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Niagara Falls USA - Where Adventure Begins

New pitch for Falls USA, ‘Where Adventure Comes Naturally’

3/14/17

NIAGARA FALLS – Tourism officials today unveiled a new slogan for Niagara Falls: “Niagara Falls USA: Where Adventure Comes Naturally.”

The new slogan culminates 18 months of work that cost $500,000. The effort aims to give Niagara Falls a new image, as well as a new self-image.

Reports from the major attractions showed visitorship reached record levels last season.
But officials considered the rebranding necessary regardless of business being up, said John H. Percy Jr., president of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., the county’s official tourism promotion agency. As part of the rebranding, the promotion agency is now calling itself Destination Niagara USA.

The agency name is the only remnant of the Niagara USA tagline the Falls has been using for more than a decade.

“Consumers told us it had to be ‘Niagara Falls,’” Percy said. “And it doesn’t matter to consumers that Lockport is 30 minutes away. It’s all part of one destination.”

MMGY Global, a Kansas City, Mo., marketing firm, created the brand. The firm also has worked on image makeovers for Cleveland; Anaheim, Calif.; Tucson, Ariz.; Bermuda and Barbados, among others.

The execution was placed in the hands of Fourth Idea, a Buffalo advertising agency that began its association with Niagara Falls by preparing last year’s visitor guide. Besides new advertising and logos, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. will launch a new tourism website, niagarafallsusa.com.

The goal: Entice visitors to stay longer and differentiate itself from the gaudy excitement of Niagara Falls, Ont.

Thomas S. Mooney, owner of Fourth Idea, said the success of the brand has nothing to do with the outcome of current controversies such as whether a lodge should be built on Goat Island or whether State Parks should offer more active outdoor activities.

“Because the brand story we’re telling has wide shoulders, I don’t think that factor is really a meaningful thing in the wider context of the brand,” Mooney said.

Chris Davidson, executive vice president for global strategy at MMGY Global, said the new branding strategy is even constructed to survive the plan to turn off the American Falls temporarily in a few years, so a bridge from the mainland to Goat Island can be reconstructed.

He said the brand allows for promotion of other Niagara County attractions such as Old Fort Niagara, the Village of Lewiston and Lockport’s collection of Erie Canal sites.

“There’s a lot more to do here,” Mooney said.

Put to the test

The old slogan, “Up Close and Powerful,” would have been vulnerable to a shutoff of the Falls, which may occur in the next few years as part of a bridge repair project. The former slogan it emphasizes that the American side offers visitors more chances to get close to the rapids and the waterfalls.

“We’ve endeavored to build a program that’s flexible and can evolve over time. It’s very iconic and timeless,” Mooney said. “We want to make sure that investment lasts a long time and provides the greatest return.”

Mooney called the “Up Close and Powerful” slogan “a step in the right direction.”

But it didn’t appeal to everyone, Davidson said.

“Some people described that as a scary thing,” said Davidson, whose firm convened 10-member focus groups of past visitors and prospective visitors in New York City and Pittsburgh, as well as carrying out a customized national survey of attitudes toward the Falls.

“We took a series of logos into formal testing and did a national qualitative study on those elements,” Mooney said.

About 400 people took part in an online study with his firm’s creative team.

‘Feels authentic’

Davidson, a Syracuse native and lifelong Bills and Sabres fan, said the brand couldn’t be “aspirational.” By that, he meant that it couldn’t promote something that Niagara Falls leaders would like their city to be someday.

To succeed, a brand has to be believable to locals.

“It can’t feel trite. It’s got to feel true to who you are,” Davidson said.

“It really captures what feels authentic and true about the Niagara region, but also for national and international visitors that could potentially come and support the economy,” Mooney said. “I think this brand is really a way for us to put the message out to the world that this is truly a unique place to come and visit.”

“We define the brand promise. What experience or what emotional connection can people who visit the area in the future depend upon every single time?” Davidson asked.

He said the people surveyed agreed that there’s not much to do in the Falls other than see the water go over the cliff.

“They see Niagara Falls very much as a place to spend four hours in a rather passive experience,” Davidson said.

He said his firm faced a different challenge in trying to rebrand Cleveland as a tourist destination.

“People would scrunch up their face and say, ‘Cleveland? Why would I go to Cleveland?’ How do you create a brand identity that makes people go, ‘Cleveland? That’s a pretty cool place, I’ve heard,’” Davidson said. “In Niagara Falls, the challenge isn’t people scrunching up their face and saying, ‘Why would I go to Niagara Falls?’ They’re saying, ‘I’m interested in going to see the waterfall, but what do I do after that?’”

With the new branding effort, “there’s some pretty powerful insights that will shape the identity the destination takes on over the next several years,” Davidson said. “It fundamentally reshapes how you see an experience in Niagara Falls.”

Learning from history

The goal of the new branding is to capture the essence of Niagara Falls now and for the foreseeable future.

“Campaigns will come and go, websites will come and go, logos will come and go,” Davidson said. “The brand identity, which is the work we’ve done, is really something that should be rather timeless until the destination fundamentally changes. That may not be for 50 years, or it could be in five years, depending on the rate of development.”

An example of a change in the destination, he said, would be the Falls’ previous identity as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World,” which hasn’t been the case for a long time and is no longer part of its marketing.

“The brand and the tagline are just a start for us,” Mooney said. “It’s crafting the message that brings in our key target audiences.”

Niagara Falls always has concentrated its advertising in states within reasonable driving distance, where 80 percent of visitors are believed to come from. But Mooney said it also should work in “feeder cities” on the East Coast where visitors could be enticed to make the trip to the falls, as well as a national plan that takes into account places with nonstop air service to Niagara Falls or Buffalo.

Niagara Falls has used the “Up Close and Powerful” slogan for about five years, Percy said. Before that, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. pitched Niagara Falls as “A Great American Getaway.”

Before the NTCC was formed in 2003 and started to call the region Niagara USA, the old Niagara County Tourism Office came up with the slogan “Welcome to Niagara County. We’ve Been Expecting You,” which still can be seen on roadside signs at some entrances to the county.

The Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, for which Percy worked before it and the county office merged into the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., tended to be oriented toward trying to bring in groups for events and didn’t really have a slogan or a brand, Percy said.

Local reaction

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster was pleased with the new marketing effort.

“One of the things we found through research and focus groups is that people differentiate between the U.S. and Canadian sides at Niagara Falls, in part based on the ability to access the natural environment, and we found this trend is strongest among younger tourists and visitors of the millennial generation, whose spending is now outpacing baby boomers in the national tourism market,” Dyster said.

“Niagara Falls USA” is a better choice than “Niagara USA,” Dyster said.

“All the focus groups suggested that’s the global brand for our area, but it’s not just a place you go to see water going over a cliff, it’s a whole region of exciting things to do,” Dyster said.

“I thought it was well-balanced to cover the whole county, and I think the footage was really compelling. It’s hard to watch it and not want to come to Niagara County, to Niagara Falls, to the Flight of Five, to Lewiston,” Lockport Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said.

“Consumers told us it had to be ‘Niagara Falls,’” Percy said. “And it doesn’t matter to consumers that Lockport is 30 minutes away. It’s all part of one destination.”

Lockport and Niagara County also contribute funds from taxes on hotel bills to help run the promotion agency, but the overwhelming majority of that money is generated in Niagara Falls.

“This is definitely a fresher day for our area,” said Troy Hengst, general manager of the Days Inn in Niagara Falls. However, he said he’s “not certain” how much business comes through the official promotion efforts, since a lot of it comes from package tours.

“As long as the overseas travelers continue to pour into Niagara Falls, we’re going to see some good demand,” Hengst said.

The 2017 visitor guide includes a two-page spread that can be scanned with a smartphone using the Layar app. The phone will load a two-minute promotional video, which is heavy on action shots taken from the Maid of the Mist, as well as scenes of Niagara Falls State Park, Fort Niagara and the Erie Canal in Lockport.

“We are thrilled with how this turned out, and we can’t wait to start sharing it with the world,” Percy said.

The Buffalo News, Mar. 14, 2017, by Tom Prohaska