Brand USA, the government marketing arm pitching America as a travel destination, is getting into the branded entertainment business, with a new website now seeking television programming pitches. But is America lacking for TV shows about America?
“We know how incredible a destination can look on television and that, for many viewers, it’s what may inspire a booking for their next holiday,” commented Jay Gray, VP of Business Development, Brand USA.
And while you might not think that America needs help attracting tourists, Brand USA “is a 21st Century global brand that will help reposition our great nation in the market for travel, and drive economic activity, including billions of new spending, tens of thousands of new outsource-proof jobs and much needed-tax revenue, to spur powerful growth throughout all corners of the United States," said Stephen J. Cloobeck, chairman of Brand USA.
Formerly known as the Corporation for Travel Promotion, Brand USA has been in development since Congress approved the public-private Travel Promotion Act in 2010 to refresh America's brand and disseminate U.S. entry/exit policies and procedures. But the patina on the partnership between the U.S. travel industry and the U.S. government is tarnishing.
Six Republican senators sent a terse letter in June to the Department of Commerce asking for documents and additional information on Brand USA, which is funded by a $10 tax levied on all tourists, as well as contributions from the travel industry.
“We are concerned about reports of potentially significant waste and misuse of funds at the corporation,” stated the letter signed by senators Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Their number one grievance: a trip (they'd say junket) by the board of the Corporation for Travel Promotion to London in November 2011 for the launch of Brand USA that included a two-hour business meeting followed by a lavish affair at the British National Maritime Museum “attended by 500 people, [that] featured sushi, champagne and petit fours, as well as light projections featuring the Brand USA logo.” Never mind that it's designed to lure tourists to America so had to launch outside America; light projections, sushi and petit fours!
The letter also criticized Brand USA’s hire of the JWT agency awithout going through a bidding process, and a “misguided ad campaign” featuring Roseanne Cash isinging “Land of Dreams” with scenes of mountains, rivers, and city life “presented as if foreigners didn't possess similar forests, rivers, outdoor barbecues, mountains, urban streets, kids playing,” noted travel icon Arthur Frommer, whose Frommer's travel brand is now well-funded: it's newly owned by Google.
“Not a single iconic attraction appears in the commercial — neither the Statue of Liberty nor the Grand Canyon — and various masterminds of advertising apparently believe that this is the way to generate a passionate desire to visit the U.S.A.,” Frommer continued in his gripe about the campaign.
Anne Madison, chief communications officer for Brand USA, said they are working to fulfill the Senators’ requests, including receipts from the launch party, web traffic to discoveramerica.com identified by country of origin, and an itemized breakdown of all the costs associated with the contract with JWT and copies of print advertisements placed overseas by Brand USA.
Madison further commented that the recent resignation of CEO Jim Evans, formerly SVP for marketing at Hyatt Hotels & Resorts and CEO of Best Western International, was unrelated. “The organization’s focus is changing, and all parties agreed this was the most appropriate time for a leadership change.”
So lights, camera, action! Criteria for submissions for the Brand USA-backed television programs include: inspire the audience to choose the USA for their next holiday, encourage repeat visits with new reasons to do so, while appealing to “affluent long haul” travelers to book a holiday to America in the next 12 months.
Preference will be given to submissions that encompass the Brand USA experience pillars — Great Outdoors, Urban Excitement, Indulgence and Culture — covering multiple destinations and engage beyond television to additional content (e.g. engaging online activity).
It seems obvious that the best program idea, in keeping with America’s obsession with reality television, is right under their noses — the chronicling of this entire saga.