A more impressionistic view of Alberta

Who: Travel Alberta and The Globe and Mail (Globe Content Studio), with Initiative for media.

What: “The Art of Winter,” a campaign designed to give readers a sense of the province through the lens of art and culture. That means fewer beauty shots of the Rockies and Lake Louise, and more impressionistic depictions of its more off-the-beaten track locales using the mediums of music, art, poetry and sculpture. “It’s an interesting new way for people to look at the province,” said Tannis Gaffney, Travel Alberta’s vice-president, destination promotion.

When & Where: The campaign has been in market for the past month, appearing as full page ads in the “Pursuits” section of the Globe‘s Jan. 26 and Feb. 6 print issues, as well as on a dedicated website developed by Globe Content Studio that showcases the art and individual artists. The campaign runs through the end of February, although Gaffney said that Travel Alberta is considering repurposing it for an international audience when the country opens up.

Why: Because the pandemic has decimated the province’s travel and tourism industry, with traveller spending in 2020 forecast to fall 63% to $3.5 billion. “It’s across the board terrible,” said Gaffney.

This campaign is about playing the long game—building awareness and affinity for the province among consumers already looking ahead to the 2021-22 winter travel season. “People perhaps putting us on their bucket list as they think about booking a trip next year,” said Gaffney.

That’s supported by data from Globe Insiders—the publisher’s consumer intelligence panel comprised of more than 4,500 Globe readers—suggesting that it’s a good time for travel and lifestyle brands to be in market with awareness campaigns, before the landscape becomes saturated with competitors. A recent Globe Insiders survey found that travel is one of the top things people are looking forward to in 2021.

Travel Alberta has traditionally focused its efforts on high-yield international travellers hailing from six key markets—the U.S., U.K., Germany, China, Japan and Mexico—with partners such as Tourism Calgary, Banff & Lake Louise Tourism focusing more on the domestic market. But with international travel restrictions in place, the organization pivoted towards Canada-specific marketing. “We have dabbled domestically, but this campaign is way more weight than we have put in the market,” said Gaffney.

How: Alberta’s natural beauty is renowned around the world, but Gaffney said that Travel Alberta wanted to look beyond traditional marketing assets. Art is a big driver for the consumer segment the organization is trying to reach, with galleries and museums as much of a draw as the province’s landmarks. The campaign features a series of Alberta artists (in the broadest sense of the word) all presenting their view of the province.

“Even if travel is not possible this winter, it is still a season of exploration, where we can share experiences and look forward to future adventures,” reads the welcome message on the “Art of Winter” landing page. “Explore this beautiful season from home, through the eyes of artists producing striking work across Alberta.”

“Winter is a season that usually drives many Canadians to escape south, but in a year without travel we felt this was our chance to get Canadians to see winter in Alberta differently,” said Chris Gairdner, content director with Initiative in Toronto. “We knew we couldn’t just show them the views they’d seen before. We needed a way to romanticize Alberta’s most magical season—and we felt it should be through the eyes of their local artists.”

The target audience: A consumer that Travel Alberta defines as the “curious adventurer.” The segment is slightly older (ages 40-55), spends more time visiting the province, and is interested in seeing more than just the top 10 Instagram destinations. “They want to feel like a local, and they get their information from the person running the local bakery rather than going on Google,” said Gaffney. This group also has a heightened interest in cultural attractions like art and museums.

Why art? Art has the ability to “evoke powerful feelings and influence how our audience perceives the world,” said Gairdner. “We believed strongly in the idea of working with Alberta’s local artists to help celebrate the province and support its recovery, and we wanted to show that Alberta is not just a series of breathtaking landscapes but a diverse and artistic cultural hub as well.”

Preliminary results: Gaffney said that the campaign was conceived as a test, but the organization has been encouraged by the results—which have seen page views through the first month surpass campaign projections by 167%, with visitors spending more than 1,000 hours viewing the content.

And we quote: “We know that Canadians miss discovering new places in person, so this campaign is a way to let them do so virtually through art. We believe this program resonated so strongly with readers because it combines our longing for travel with our desire to stay safe and support local—including local artists and communities.” — Jessica Robinson, Globe content strategist

Chris Powell