Campaign brands Columbia as 'hot'

COLUMBIA -- Columbia is "Famously Hot."

That's the message in a new, national advertising campaign targeted at meeting planners and tourists that will debut this week.

The campaign pegs Columbia and the Midlands as "The New Southern Hot Spot."

The executive committee of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism gave its thumbs-up on Friday. If the full board approves it Tuesday, the campaign will replace "Riverbanks Region -- Where Friendliness Flows."

"We're excited about it," authority chairman John Durst said. "And we're looking forward to sharing our excitement with our colleagues."

"Where Friendliness Flows," developed by a Virginia advertising firm in 2004, was vague, meaningless and ineffective, according to the sales pros in the city's convention and tourism bureau.

Every city has a river, they said. Everybody thinks they're friendly. There was nothing that said "Columbia."

So, why not embrace the heat?

"This is a very different brand," said Lora Prill of ADCO, the Columbia advertising agency that came up with the campaign. "It's vibrant, not passive. 'Hot' is who we are. It takes a perceived negative and turns it on its head."

The convention and tourism bureau last year booked 52,472 "room nights" in hotels throughout the area. That had an economic impact of about $13.8 million, officials said.

Ric Luber, the tourism authority's executive director, would like that room-nights number to grow to 65,000, especially given that nearly 2,700 new hotel beds are planned for Columbia in the next 18 months.

The "New Southern Hot Spot" brand and the campaign strategy cost $75,000. It's no coincidence that it's premiering in August.

"It's 100 degrees outside, and we're going to use that," said Grant Jackson of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, one of the partners with the ad agency in developing the brand. "We're saying we're a hot spot for technology. We're a hot spot for fuel cells."

"Now we have to deliver on those promises."

The convention and tourism bureau plans to use the "Famously Hot" campaign in convention trade journals. The ads will tout Columbia as an emerging city with a surprising number of attractions, a hot night life and Southern charm.

Four separate ads will be developed around the word "hot": One for the convention center, one for meeting planners, one for leisure travelers and one for the city's sports council, which attracts sporting events to the area.

The ads will be accompanied by a toll-free "hot line," and a Web site, famouslyhot.com.

"The puns are endless," Prill said.

One ad reads: "Columbia's heat is legendary. If your event has been singed by false promises and poor service, look no further. Our mix of Southern hospitality and fiery dedication will make your gathering sizzle."

The ADCO folks also hope the "New Southern Hot Spot" brand will be adopted by the region's cities and attractions.

But Satch Krantz, executive director of Riverbanks Zoo, the state's top-ticketed tourist attraction, said he had "mixed emotions" about the campaign.

Krantz said he liked the idea of "hot spot," but thought the puns ran a little wild.

"It still needs a little tweaking," he said. "But it's a good set of ads for the money."

`a little cutting edge'

ADCO had the unenviable job of trying to capture the essence of Columbia and the region a job that has eluded pitchmen for the past two decades.

The most recent slogans "A Capital Place to Be" and "Where Friendliness Flows" cratered because they didn't set Columbia apart or get meeting planners' attention.

"We have to shout out over the crowd," Prill said. "We have to be a little cutting edge."

Colatown always has suffered from a little Charleston envy, even though it's the state capital, the home to the state university and South Carolina's largest city.

And while folks from coast to coast know Myrtle Beach, Columbia is still a national mystery.

Luber learned that firsthand last month while attending a conference in Las Vegas.

He and an old friend were chatting. The friend asked if Columbia had an airport.

"And this was someone in the (tourism) industry," Luber said. "If someone in the industry doesn't know anything about this community, how do meeting planners know about us?"

Luber said he doesn't yet know what the cost of ad purchases would be. That will depend on funding.

The authority has asked local governments for more money for marketing. And it is raising some money through a special bed fee from participating hotels money that will be matched by the state Parks, Recreation and Tourism agency.

Matt Kennell, president and chief executive of City Center Partnership, which guides investment and development in the central business district, said he thinks the campaign will have resonance.

"It hits the nail on the head of Columbia," he said. "It's accurate. It's fun. Hot is who we are."

Reach Wilkinson at (803) 771-8495.

AP-NY-08-09-08 2023EDT