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May 2010

Best/Worst Advertising 2010

Our annual look at the hits and misses in winter resort media campaigns.

Written by Ken Castle, David Amirault, Samantha Rufo and Katie Bailey | 0 comment

Yes, social media is cool and dynamic. But it is far from replacing a well thought-out traditional media campaign. After combing through this season’s ski area ads in print, broadcast and online sources, SAM found standout campaigns in all channels, as well as some ho-hummers. We looked at branding, messaging and consumer response, and some of the most powerful advertising still derives from print and broadcast media. Creativity knows no boundaries.

Resorts that had a clear understanding of their customer demographics and the audience for each medium were able to engage, inspire and attract followers. But beyond showcasing deep powder, scenic vistas and après-ski activities, more areas are exploring their inner selves—their “social brand”—and these efforts often produced the most memorable and compelling messages.

Resorts express their personalities in a variety of ways: profiling the people who work there, showcasing the lifestyle of the locals, and using major events, from town festivals to snowboard competitions. Social media add a new strategy: letting your customers define the place in their own words and images. This creates a human connection with undeniable authenticity.

Some other trends that stood out this season:

• To stretch budgets, resorts leveraged their relationships with regional and statewide marketing groups to acquire high-quality video and photography, which they wrapped into their own customized advertising.

• Resorts also partnered with e-commerce sites, such as Travelocity with its ubiquitous—some might say cheesy—Gnome. This pint-sized figurine barnstormed around the country, appearing at events, bars, ski slopes and lodges, and was a frequent “guest” on participating ski area social media channels. Don’t be surprised if, with 50,000-plus fans on Travelocity’s Facebook page, the Gnome returns next season.

• Traditional media have their place. “We continue to see value in all of our core advertising,” says Carl Ribaudo, who oversees the Ski Lake Tahoe marketing consortium of seven resorts. “We are not pulling out of traditional venues. Our branding ads in the magazines continue to pop with consumers, and our internal research shows that the style and messaging of ours ads have done very well.”

TV ads also succeeded this season. The California State Tourism Office leveraged the celebrity status of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appeared on skis in frequently-aired TV commercials. The spots pulled in website traffic and inquiries throughout the season, especially as snow piled up, according to Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association.

So, for the 2009-2010 season, which ads had mojo? Which ads were no-go? Here’s what we found.

From Ken Castle: Combining outreach from print, radio, social media and even digital signage in the lodge, the “What’s Your Story?” campaign encouraged the resort’s most ardent fans to submit pictures, videos and comments about their magic moments at Okemo. Thus, says public relations director Bonnie MacPherson, “we have real people telling real stories” rather than having the resort put out “a lot of marketing mumbo jumbo.” Okemo’s print ads portrayed different modes of communication, from texting on phones to written diary entries, and invited readers to offer their tales. The resort showcased these prominently on its website homepage. The resort seeded the effort with in-house-produced videos that included interviews with notable Okemo personalities and archival footage of skiing from the 1960s. Guest submissions were usually edited to create photo albums, and divided into categories of photo, video and written comments. Enough entries were received that the resort will use some of them for next season and continue the campaign.

From Dave Amirault: I’d love to believe that a day in the park at Okemo is nothing but blue skies, tail grabs and text messages on my iPhone telling me how sweet the landings are. Hell, I’d settle for blue skies in New England. I’m sure this ad works in Ski and Skiing. But the fact is, the people reading this ad in Freeskier or Powder won’t go to and share their story. Maybe they could have encouraged them to fan them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, but sharing an experience on is completely out of the question. Why? Their peers don’t share content on That’s what Facebook and personal blogs are for.

From Ken Castle: A 30-second TV spot that aired more than 1,500 times between early December and February paid off, even with Michigan having the nation’s highest unemployment rate. Piggybacking on footage shot at the resort for the state tourism office’s “Pure Michigan” campaign, created by industry titan McCann-Erickson, Crystal fashioned its own branding message. Using a montage of images, the spot highlighted the après-ski and overnight lodging experience, and was aimed at markets less impacted by the economic downturn. To reach families, the commercial aired on cable programs popular with women between the ages of 25 and 54. The spots pushed traffic to the resort website, which contained an array of value-priced lift-lodging deals. The result, says PR director Brian Lawson, was a 12 to 20 percent boost in business from cities such as Chicago, Ann Arbor, Birmingham and Grand Rapids. As a result, December and January business was among the best for those months in the resort’s history.

From Ken Castle: Web-based, call-to-action ad campaigns, using a relatively new tool that tracks and messages specific prospects, produced for Booth Creek’s Lake Tahoe resorts. The tool identifies potential customers by following their online surfing habits and presenting them with targeted ads. Users who clicked on either of the company’s resort sites acquired cookies that allow marketers to establish profiles and later pitch consumers with specific messages. For example, someone who frequently reads about winter sports might be served a Northstar stay-and-ski free ad, perhaps on a major news portal such as Julie Maurer, Booth Creek vice president of marketing, says she works with networked ad buying consortiums for multiple placements, and the results can be measured weekly. “We can tweak as needed to reach a targeted audience, and this gives us more flexibility than just buying ads on an individual website,” she says. “We can track people who visit our sites, even if they don’t initially buy, and then follow them two weeks later when they click through to a specific package.”

From Ken Castle [and previously reviewed in the March 2010 issue of SAM]: Proving that it’s possible to create a wide-ranging social media campaign with a modest budget, Copper’s “Everyone Deserves a Snow Day” mixed corn and creativity to give people ready-made excuses to go skiing or snowboarding. Using mock videos, a separate website titled, and the major social media channels, Copper set up humorous scenarios for getting out of work, with downloadable audio sound effects such as coughing and sneezing, and offered the out-of-work a chance to earn free ski passes with the best hard-luck stories. The resort generated wide media attention and garnered thousands of website visitors. Copper may have given the U.S. a new movement every bit as powerful as the Tea Party.

From Ken Castle [and previously reviewed in the March 2010 issue of SAM]: “Raising ‘em Jay” was one of the most offbeat campaigns, and most successful. Appealing to the core values of its clientele, Jay launched a multimedia, season-long campaign, with heavy use of social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, to highlight the family values of growing up with a ski resort. The underlying theme was that youngsters who get their ski legs at Jay are unique individuals who learn how to tame a mountain and, perhaps, use their skills to achieve their goals later in life. Jay is the matron who inspires loyalty and builds character. Apart from marketing the ski area as a rite of passage, the campaign yielded nearly 2,000 contributed photos and generated 13,000 registered fans.

From Dave Amirault: It’s ads like this that make me proud to be from New England. Jay Peak’s “Raise ‘em Jay” campaign featured simple messaging and visuals that brilliantly find a way to encapsulate the entire Jay Peak culture on one page. While “The Beast” may be a couple hours south of Jay, these ads let you know that the real gnarly stuff happens a bit further North. Even for people living out west that will never set a ski down at Jay Peak, they know that it’s a destination for “real skiers” back east.

From Ken Castle: Mountain High knows its clientele of über cool snowboarders and how to stroke it. When it launched a pro snowboarding team this year, the resort created a Ride With Us sweepstakes, awarding the winner and a guest one day of shredding with a pro. The team included Louie Vito, who finished fifth place in Vancouver Games and has appeared on “Dancing With the Stars.” He was joined by two other strong personalities, Marc Frank Montoya (“MFM”) and Cory Cronk. To enter the contest, riders had to text 99158 on their mobile phones, then were asked to join the ski area’s e-mail list. The contest was promoted through radio, print ads in magazines and college newspapers, and online banners. Winners were filmed with each pro during their day on the slopes, and the videos were posted on the area website. The campaign enhanced Mountain High’s brand as the snowboarding capital of L.A., and generated a fat database of names “in the high 20,000s,” says marketing director John McColly.

From Ken Castle: Forget the woes of the recession or the drudgery of day-to-day life, urged the brand campaign from Aspen/Snowmass. The ad, with the theme “I reside here… but I live here,” sought to lift people out of their personal funk and encourage them to escape to the mountains. It contrasted “residing”—such as opening a beer and watching TV—and “living”—such as riding pow on the mountain. PR director Jeff Hanle says the campaign “was about rewarding yourself, renewing your spirit, pursuing your dreams and not letting bad times get you down.” Ads ran in Ski, Outside, Powder and Snowboarding, as well as some online portals, and targeted a range of demographics. In all, some 14 versions of the ad were created by Aspen’s new agency, Factory Labs of Denver.

From Dave Amirault: Nick Lambert at Sunday River knows how to shift his message based on the audience he’s communicating with. This ad that appeared in Freeskier magazine fires on all cylinders. It features Simon Dumont, one of the best freeskiers in the game, who also happens to be on the Sunday River payroll. The ad promotes one of Sunday River’s largest events of the year, “The Dumont Cup,” and has a beautiful photo with great action. It's simple, effective and core to the reader of the magazine. Not to mention that Simon Dumont is very hot to the Freeskier audience. By placing him in the ad you’re guaranteed to get the readers’ attention.

From Ken Castle: Vail Resorts cut back sharply on print advertising this year, but still produced some memorable campaigns. One of them was a four-page magazine ad from Heavenly that portrayed the two sides of a vacation at South Lake Tahoe: skiing with lake vistas, and gambling at Nevada’s Stateline casinos. The tag lines, “Mother Nature” and “Lady Luck,” set up a juxtaposition, “like having an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other,” says John Wagnon, Heavenly VP of marketing. The first ad urged skiers to turn in early so that they could hit the mountain at sunrise. The second ad talked of indulging in high-energy nightlife. “We realized that what makes this place unique is the tension that exists between these two environments,” he says. Wagnon says the ski segment, which promoted value pricing, drove significant traffic to the resort website. The Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance helped fund the ads.

From Ken Castle: We wanted to like Big Sky’s over-the-top season’s pass infomercial. Hyping the advance sale of 2010-11 passes via a YouTube video is not a bad idea. The segment employs an overly caffeinated used-car-salesman persona, complete with Stetson and brown tux, and mixes this with a script that borrows from the most irritating infomercials. “We’re offering a spring cleaning sale and sweeping away high prices!” gushes the pitchman, as he sweeps a broom across a set of letter blocks on the snow. “No credit? No problem! Bad credit? No problem! We have payment plans! We want your business!” he yells. The deal is $799 for a regular pass holder and $699 for a student, pretty good prices at Big Sky. And the shrill hard sell is effective for perhaps the first 20 to 30 seconds. Then it becomes grating. “But wait,” screams the pitchman, “there’s more!” We wish there wasn’t. You gotta know when enough is enough.

From Dave Amirault: Okay, okay… Windells isn’t a ski resort, I get it. However, this year-round ski/ snow­board/skate camp does operate on Mt. Hood, so I’m including it here on a technicality. This year, Windells has stepped up its game with print and online so much, it would be an injustice to all the fine work they have done to leave them out. Windells’ print ads showcase everyday campers, professional athletes, beautiful photography and simple messaging that convey what Windells is all about… fun. For an operation like this, that says it all.

From Dave Amirault: Let me get something out in the open, I like Mammoth Mountain. I really do. It has phenomenal terrain, a top-notch team of athletes, and one of the best terrain parks on the planet. Plus, the area does a great job of encouraging athletes and publishers to create captivating content at their resort. What I don’t like are Mammoth’s ads from this season. The “Hot Laps” campaign was entirely too busy. Everything great about Mammoth was hidden inside these ads behind layers of noise. For a place as visually appealing as Mammoth, these ads did an injustice to its brand. The ads have style, yes, but they do a poor job conveying any message to the viewer. And isn’t messaging the point?

From Dave Amirault: You would assume that if you have one of the greatest freeskiers of all time on your team you would showcase him in your ad, right? Wrong. Park City Mountain Resort instead chose to take three average images (devoid of any skiing action at all) and slice them onto a black background with a call to action that 90 percent of the audience forgot two seconds after reading it. Next year, wrangle together the skiers on payroll (such as Tanner Hall and Tom Wallisch), pay a photographer like Utah native Erik Seo and shoot the snot out of them in the park. You’re guaranteed to get great creative that you can use for ads, marketing collateral and more. Heck, bring a videographer and release a three-minute edit from the photo shoot and you’ll get 30,000 to 40,000 or more views online.


Some of the most creative creative this season emerged from Canadian areas and associations. Here are our picks and pans. All reviews by Katie Bailey.

“Why on earth would you want to come to Whistler Blackcomb in 2010?” This campaign really shone for asking the one question, very publicly, that people had on their minds: why would anyone come to Whistler in 2010? According to Whistler’s advertising agency, Origin, early season recon indicated Olympic aversion would be a problem. So a four-phase campaign was launched to combat pre- and post-Games bookings shortfalls. The creative stayed consistent throughout the campaign. First, using large sans-serif text asking the most obvious question: “Why on earth?,” followed by stating the most obvious of facts. When early-season storms were piling up the inches, the ads note that “The reasons keep piling up,” followed by “Ski the calm before the storm.” Finally, “When the Games end, it’s your turn to come and celebrate at Whistler Blackcomb.” The media execution was smart, too, including national TV, regional radio, and national and regional print.

Largely unknown to Americans (and for that matter, Canadians), Le Massif set out to change that in 2009. Primarily known for its spectacular vistas of the St. Lawrence River and its mountain-like terrain, the resort set out to rebrand itself as a lifestyle-oriented destination. The campaign included out-of-home, radio, online and a custom publication touting the name change (to capitalize on the Charlevoix region’s fame) and focused on its year-round attributes instead of just on skiing, capturing the much-loved je ne sai quoi of the Quebec City region in the creative. As a marketing campaign, this resort really built a strong foundation that will help it move forward through its ambitious expansion strategy over the next five years.

“Crasher Squirrel” was easily one of the biggest (and most opportunistic) Canadian social-media success stories of the year. Last summer, a curious squirrel popped into the forefront of a photo that a couple was taking of themselves at famed Lake Minnewanka in Banff. The photo was submitted to National Geographic online and quickly went viral, with people photoshopping the crasher squirrel onto everything. BLLT acted immediately (like, that day) and incorporated it into is social media strategy, setting up Twitter, Facebook and blog accounts for it, adding squirrel cutouts to its billboards, arranging the squirrel to crash other websites, and sending squirrel-themed swag to local businesses. Did it work? The association estimates the advertising value at $3 million and the reach at 80 million people. Yeah, you could say that it worked.

On the flip side of Alberta marketing genius, the tri-resort marketing association Ski Big 3’s “Real” campaign this year just didn’t resonate. While the goal was admirable—to promote the region as a no-frills, true-blue ski experience—the copy felt forced, and the branding tired. Each ad featured a phrase beginning with “Real” followed by a pithy statement, like “doubtful he can land it.” It just wasn’t inspiring, nor representative of what Sunshine, Lake Louise and Norquay are all about. The magazine ad drove readers to a magazine-specific webpage with no reward other than a “welcome readers!” message, and a quick scan of the brand’s Facebook page revealed a paltry 174 fans. While there were lots of brand posts, there was almost no customer-to-brand interaction.

This resort’s advertising has been consistently a bit underwhelming, and rarely representative of what really makes people brave the -40º C temperatures to visit here in droves in February. The length of the slopes in vertically-challenged eastern Canada make it worth it, and so does the après—the resort village has an unbelievable vibe. Do you see any of this in its mass marketing? Nope, just copy about ski-in, ski-out villas and discounted vacation packages, and a lame shot of a family smiling. Booo. The resort does a great job with its website, with lots of interactive content and a nice design. But its print advertising—yuck.


As the social media universe evolves, some fundamental rules have emerged for doing things right—along with some definite no-no’s, too. nxtConcepts’ Samantha Rufo rounded up some of the most common mistakes resorts are making when wading into Twitter and Facebook. Rather than nitpick over which were the worst of the bunch, we opted to simply pick the worst offenses and identify some of the offenders.

One of the biggest mistakes in using Twitter is not engaging your customers in a two-way conversation. Offenders? Montana’s Ski Lookout and Bridger Bowl, and Pennsylvania’s Ski Camelback top the list. Another Twitter blunder is using default Twitter designs instead of customizing the page to match the brand (two examples: California’s Homewood Mountain, New Hampshire’s Cranmore). Almost as bad, some resorts designed a page that didn’t match the resort’s brand image (Telluride). And above all, be interesting (yes, you, Homewood)—no one follows a boring Tweeter.

Sometimes, it’s not what you do, it’s what you don’t do. In that vein two things come to mind. First, control your “wall” people. Settings can be changed so that only resort-specific info appears, not weird spammy wall posts (listen up, Blue Knob, Pa.). And second, use the business pages! They were created for a reason, and help avoid weirdness like Deer Valley Resort being referred to in its profile info as a “her.” And “friends” on personal pages have to be approved, unlike business-page “fans.” We know you don’t allow snowboarders on the slopes, Deer Valley, but we assume you want fans for your Facebook page. Perhaps the biggest blunder is failing to populate your page with content. Biggest offender: Mad River Mountain, Ohio, with its sad, empty Facebook page. If you build it, fill it up.