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Honestly.

I really like Nebraska Tourism’s new advertising campaign, self-deprecating humor and all. Given time, it will reach the right audience and should produce results that are more than nice.

Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone.

You’ve likely seen the pictures. A couple jumping from rock to rock at Toadstool Geological Park in the northwest Panhandle with the reference to Nebraska being flat. The dusty plains reference to the young kid walking along the lush green above a waterfall.

Then, there’s my very favorite (so far). Six young women floating on a Sandhills river in a stock tank. Kudos to the copywriters who crafted: “In Nebraska, we believe that only boring people get bored. So we invent our own fun.”

“Like when we realized that a livestock tank would float and thought, it’s a boat. Soon, tanking became the preferred method of meandering down our slow-moving rivers.”

“It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if it sounds as good to you as it does to us, go to VisitNebraska.com. And welcome aboard.”

The pitch may strike you as a little odd, itself, or even a little risky, says Nebraska Tourism Director John Ricks. With research showing Nebraska so low on American travelers' radar, maybe a little self-deprecating humor is worth a try.

As an advertising major at the University of Nebraska in the 1960s, I learned a thing or two about market research and hooking the customers you seek. Yes, that was decades ago and I chose to make my living as a news writer instead of a copywriter. But I’m telling you that this campaign checks all the right boxes. It’s a breath of fresh air in a state that has apparently earned honors as a least-likely place to visit.

During the 11 years I was affiliated with a national preservation organization – in my first post journalism encore career – I used to attend national conferences where I told people that I was from Nebraska, “one of those mostly square states out west that most people couldn’t find on an unmarked map – and we like it that way.”

If you’re like me, you could probably care less if people come to visit Nebraska. But I bet your heart is proud when you hear folks nationally discuss the state in regards to a champion University of Nebraska volleyball team or a Miss America or as THE PLACE to watch 500,000 Sandhill cranes migrate as the Winter melts into Spring.

During my third and final encore career I helped create and manage a tourist attraction featuring one-of-a-kind classic automobiles in a museum smack in the middle of that crane migration zone. Believe me, I cared about the number of visitors we had and the number of states and countries from whence they came. I witnessed the economic benefits of those visits and came to appreciate the stories of how they heard about us and what drove them to visit. So, yes, I understand tourism matters.

Ricks says the 11 percent to 12 percent of people in this country the new campaign is aimed at make up 40 percent of the traveling public and may be the ones who can appreciate this state that's smack dab in the middle of the Great Plains. He adds -- and I concur -- the Great Plains are not so plain, but rather dazzling and awe-inspiring in their own way.

Ricks came to Nebraska two years ago from the Colorado Tourism Office to take over as executive director at a time when the Nebraska Tourism Commission was struggling with a campaign that said “Nebraska Nice” and some alleged activity by staff and contractors that was NOT nice by Nebraska, or any other state’s standards.

He told those attending the recent Nebraska Tourism Conference that the culture of the state is the context of its appeal. It’s the free spirits who live here; the independent, self-reliant people; natural wonders; the good life; western heritage; simple life that is warm and inviting. The perception of a place to visit in people's heads is more important than the things to see and do when you get there, so we had to find a way to get people here.

Congratulations! I honestly think this one will work.

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J.L. Schmidt has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered Independent for 19 years.

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