News & Events

Des Moines Visitors Bureau Hopes Campaign Will 'Catch' On

What do Broadway monkeys, swinging sculptures, gymnastic wrestling and zombie ballet have in common, in addition to making you ask “What?”

They star in the Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau’s new marketing plan “Catch Des Moines,” unveiled Tuesday night at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center.

The ads tell visitors, sometimes in a slightly jumbled fashion, about the many activities and experiences they can catch while in Des Moines—like a Broadway musical at the Civic Center, gibbons at the zoo, an Iowa Cubs game, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, and wrestling and gymnastic tournaments.

Greg Edwards, the group’s chief executive, says the quirky ads have a sense of humor and attitude.

“We wanted them to be bold,” said Edwards, whose group also will launch a new website,, today. Leaders looked at 10 marketing groups locally and nationally before selecting ZLRIgnition of Des Moines to lead the initiative a year ago. The new campaign cost about $55,000.

It’s the first time the visitors bureau has significantly updated its marketing approach in about 20 years. Edwards said the group had relied on “See Des Moines” for about 15 of those years.

“It was time to kick it up a notch,” said Edwards, whose group’s advertisements will first hit local billboards, buses and other advertising venues, before being rolled out in regional and national TV, radio, magazine and newspaper spots.

Edwards said the time is right for a change, given how much the metro area itself has changed, from a new Iowa Events Center to the Science Center of Iowa, Bass Pro Shops and Jordan Creek mall.

John Murry, an associate marketing professor at the University of Iowa, said the group must provide not only information about Des Moines’ attractions and activities, but also convey the city’s personality and create a bond with its target audiences.

“It really has to resonate with its target audience and distinguish Des Moines from the competition” like Kansas City, Omaha or Minneapolis, Murry said. “It has to say to potential visitors: ‘Oh, that’s me.’ ”

Advertising with a sense of humor can give a city a personality, Murry said. It also can be an attention-getter, making potential audiences talk about it or consider it longer than they normally might.

Humorous ads also run the risk of falling flat with some. “You have to make sure it’s communicating what you want it to,” Murry said.

Edwards said ZLR’s research partner surveyed about 500 leisure visitors, event, sports and convention planners and local leaders in developing the marketing plan. The primary decision-makers for leisure travel are women ages 25-54, he said.

Researchers talked with people who had been to Des Moines and those who had not.

Those visiting Des Moines found the activities and amenities they would expect in a large city, Edwards said. Those who hadn’t visited the metro area perceived Des Moines to be a farm town, “vanilla and boring.”

“For years, we’ve been selling ourselves, both to professional planners and visitors, as a big city with small-town charm, or as having big city amenities with small-town conveniences,” Edwards said.

“We found out we shouldn’t talk about being small town, because we’re not,” Edwards said. “We need to act like the big city we are.” That also means nixing an emphasis on selling Midwestern friendliness.

“People don’t visit New York because people there are nice. They go there for the city and its experiences,” said Edwards, who rolled the new marketing initiative to the media and many of the group’s 700 partners Tuesday.

Edwards said he understands that the advertising campaign may not appeal to everyone.

He does expect it will surprise and catch people’s attention. “It will help us stand out as a destination” worth considering, he said.

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