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'Candid Camera' Meets 'Taxicab Confessions' To Boost Tourism To Mexico

Posted: 11/14/11 03:15 PM ET

Did you have a good time on your vacation in Mexico? Are you a chatty, outgoing kind of person willing to share your experience with others? If so, you might get a free ride in a limo to your home or office back in the States. But there's a catch. More about that in a moment.

The offer of a free ride to selected travelers is a key part of the Mexico Tourism Board's new promotion called the "Mexico Taxi Project," a take on the HBO reality series, "Taxicab Confessions." Its objective -- by using testimonials from "real Americans talking to Americans" -- is to change perceptions about conditions tourists find in Mexico.

"Despite what you might have read (about drug-related violence in certain areas) we're actually a very safe country," said Gerardo Llanes, the tourism board's chief marketing officer. "We have statistics showing Mexico's resorts are safer than 95 percent of the major U.S. cities." Llanes also hopes to change "the old image of Mexico as a place full of shantytowns."

The selection of participants in the project starts when vacationers check in at the Cancun and Los Cabos airports -- other major Mexican airports will be added later -- for their flights back to the US. A "screener" at the ticket counter (not an airline employee) asks questions to identify good candidates for the commercials, usually "bubbly" vacationers traveling as couples or in groups.

From there, selected travelers willing to participate in a made-up survey about a tequila brand are rewarded with free rides home in limos when they get back to the US. After the survey, their names, photos and comments about them are sent to project officials, who refine the selection of candidates down to one person or group to be in the "cast" of the TV commercial (but they won't know about it until later).

Hired limos will be waiting at US terminals at Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia with more to be added soon in the US. and Canada. The selected cast member or members will ride in a special limo in which the driver (actually an actor) will ask general questions about their vacation. Hidden cameras and mikes in the limo will record the entire conversation.

In one commercial, the driver asks a group of three passengers returning from Los Cabos, "Did you guys feel, like, safe and everything down there?" One person answers, "Totally safe." Another adds, "I would definitely recommend it. Everything you hear on the news is not what you experience down there."

A dozen or so conversations are being edited down to 30-second TV spots to be aired on nine cable channels including the National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel and the USA Network. Additionally, the spots as well as much larger portions of the conversations will be on the project's website, MexicoTaxiProject.com.

Any negative comments by cast members will be left intact on the project site, said Llanes, who noted there have been few such comments so far.

A big surprise will be waiting when the limo arrives at the cast members' home. As in the "Candid Camera" series, project officials will be there to tell them they've been on camera for the whole ride, and a lawyer will ask them to sign release forms for the ads.

"So far, everyone has signed," said Llanes.

The Mexico City office of Publicis Worldwide is handling the ad campaign working with the tourism board's public relations agency, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.