays to consider all the potential impacts that come with extra attention on your brand.

Share this story — just not with too many people.

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