New Orleans rewrites destination marketing by creating social content for locals to share

The North Side Skull & Bone Gang features in the latest campaign

New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation’s campaign promoting the Mardi Gras festival of 2019 encapsulates its revamped approach to destination marketing: create and curate artistic, distinctive films and visuals that locals — not just tourists — will be inclined to share.

The latest set of campaign films arrive off the back of ‘One Time in New Orleans,’ the Louisianan tourist board’s celebration of the city’s tricentennial year. Now, the messaging has evolved to become ‘Leave With a Story, Not Just a Souvenir,’ a campaign that digs deep into the destination’s “elegant grit” to uncover legends that even locals may not have heard of before.

The first piece of social content to arrive in the 301st year of New Orleans is The North Side Skull & Bone Gang, a 90-second video documenting the group of locals who dress as skeletons and wake the city up on the morning of Mardi Gras. It was produced by agency-of-record 360i, however the footage was edited from a longer documentary from filmmaker Victoria Rivera.

The tourist board hopes the cinematic shots and the idiosyncratic nature of the story will encourage the locals to share out of civic pride, in turn becoming its own cost-effective distribution network.

"The community's excited because they're seeing their stories being told, as opposed to feeling like they're not in the storytelling,” said Andrew Hunter, creative director at 360i. “For us to be able to really work with the cultural bearer is so exciting. We get out and ask people the different stories that they would like to see represented in their city's advertising. We dig through archives ... or [track down] different photographers who have shot some of the great New Orleans stories and traditions.

“We speak with local business owners and find out the sort of the different things that they have coming up and what we can do to support them. And we look at social. [It’s] cool how many locals are proud to share this and proud to talk about this and proud to discover something that they haven't necessarily seen in person or have only heard whispers of.”

Mark Romig, president and chief executive of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, explained that he originally implemented this local-first approach to destination marketing in response to a small budget that was not paying dividends through traditional print advertising.

“Several years ago, we might have been a little bit too ... trite with our model,” he explained. “You know, there's that nice couple riding in the horse carriage down the French quarter, as opposed to showing people in the real thing.

"At that point, we had few dollars to utilize and we were basically only able to campaign in the late spring/early summer to impact summer travel, and then again, right around Thanksgiving to try to impact the holiday travel."

Shifting budgets to social and digital meant a wider variety of stories could be told 365 days a year. This freedom — and the need for a greater volume of content — meant the marketing corporation chose not to airbrush its history, which, alongside the joy of Mardi Gras, its incubation of jazz, and a burgeoning food scene, also includes slavery and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

“We don't have that out as the billboard, but we are not afraid to tell the true story,” said Romig.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.