Virgin Islands back on TV with new ads from Ogilvy

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After political turmoil in its state-run tourism department, the U.S. Virgin Islands returns to TV today for the first time in more than a year with a $6.1 million campaign.

Three spots will air, each with one idyllic beach scene from the islands of St. Croix, St. John or St. Thomas. A narrator with an island accent makes tongue-in-cheek comments as the turquoise waves roll in. "Greetings from the heavenly island of St. Croix where Columbus arrived on his second voyage to the new world," he says. "Maybe now you know why he made the additional trip."

"We felt the combination of an island voice and a single 30-second image would cut through the clutter," said Pamela Alvord, management supervisor at agency Ogilvy & Mather, Atlanta.


What the spots lack is a local celebrity, a la Puerto Rico's spokesman-singer Ricky Martin or the Dominican Republic's baseball player-pitchman Sammy Sosa.

The Virgin Islands' most famous celebrity is professional basketball player Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, who recently signed a contract to do promotional efforts for the islands. But Mr. Duncan, with his low-key personality, isn't as well-known as Messrs. Martin or Sosa, and it's unlikely he will appear in ads, Ms. Alvord said.

Traditionally, the U.S. Virgin Islands has launched its major annual ad push during the winter. But with the government having gone through four directors of tourism since Gov. Charles Turnbull took office in January 1999, Ogilvy -- hired last October -- only recently signed a contract.

In 1998, Gov. Turnbull ran for election on a platform that included improving tourism, in part through better advertising. Last summer, the government launched a review and Ogilvy replaced Lowe & Partners, New York.


The new campaign will eventually feature the tagline "America's Caribbean." That replaces "They're your islands," which officials felt worked fine in the U.S., but failed internationally.

The ads will run on spot TV in five markets -- Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington -- targeting seasoned, upscale travelers. Radio spots broke March 15 and have already contributed to a jump in calls to the islands' visitor center, a spokesman said.

Besides creating a tagline that may have lacked appeal to international tourists, Lowe was sometimes perceived as a New York agency without a direct interest in island life.

But the shop did not control the decreasing tourism budget, a controversial issue within the government. Hotel owners complained that funds earmarked for tourism were instead spent on public safety and education.

In the Virgin Islands, tourism is the No. 1 industry, with the islands' advertising strategy analyzed on talk radio the way sports teams are in the U.S. The islands have struggled to boost hotel traffic to 1995 levels, before Hurricane Marilyn devastated St. Thomas.

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