Carhenge billboard mockup
A billboard mockup shows Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, as part of the “Honestly, it’s not for everyone” campaign. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism

After Nebraska Tourism launched its campaign that declared Nebraska is “not for everyone,” it was only about a week before Nebraska Tourism Executive Director John Ricks was invited onto radio shows in Australia.

Ricks said Nebraska Tourism introduced the campaign at an industry conference on a Thursday, and by the following day, the tagline was making news across the country.

“Friday morning, we woke up, and everything was going crazy,” He said. “I had calls from All Things Considered on NPR, National Public Radio. We had CNN after us. We had Washington Post, everybody.”

The campaign, which launched April 1, 2019, made headlines around the world. In Nebraska, the campaign shot website traffic through the roof and had people buzzing around the state. 

“I was going to say it did exactly what we expected to do. I’d be lying,” Ricks said. “It surpassed our expectations.”

Two years after its launch, Ricks said the campaign put Nebraska’s tourist amenities on the map. In the year the campaign launched, the website had an increase of 180,000 visitors. The message spread so fast that in December, the reach or number of people who possibly could have heard the campaign’s messages was 884 million people, according to Ricks.

Besides communication successes, the campaign also brought more visitors into Nebraska. Ricks said lodging tax income broke previous records in 2018 and 2019, and in those two years, overnight visitors in Nebraska increased by 300,000. Before those two years, it took 10 years to increase visitors by that amount. 

“We did in two years what it took almost the previous decade to do in terms of increasing visitation,” Ricks said.

While COVID-19 dampened both Nebraska Tourism’s marketing output and travelers’ desire to leave the house, Ricks said there’s plenty of potential for 2021. According to a study from the World Travel & Tourism Council and Tourism Economics, an international data organization Nebraska Tourism works with that is based in Philadelphia and the United Kingdom, the global tourism industry lost almost $4.5 trillion while people were staying home. Now, Ricks said, people have leftover money to use for travel.

“Pent-up demand isn’t just in interest and desire to travel,” Ricks said. “There’s a lot of ability to travel because of what people didn’t spend last year.”

The campaign’s playful attitude was based on stereotypes that hold Nebraska’s tourism industry back, Ricks said. The team decided to debunk these stereotypes one by one, noting that the Great Plains are anything but plain and connecting Nebraska’s reputation of being “fly-over country” with the magnificent sandhill crane migration.

“This self-deprecating humor that evolved out of it got people’s attention,” Ricks said. 

Crane Ad - ‘Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone’ campaign grows state tourism
A Nebraska tourism print ad highlights the sandhill crane migration which stops in Nebraska every March. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism

Becci Thomas, the director of Knight Museum and Sandhills Center in Alliance, has worked in tourism for more than 25 years. She said she’s seen a lot of slogans come and go, but she loves “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”

“It makes us unique. Nobody wants to go somewhere plain and boring, and that pretty much takes boring out of the mix,” she said.

Thomas said confrontational marketing tactics rarely work and trying to assert a product, or in this case, a state, is superior to another doesn’t make people want to visit.

“This ‘Not For Everyone’ is being a little more facetious. You’re kind of making fun of yourself,” Thomas said. “People are way more receptive to that than they are if you tell them that you have the best of everything.”

Thomas said the off-beat nature of the campaign fit with Nebraska and her home city of Alliance, which hosts the classic Nebraska parody of Stonehenge known as Carhenge. The quirky nature of the campaign not only made it more engaging but matched the bizarre hilarity of the car-themed monument.

“For us, a quirky saying just fits right in,” Thomas said.

Not only did she enjoy the campaign’s creativity and tone, but Thomas also said the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center saw an increase in calls coming in and interest among prospective visitors. When those visitors stop by her place of work, she said she loves answering their questions and promoting Nebraska’s attractions.

“I love saying ‘Hey, we aren’t for everybody. You must be special because you like us,’” Thomas said.