Last Man Branding: 5 Questions with Tim Allen on Pure Michigan and Chevy

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Tim Allen may be better known around the world as the voice of Buzz Lightyear and the star of the Santa Clause movies, Home Improvement and his latest television hit show, Last Man Standing, on ABC.

But in Michigan, he’s known as a favorite son as well as the mellifluous voice of the state-sponsored “Pure Michigan” tourism ad campaign that for a decade has not only boosted home state pride and tourism spending but also has helped draw millions of out-of-state tourists to the Great Lakes State.

Allen spent a few years as the voice of Chevrolet in national TV advertisements before the new marketing regime at General Motors supplanted him with the latest campaign slogan, “Find New Roads,” with fellow actor John Cusack as the voiceover talent.

His work for “Pure Michigan” also was endangered recently because some in the Michigan  legislature were looking to strip the campaign of funding as a way to help pay for badly-needed road repairs across the state. But now, funding for the campaign not only to survive but to grow looks secure.

The affable actor talked with brandchannel about “Pure Michigan,” Chevy and his popular sitcom.

bc: You have a real love for Michigan that is evident in the “Pure Michigan” ads. Where does that come from?

Tim Allen

Tim Allen: I actually grew up in Colorado and then a family tragedy had my mom move back with her parents in Birmingham, Michigan. My brother and I loved cars, boats and the lakes of Michigan. And we did a lot of traveling in Michigan, and I was never disappointed. I still have a home there.

And if you can plan your vacation right, anyone would be ridiculous not to try Michigan. It’s like ripe pears: For a short period of time at least, between the Fourth of July and late August, there’s nothing better.

bc: So what do you think about efforts by some politicians to cut the campaign, and your job, so to speak?

Allen: That’s politics—they always go for the low-hanging fruit. The fact is that people keep coming into the state because of the campaign. It’s money very well spent. It may be tough to figure out the ROI, but a lot of states don’t have a lot to advertise. For Michigan, there’s a lot of bang for the buck, especially in advertising to the rest of the Midwest.

bc: You work with a lot of millennials in your various ventures. Do you think it’s possible for Michigan to attract them?

Allen: I don’t know they want, but showing the hip quotient of Michigan certainly helps, like the boardwalk beach communities such as Saugatuck, and the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City. Are millennials environmentalists? Then you show them the Upper Peninsula.

bc: Your voiceover work for “Pure Michigan” helped get you the three-year gig as the voice for Chevrolet’s “Chevy Runs Deep” campaign.

Allen: Yes, then  Chevy rebooted themselves, and John Cusack picked up where I left off. I don’t envy him having to say “Find New Roads” all the time, though—it’s hard to say. Where do you end the “d” on “Find” without having it sound weird? Poor John Cusack.

But I loved the three years. I’m a Chevy freak. So of course I didn’t like being replaced, but I’m a businessman so I understand.

bc: Last Man Standing keeps gaining popularity as you enter your fifth season. With your character’s willingness to take on President Obama, political correctness and other liberal icons, the show has been compared with All in the Family. Does this whole construct of the show reflect you personally?

Allen: I’m all over the map. I’ve done both Democratic and Republican fundraisers, but I like problem-solvers. I live in California, and the liberal side of things is so heavy here—there is no alternative view. I would like an explanation, for instance, of why the state is several hundred billion dollars in debt. It gets you worried.

So when we designed the show, I wanted my character, Mike Baxter, to be that practical guy: “How’s it going to get done?” He also doesn’t have any patience when people say life isn’t fair. Plus I have a very liberal writing staff and I’m the curmudgeon to them. It’s very easy to annoy them.

Enjoy more interviews in our Q&A series >>

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