Brand USA, the (partially) federally-funded organization that promotes inbound tourism, meetings and conventions to the United States, is getting ready to release its second feature-length documentary—this one featuring “the voice of God” himself.
Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman is the narrator of America’s Musical Journey, a co-production of Brand USA, IMAX Films and MacGillivray Freeman Films. “As perhaps America’s best storyteller, Morgan Freeman’s emotional voice lends empathy to our story of the collision of cultures which has led to America’s many musical creations,” said director Greg MacGillivray.
“Morgan Freeman’s distinctive voice is a national treasure and connects with millions all over the world,” added Tom Garzilli, Chief Marketing Officer of Brand USA. “His soulful narration harmonizes with the sights and sounds of America’s richest cultural centers in a powerful way, driving interest, engagement and intent to visit the USA.”
The 3D documentary is presented by Expedia and will open in select museums and institutions in the U.S. with its official launch on February 16th in Washington, D.C.
A worldwide release schedule will take it to more than 14 markets worldwide over the next three years, including China, Mexico, Canada, France and Australia.
Brand USA is kicking off a new distribution platform with the film’s release: GoUSA TV, a digital TV travel entertainment channel that inspires travel to the USA with best-in class created, curated and licensed video content. GoUSA TV is on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV as the definitive source for real, authentic, and on-demand video content about travel experiences in the USA.
— U.S. Travel (@USTravel) February 7, 2018
The new film is a follow-up to 2016’s National Parks Adventure, which was the highest-grossing documentary film of the year worldwide. That success is a tribute to America’s natural beauty and the epic storytelling of its century-old parks system (and a voice-over by Robert Redford). It continues its run in the U.S. and abroad, including just joining Netflix’s menu.
According to surveys conducted by the film’s producer, National Parks Adventure had a measurable impact on increasing international travelers’ intent to visit the United States:
- 81% said they are much more likely or somewhat more likely to visit the USA.
- 62% said they are more likely to visit the USA instead of another destination.
- In April 2017, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced that 2016 was a record year for visitation at America’s 417 National Park Service sites. There were 331 million visitors in 2016, up 7.7% over 2015, which contributed $34.9 billion to the U.S. economy– a $2.9 billion increase from 2015.
For its second film, instead of exploring the great outdoors, America’s Musical Journey heads to its cities to take audiences on a journey with Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc. He serves as a tour guide to the sights and sounds of iconic U.S. cultural and musical capitals as well as artists, including Louis Armstrong, Gloria Estefan, Elvis and hip-hop.
Tracing the roots of America’s music through iconic cityscapes including New Orleans, Chicago, New York City, Nashville, Memphis, Miami and more, the film weaves an immersive experience of American culture and creativity with a superlative soundtrack.
— U.S. Travel (@USTravel) February 3, 2018
As the destination marketing organization for the U.S., formed as the Corporation for Travel Promotion in 2010, the public-private entity launched in May 2011 under the Obama administration and like all government organizations, has had to prove its value to this White House and its partners, gaining support for showcases such as this new film and its new streaming video offering.
For more insights, Interbrand North America Chief Growth Officer Hermann Behrens and brandchannel editor-in-chief Shirley Brady spoke with Brand USA CMO Tom Garzilli (right).
Tom, what’s been the response to the new film so far in your advance screenings?
It’s been very well received where we’ve screened it preliminarily. It’s very exciting and it’s got some great music. You’ve got Aloe Blacc, the Grammy-nominated singer songwriter, as our storyteller, and it’s really his journey around the country kind of exploring some of his heroes and genres of music.
We always try to make the sound, the visual quality because of the giant screen film is as good as you can make it. The thing about the National Parks film was it was the first in a series to tell our story around the world in a way that was very immersive and very interesting but really trying to tell the story of the United States around the world.
How does this extend on your first film?
National Parks Adventure talked about the diversity of the landscape and the experiences of the great outdoor adventure in America. It’s breathtaking with amazing scenery, perfect for the giant screen. America’s Musical Journey is complementary to that, going from the outdoors to the cities and telling the story of the diversity of the country’s culture and experience through music, which is really the result of us being a country of immigrants. That really informed and created American music, starting with the blues and jazz and rock’n’roll.
What does Brand USA stand for and how do you want it to be perceived, at home and abroad?
We continue our mission to bring in international business and travel to the U.S., and really move international travelers across the country through and beyond the gateways. That’s all about getting people to understand you know you don’t see America just by seeing one place. We have offices in countries around the world, working with the travel trade and training them in addition to helping to create product that they can sell.
At the same time, we’re America’s inspirers in the world. That’s the place that we add the most value for our partners and for our stakeholders—being the storytellers of this country and helping our cities, states, attractions and partners be better storytellers.
How are you evolving your storytelling with GoUSA TV?
We’re now available from mobile to the desktop to digital out of home, television and giant (IMAX) screen. Each screen, each experience, really looks at the best ways to reach consumers or provide the consumer with value. Our content is great and the experience is very immersive, while we’re also doing a lot of things that make much more sense for the smallest screen: shorter types of programs, influencer content and tactical programs with bookable product.
As you move your way across this group of screens, our content and our storytelling gets bigger and fits that screen best. So what we see about the giant screen films is that they are exciting and attention-grabbing. America’s Musical Journey will be enhanced on our streaming television channel, so GoUSA TV will be building out content such as music-inspired road trips.
National Parks Adventure is halfway through its primary run and it’s still in theaters around the world. This past June we’ve already had a million and a half people in China download the film on their devices, and now it’s available on Netflix. The audience that film has received so far is just a fraction of the audience that it will ultimately see.
How do you think of Brand USA as a brand?
I don’t think of us as a company might think of a brand. We’re a brand let’s say to our stakeholders who know who we are and what they expect from us and from that perspective as an industry travel and tourism industry brand I think we’re a thought leader among our peers. It’s hard to find a comparable destination brand. We represent 50 states, five territories, the District of Columbia, hundreds of cities and thousands of attractions. There aren’t too many other countries that have the breadth of product and stakeholders that we have.
Our biggest value is as the storytellers for our relevant partners. The USA as a travel brand, from a value perspective, again I can’t think of a country on the planet that offers the breadth of experience that we have here. There are some great countries, even the leading destination countries, that are fantastic but you cannot do everything in those markets that you can do here.
You would have to go to different countries to experience everything we have. Even the countries that geographically have a lot of the things we have, they don’t have the culture, they don’t have the music, the diversity of our people. So when you look at all of that put together and you know it’s an amazing, daunting opportunity to be able to get up every day and try to tell the story of America to the world.
What’s the outlook in growing and developing inbound tourism for the U.S. in challenging times for travel and tourism worldwide?
Brand USA and our partners are all pretty bullish on the long-term prospects of what we’re doing together and what the growth of international inbound travel can and should be. So there are markets, there are countries that are up right now. There are countries that are a little bit down. There are lots of reasons for that. Primary reasons are our currency, the strength of the dollar.
It’s like stepping back from a stock market chart where you know you can look at it really closely, hour by hour or day by day and there are some ups and downs. But if you step back and you look at the trend, the trend goes in a certain direction and in our case I think our growth will continue to be very solid. You know as time goes by it will get just get better and better.
Our job is to just keep pushing on that momentum and keep motivating and inspiring generations. While some of what we do is tactical, where we’re partnering let’s say with Expedia and we’re doing very specific product offerings to consumers and making bookings. That’s not our primary role. Our primary role is really inspirational and to continue to help advance interest in visiting the USA.
There aren’t too many parts of the world where people are not aware of the USA or don’t have a sense of what it is. Our job is just to continue to help enhance what they know and make it more interesting and more inspiring. From a value proposition, the better job that we do of making people aware of and able to see that ‘Wow, when I go to New York, within two or three hours I can be having two or three other experiences.’ And you can go do that and you still haven’t seen America. You’ve got to come back and go to another part. It’s just constantly reminding them that there’s just so much more to see.
When it comes to brand storytelling we’re really lucky. When you’re a brand such as Coca-Cola, you’ve got to get your brand into your storytelling. In our case, the story itself—the experience—is the brand. We don’t really have to push that hard on the branding piece. The harder we work to just make the storytelling great, the more effective it is.
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