Steamboat Springs Virtually every vacationing skier arriving at Denver International Airport this winter will get the message. The giant billboard along Interstate 70 is hard to miss.
Whether those skiers are destined for Steamboat, Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail or Aspen they will receive a not-so-subtle message: "Snow that's 70 percent drier. A town that's 100 percent friendlier. Steamboat. Ski Town USA." The text appears over an image of the More Barn with Mount Werner in the background.
Nothing about the message is haphazard.
The assumption is that the billboard has 0.75 seconds or less to make its point as motorists speed up the interstate in rental cards and passenger vans.
The text has been carefully written to plant two questions in the minds of skiers headed for competing resort towns:
"Was the snow good?"
"Did I receive friendly service?"
Steamboat marketing executive Andy Wirth said there is no doubt he wants to leave the impression in the minds of his competitors' guests that had they booked their vacation at Steamboat, they might have enjoyed better snow conditions and friendlier service.
"Really, my goal is to plant a seed," Wirth said. "I would never negatively sell against our competitors. But we would be remiss by not subtly pointing out their weaknesses."
Steamboat's new billboard is one of three that stand in a row along the right side of the interstate where it begins its climb into the foothills.
The first of the three is an ad for Anheuser Busch, the second is now Steamboat and the third touts Chevy Trucks' relationship with the U.S. Ski Team. Wirth acknowledges that the decision to spend tens of thousands for a six-month contract on the billboard was based in part on the opportunity to prevent other ski areas from grabbing it.
And Steamboat had just hours to make a decision once the opportunity came up.
"We checked with our creative agency and we checked with our media buyers and they confirmed our judgment," Wirth said.
The economics of the billboard would not have been justifiable without a strategy designed to reach both out-of-state skiers and Front Range skiers, Wirth said.
"Our logic stream on this, number one, is assessing the media placement in terms of cost per thousand (impressions)," Wirth said.
"It's very much about out-of-state skiers."
In preparing the campaign with American Skiing Company's new agency, Via, Wirth said the agency posed the questions who are the people not skiing here; what do they not know about Steamboat; and why aren't they skiing here?
Wirth said the conclusion was to talk about the abundance and quality of Steamboat's snowfall in a powerful way and also address the qualities that differentiate Steamboat from its competition. They landed on the resort's reputation for friendly service.
"That's where we excel," Wirth said. "That's one of the key reasons we're number five in North America (according to a pool of readers of SKI magazine)."
Wirth readily acknowledges that there's nothing brand new and exciting about bragging on Steamboat's friendly service.
Nor is the image of the More Barn fresh.
When it comes to outdoor advertising, that's the point.
Careful consideration was given to an image of downtown Steamboat Springs, with the ski mountain looming in the background, but the experts at Via said the image was too complex for a billboard intended to be viewed by people zooming by at 65 miles per hour.
The text on the billboard was pared down to a minimum and the final decision to use the image of the barn was based on its ability to say "Steamboat" at a glance.
There's a chance Steamboat will revisit the content of the billboard at mid season, and talks are under way with the Steamboat Chamber Resort Association about the possibility of retaining the billboard on a year-round basis, Wirth said.
In terms of magazine advertising, Ski Corp. was between ad agencies when the deadlines came up for placement in national ski magazines.
The resulting strategy was to adapt previous campaigns created by previous agency Karsh and Hagan.
Sam Haltom of Another Color in Steamboat Springs helped Steamboat create the final ads.
"He's outstanding," Wirth said. "He's a small local (graphic design) shop, but he could be working at DDB Needham."
Wirth also had praise for director of Marketing Doug La Placa.
"Doug did an exceptional job of negotiating with Mountain Sports Media (publishers of SKI and Skiing magazines) giving us a high page count and share of voice that's greater year over year," Wirth said.
Steamboat will have double page spreads in the magazines October through January.
Twice this winter the resort will insert multipage advertorial spreads in which Steamboat lodging properties also buy ads.
Among the magazine ads, one stands out.
The photograph depicts several pairs of snow-covered skis leaning against a log building.
The copy reads: "There are a few things you learn living in Steamboat. Never stand behind a horse. Never refuse a second helping. And never lay your skis down flat."
Steamboat also is advertising for the first time this winter in Freeskier and Transworld Snowboarding magazines. The ads promote the individuals of the Mavericks Freeride Team and the stature of Mavericks Superpipe as the longest in the nation.
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