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Alaska tourism ads return to network TV

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MARK THIESSEN | October 21, 2013 10:11 AM EST | AP


ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Commercials encouraging tourists to visit Alaska are appearing on broadcast television for the first time more than three decades.

Four ads promoting tourism in Alaska, including a first-ever commercial dedicated solely to winter travel, are being rotated during morning and evening news shows on ABC, NBC and CBS, said Kathy Dunn, the state's tourism marketing director.

"It's always exciting when you can get back and play in the big leagues like that," Dunn said.

Alaska routinely advertises on television, but it's been limited to cable networks. The state has spent about $6 million this year on advertising: $3.4 million on cable, $1.2 on national broadcasts and $1.4 million on syndicated programs.

The last time a state tourism ad was on national broadcast television was one commercial during the 1982 Super Bowl, a placement that cost the state $324,000 — or a third of that year's total tourism budget.

If an ad were to be placed during the broadcast of the next Super Bowl, it would cost $3.8 million, or a majority of the current budget, Dunn said.

The four ads now running will be rotated in two blocks, running over several months. The first rotation started in late September and will continue through Thanksgiving. The second rotation begins in January and will continue through March, but the winter ad will likely be pulled by mid-February.

The ads are not specific to any region of Alaska but prominently display mountains, glaciers and wildlife — features that research has shown are the big draws for visitors to the state.

"We want people to be intrigued by the bigness of the state and the diversity," Dunn said. "We're just trying to elevate interest in everything that Alaska has to offer."

The ads focus not only on encouraging visitors, but also on putting more immediacy into their visit.

The narrator in one ad says, "This is the year to leave the ordinary behind, and keep promises you made to yourself ... This is the year, and Alaska is the place."

The idea is to add a sense of urgency to the people who say they want to visit Alaska some day, she said.

"You want people to think of Alaska, but you want them to think about it now," Dunn said.

It's a little more subtle approach than the 2005 billboard campaign that featured the classic Alaska gold license plate with the personalized message: "B4UDIE," or Before You die."

The billboards were placed in Los Angeles, Seattle and Minneapolis. The state expected a negative backlash because of the ads, but it never came.

Well, there was one call.

"The first call I got was from my mother in Minneapolis. She's like, 'I don't like,'" Dunn said.

Tourism is one of Alaska's biggest industries, drawing 1.8 million visitors in 2012 and accounting for $3.72 billion and 45,000 peak season jobs.

Dunn said they are trying to tap into a growing trend of tourists visiting Alaska in the winter.

She said there were 266,000 winter visitors last year, up from 244,000 the previous year, and the department is beginning an aggressive campaign to promote winter travel.

The ads are marketed to people who want to see the Northern Lights, a sled dog race or to snowboard or ski, whether it's downhill, cross country or navigating the backcountry after being dropped off on a mountain by a helicopter.