Trips to Niagara Falls aren’t about the what, they’re about the who, say new ads

Who: Niagara Falls Tourism and Zerotrillion.

What: “Who is your occasion?” a new marketing campaign targeting Ontarians within a four-hour radius of the world-famous tourism destination. It is Zerotrillion’s first campaign for Niagara Falls Tourism, after beating out more than 30 agencies in an RFP issued during the spring.

When & Where: The campaign broke this week across TV (channels include Sportsnet, CFTO, CHCH, Cit and CP24), supplemented by paid social, online display and digital billboards in the GTA. It will run off and on through March.

Why: Niagara Falls Tourism president and CEO Janice Thomson describes the campaign as a “recovery project” for the region’s $2.4 billion tourism industry. While the industry has successfully overcome previous challenges like 9/11, SARS and the 2008-09 recession, the pandemic has been devastating for the industry and the 40,000 people it employs. “There’s never been anything like this,” she says. “This was a total turn-off of the tap.”

How: Thomson says the creative approach has its origins in a slide in Zerotrillion’s pitch presentation featuring advertising from tourism organizations around the world, all of which employed nearly identical approaches. In the centre of the slide was a blank space containing the words “Don’t let your ad go here?”

At the time, Niagara had only recently launched a campaign called “Rediscover Niagara Falls” that featured many of the tropes Thomson and her team recognized from other tourism advertising. “It could have fit right into that blank space,” she says. “That made us stop and think and say ‘We don’t want to be like that, but what are we going to do?'”

Instead, the creative approach was built out of the insight that people tend to connect trips to Niagara Falls to the people they’ve visited with. The desire for connection has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with research conducted by Niagara Falls Tourism finding that over 85% of Ontarians intend to use travel to make up for lost time with the people they care about. “It’s unusual to think of a person being your occasion, but you soon get your mind around it,” says Thomson.

The TV spot features an adult man, Tyler, and his grandmother Eleanor, enjoying a weekend trip to Niagara Falls with stops at the region’s most iconic attractions (all of the people in the ads have a personal connection). The spot features a voiceover from Tyler saying “This time, it’s not your birthday, or a holiday, or some special occasion. Because grandma, you are my occasion.” The billboards highlight other groups including young men and women on weekend trips, a family, a mother and daughter, etc.

Why Zerotrillion: Thomson says the organization was attracted by the agency’s international experience and the fact that its pitch eschewed traditional tourism marketing tropes. “They struck us as tourism marketers with a non-tourist approach,” says Thomson. “They didn’t come at it with a typical destination marketing approach; they came at it with something that evoked emotion.”

And we quote: “It’s not a typical time for us to be out with a major campaign, but it is a time for us to encourage people to visit [at a time] when everybody wants to take a break from COVID isolation and reconnect with people.” — Janis Thomson, president and CEO, Niagara Falls Tourism


Chris Powell