As the beautifully animated ‘Only Slightly Exaggerated’ campaign returns, Laura Swinton finds out why the state is putting creativity before convention
“When we took stock of the world of travel advertising, it all looked the same. If you put everything side by side, it becomes difficult to distinguish one mountain and forest from another.”
Beautiful scenery may be a massive draw when it comes to tourism, but it might not be enough for a truly effective campaign. The team at Travel Oregon had noticed that the trend in travel advertising towards gorgeous photography of the great outdoors was creating a mass of pretty-enough, but indistinguishable wallpaper. That’s why when they caught up with their long-term collaborators at Wieden+Kennedy to launch their 2018 campaign, they all agreed that they needed to tap into something different.
In this case, that ‘something’ was emotion – hence the whimsical Studio Ghibli-inspired campaign ‘Only Slightly Exaggerated’, a colourful, magical romp from Wiedens. Psyop directors Todd Mueller and Kylie Matulick were brought on board to whip up the bracing animated film that focuses more on the ‘feelings’ inspired by Oregon rather than postcard perfect scenery. “We realised that photos and videos never quite capture how amazing these places really are, or the emotional experiences you might have when you visit them. So, animation seemed like the perfect way in,” says the Travel Oregon team.
This year, the campaign is back – as are the Psyop duo – evolving the strategy further for a more intimate and emotional film, ‘Only Slightly (More) Exaggerated’.
The roots of ‘Only Slightly Exaggerated’ lie in a challenge that Travel Oregon posed to their partners at W+K. “Our briefs always start with a problem we’re trying to solve. For this campaign the problem was that people would be happier if they spent more time in nature. Our solution to that? OREGON! The objective of Only Slightly Exaggerated is to inspire people to come find happiness off the beaten path, all over Oregon. We know that people are overwhelmed with the chaos and distractions of modern life and it’s taking a toll on happiness and healthfulness. With this campaign, we invite visitors to come experience a happier state of being in Oregon, whether that’s in a forest, on a beach or on a sand dune.”
For last year’s launch of the Only Slightly Exaggerated campaign, the team wanted to introduce that audience to as much of Oregon as they could with inspirational scenes of places like the Alvord Desert, Crater Lake National Park and the Columbia River Gorge. When it came time to create the 2019 campaign, the teams at Travel Oregon and Wiedens knew they wanted to return.
“We had to leave so much on the cutting room floor from the first campaign, so we couldn’t wait to get back into this world and develop new characters and explore other areas of the state that didn’t make it in,” says the team. “We feel very lucky to get another chance to live in this world.”
However, the new iteration switches things up – taking the viewer on an even more emotional journey. For the sequel of the Only Slightly Exaggerated campaign, the creatives at W+K knew they wanted to spend more time in fewer places, taking the viewers on more intimate, inside experiences in Oregon. It’s not just those iconic, outdoor locations – we join a young girl sharing some of Oregon’s favourite foods with a giant creature, and dive underground at the Oregon Caves National Monument.
Having already set up the ‘slightly exaggerated’ universe of anime Oregon with the launch campaign, this year the creative team were freer to play about with other elements and perspectives.
“The first time around, we spent a lot of time developing the look, feel, and rules of our world. This time, since those details were already pretty dialled in, we were able to spend a lot more time on the other aspects of the world, such as the story and characters,” says the Wiedens team. “We were able to spend more time in less places, which gave us the opportunity to get to know the characters a bit better. We also wanted to explore scenes in ways that we weren’t able to last time, like the macro world of a bee in wildflowers.”
Directors Todd and Kylie echo the team’s thoughts - and revelled in the opportunity to further develop the world they’d created for the first film. “This is something that we love being able to do, expand on a property, a world we've created,” says Kylie. “In the first film we felt like we just scratched the surface of what was possible in this world. Over winter we created a beautiful poster series of Oregon in its full wintery glory. For the second film, the fact that we had a clear aesthetic and production method figure out already allowed us to simply focus on creative storytelling and expanding the magic. We learned from the last spot that big sweeping camera moves were expensive in terms of production so we kept the camera work very simple and channelled that time into great animation.”
Travel Oregon has been working with Portland natives Wieden+Kennedy for more than 30 years and they say that they regard the agency as ‘an extension of our team and part of the Travel Oregon family’. That sort of trust and relationship changes the kinds of conversations that can happen. The tourism industry has grown over the past 15 years, and advertising has played a huge role in that. In 2003, visitors spent $6.5 billion a year employing 84,500 compared to 2017 where the economic impact of travel and tourism was $11.8 billion, employing more than 112,000 Oregonians (source is Oregon Travel Impacts Study). According to Travel Oregon’s research, they know that for every $1 spent on state marketing, it generates $157 in visitor spending and $8 in state and local tax revenue. In addition, Oregon’s tourism advertising and subsequent visitation significantly improved the image of Oregon, not only as a place to visit, but also for a wide range of other economic development objectives. Specifically, those who saw the advertising were 61% more likely than before to regard Oregon as a good place to start a business.
The Travel Oregon team also have a fairly clear idea of the kinds of people who are attracted to the state. They call them ‘active adventurers’ – people who have travelled at least twice in the past 12 months and who love to combine outdoor activities like rafting with cultural leisure activities like attending art galleries and dining out. And while the peak times of year to visit are spring and summer, winter and autumn also have a lot to offer in terms of activities and colour. Given everything they knew about their target audience, taking influence from the films of Hayao Miyazaki starts to make real sense. After all, the personified spirits of nature are a common thread and the sort of people who are attracted by the natural world and Portlandia culture are likely to be familiar with the anime auteur.
And it’s not just out-of-state tourists that the campaign is resonating with. The new film went live on YouTube last week, and the comment section is bursting with Oregonians describing the spot as ‘perfection’ and clamouring for the team to release a TV series or film set in the whimsical world of anime Oregon. And we’re not even exaggerating.