Tim Allen Counts Ad Campaign Among His Best Work

'Home Improvement,' 'Toy Story' Actor Voices Michigan Tourism Spots

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- While his most notable voice-over work is probably as the over-confident astronaut Buzz Lightyear in Pixar's "Toy Story" films, Tim Allen will tell you he's most proud of his work on the "Pure Michigan" tourism campaign. For the past few years, the actor/comedian often known as "Tim the Tool Man" has served as the voice of the state in McCann Erickson's campaign touting the virtues of Michigan as a vacation destination.

Tim Allen
Tim Allen Credit: AP
The 56-year-old actor has lived in Michigan since he was 11 and went to college there as well. "It's a great state, and there are great people," said Mr. Allen, who said he feels strongly that Detroit and the industry synonymous with it will make their way back to the top.

Mr. Allen, who still has a home in the Great Lake State, recently spoke with Ad Age on the last day of a family vacation -- in Elk Rapids, Mich.

Ad Age: Why did you decide to be the spokesman for the "Pure Michigan" campaign?

Mr. Allen: I have been here since I was 11 years old. I'm a big car freak and was a big Michigan booster when I was a kid. I came from Colorado, which is a nice state, but then we moved here and there were cars and lakes and it was just really an exciting place to be and it never really got any recognition.

The spots were so well-written. This team at McCann Erickson who wrote these were remarkable, and the imagery was great, and I was really taken by it.

Ad Age: How do you think the ads turned out?

Mr. Allen: I was filming "Wild Hogs" [in 2006] when I started doing them, and this director was directing me [over the phone] like I had never done it, and I took offense to that. We were doing this phone patch, and I was in a hurry and telling him I got it, and he said, "No you don't, Mr. Allen." But he knew what he was doing and brought my voice to a place that I wish some directors would do with me as an actor. He kept pushing it and pulling it back saying it sounds too phony and too disc jockey. I have done voice-overs, but never like this, where I clearly just used the best parts of my pipes. I'm proudest of some of that work more than anything else.

Ad Age: Do you think the campaign is working?

Mr. Allen: Yeah. It's having an impact because it gets past that economy thing for the first time ever. The economy of Detroit is one thing, but that is not the whole economy, nor does everyone in Michigan work for the car companies.

Ad Age: Has the tourism market there taken a hit because of the state's connection to the auto industry?

Mr. Allen: No question it's catching an unfair rap. In its defense it's got more coastline than anyplace other than Florida, more boaters, more places to go, and it's fresh water. My wife used to say, "Let's go other places," and she's now a believer. You come up here and you go, "Damn!" People say the beautiful beaches are in the Hamptons and Martha's Vineyard, and having been there I can say they are beautiful. But imagine that same beach but with fresh water. It isn't the ocean by any means, but it's different. It's just gorgeous here.

Ad Age: Isn't it going to be hard to get cash-strapped folks to travel in a recession?

Mr. Allen: There's 30% less wealth all the way around, but you can hop in a car and anything within 800 miles of here is a great deal. I'll tell ya, I'm up here in this area, and I was shocked at how packed it was these last three days. I have a really old Jeep and Ford pickup here, and I go to my normal gas station, and I was standing there thinking, "Where are all these people coming from?" Somehow we pursue our passions and we keep moving. I can't tell you why or how, but the people here are loving that tourists are here, and they are giving me credit. I was just directed on one of the better voice-overs I have done on very good writing and a very good campaign. It's wonderful stuff and great to be part of.

Ad Age: Do you believe Detroit and the auto industry will eventually climb out of this hole it's in?

Mr. Allen: Yes. My uncle worked for Ford, and his grandfather worked for Oldsmobile back when it was the pinnacle of American ingenuity, and I believe [the industry] will come back.

I have been here since I was a little boy, and I love the auto companies and I love being a part of Camaros and Firebirds and all that shit. The city needs so much, and it really needs a courageous guy. You could buy the town and redo it and put a Central Park in it and make it one of those green, self-sustainable cities that has gardens and have a farmer's market where people actually grow food, because there is land to spare now. I think you could turn it around; it just needs a vision and someone who has a love and a passion for the area.

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