About two weeks ago, one of my coworkers here at the Tribune decided to take a much-needed break, leaving for a week’s vacation.
On the first day he was gone, he happened to get a large box — about 10 inches tall, 12 inches wide and 24 inches long — in the mail here. It isn’t too often boxes of that size come in to a newsroom, so of course it caused a bit of a stir.
Usually, those boxes come to my fellow columnist Mike Tighe, who has ordered something silly and useless to decorate his desk, such as squirrel underpants, bugs preserved in glass or a super fancy gaming desk chair. All of those things are real, by the way.
However, this box did not play host to ceramic boxing squirrels, stuffed owls or a ventriloquist dummy (all of which have decorated Tighe’s desk at one time or another).
Nope, my co-worker opened the box to find it filled to the brim with fake fall leaves.
Buried in the leaves was an eight-page, wire-bound booklet proclaiming to be the 2018 Travel Wisconsin Fall Color Media Kit and a cardboard-bound media player — made in China, by the way — with a 3-inch-by-4-inch video screen that lights up immediately when you open the cover.
The video features what appears to be either drone or helicopter footage of Wisconsin in the fall, with a jaunty tune playing over it. The song is kind of annoying, but the footage is gorgeous, I must admit. TV might try to convince me that Vermont is the place to be for fall color, but they got nothing on rural Wisconsin’s yellows, oranges and reds mixed with the dark greens of conifers that keep their color year-round.
Interspersed with the views of treetops are things like a convertible driving down a flawless stretch of two-lane highway, which frankly feels like a taunt to someone who drives down La Crosse Street, aka Hwy. 16, on a regular basis. I’ve been on our state highways. They must have searched far and wide for a half-mile road without a single pothole or crack.
First of all, did the Department of Tourism learn nothing from the days of autoplaying videos on websites? No one wants those.
Second of all, sending newspapers in Wisconsin videos of what the state looks like seems like a serious waste of resources. Guys, we know what it looks like. We live here! You don’t need to tell us the leaves in La Crosse start changing in late September and mid-October, and I really don’t think we’re the audience for your random list of hiking trails that begins in St. Croix and includes other Wisconsin cities such as Melon, Hayward and Bayfield.
They bill this as a media kit, but it provides exactly zero useful information to the media. You can’t even use the video they put together on the newspaper’s website.
And according to a story published last March in the Milwaukee Business Journal, Wisconsin spent roughly $4 million on its advertising campaign this year, including broadcast, digital and social media, and print and radio ads.
Look, I’m not actually against tourism spending. Visitors spent $12.7 billion in our lovely state in 2017, which is up 3.17 percent from 2016, according to an annual report compiled by research firm Tourism Economics and Longwoods International.
Those guests buy food from Wisconsin restaurateurs, stuff from Wisconsin stores and experiences from Wisconsin businesses. According to the report, one in 13 jobs in the state is sustained by tourism, which isn’t nothing. Although I am a little concerned, because when I think of jobs sustained by tourism, I’m not picturing too many good-paying jobs. Waiters at restaurants and lifeguards in Wisconsin Dells are probably positions sustained by tourism, but I doubt there are many of them buying houses and investing their money.
Regardless, tourists boost our economy and pay sales tax on it all at the same time. I don’t think it’s bad for the state to spend $4 million to bring in nearly $13 billion.
I just wonder how much of that spending is really necessary. Would we be better off spending say $3 million and not mailing Wisconsin newspapers boxes filled with fake leaves and video players?
Jourdan Vian can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.