Carmela Murphy – The rock seller

The challenge for Carmela Murphy and her team at Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism was daunting: Target consumers in Central Canada, blast their preconceived notions about the province, put it in their minds as a tourism destination and then get them on the plane.

The challenge for Carmela Murphy and her team at Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism was daunting: Target consumers in Central Canada, blast their preconceived notions about the province, put it in their minds as a tourism destination and then get them on the plane.

‘We knew we had to take a new approach to our branding and talk about what we’re selling here,’ says Murphy, director of tourism marketing at the St. John’s-based government agency. ‘Because we’re not selling Disneyland. We’re off the beaten track at the far east of the Western world, and it’s expensive to get here.’

Keeping in mind the insight that people don’t buy a trip so much as an experience, Murphy, advertising and communications manager Andrea Peddle and advertising specialist Brett Thornhill brainstormed perceptions of the province in their search for something that would have emotional resonance for consumers. Since weather kept coming up, they decided to focus on what was positive about it – clean, fresh, smog-free air.

And from there, with the help of St. John’s-based Target Marketing & Communication, a strategy developed around the image of a clothesline flapping in the breeze. Besides billboards, print ads and TV spots showing a woman hanging up washing as children frolicked, related executions have included sponsorship of air quality reports in Ottawa and Toronto (‘brought to you by Newfoundland and Labrador, where there is no smog’), a superboard created by a painter suspended above Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway and a taxi offering free air-conditioned rides, plus info about the province, to sweaty Torontonians.

‘The billboard with the clothesline was cute, and it’s become a metaphor for what fresh air is,’ says Murphy, who spent 10 years creating economic development programs before starting at her current position nine years ago. ‘We’ve attracted great attention. People write in and say, ‘I saw that billboard, I can’t wait to get there.’ We’ve never had a campaign that’s received response on its own merit.’

It also helped increase non-resident visits by 15% over five years, and visits to newfoundlandandlabrador.com by 20% over last year. Targeted to Central Canada, it was covered by media across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and won the marketer of the year award from the National Tourism Industry of Canada and best public sector website from the Canadian e-Tourism Council.

‘It takes a brave client to allow a clothesline to be a metaphor for an entire province,’ says Noel O’Dea, president and director of strategic and creative planning for Target. ‘Carmela has the passion of a patriot and a heart as big as the world. She has no time for pretension, and all the time in the world for honesty, raw creativity and results in the marketplace.’

Murphy says the ‘fresh air taxi’ stunt was successful because it incorporated another of Newfoundland and Labrador’s selling points: its friendly people.

‘We struck gold when we hired the driver, a girl from Newfoundland living in Toronto,’ she says. ‘I think a lot of the media interest came about because she was such a great interview. We’re advertising the people, the culture and the natural environment, but the people are key, and if you’ve ever been here, you know what I mean.’

The campaign’s next phase includes three new TV spots set to debut this winter, and lots more web advertising.

‘I think we’ve struck a good balance on that,’ Murphy says. ‘The online part is important from a trip planning and closing-the-sale point of view, but you still need traditional media to create desire. We look at TV as the key inspiration component; that’s where we’re putting a lot of our eggs, in the little vignettes that show something special about this place.’

Murphy also plans to venture deeper into social media. ‘There are ways to push stories online, and we can take advantage of that,’ she says. ‘We think we’ve got good equity in fresh air, so we’re going to continue with that.

‘We’ve got huge challenges in this industry right now, and the dollar is not our friend, but interest has remained high. We’re not losing market share, and many are. So we’re trying to keep on message and think about the long-term.’

Marketing team size: 18

Years at Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism: 9

First job in marketing: This one

Marketing style: Passionate, inventive and a little quirky – true to who we are

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Intro

Overall winner: Andrew Barrett – Absolutely fabulous

Lisa Charters – The plot thickener

Don Durst – The change provoker

Jennifer Errico – The in-crowd pleaser

John Cappella – The off-roader