Tourism marketing took a bizarre twist on April Fool’s Day when Visit Winona, the organization responsible for marketing Winona, Minnesota, unveiled a “Minnesota Gators” campaign touting the possibility to swim with American Alligators in Winona. Using an email blast and social media as a launchpad, the organization announced that a new company called Minnesota Gators had come to town and were offering gator experiences including everything from hand feeding to swimming with the creatures.
Clicks went to the spoof website www.mngators.com, where the fictitious company lauded its safety record of 62 percent and made hilarious claims about the experience like, “They love to bask in the sun next to you on the beach, and your kids will love running from the mothers defending their eggs,” and “Kids never forget the first time they lose a finger.”
Photoshopped images of people hugging and swimming with alligators, fake reviews, and an absurd FAQ section along with real merchandise you can order round out the completely farcical site that will leave few believing this is actually a thing. Those who click through will be brought to a page on the Visit Winona website that pokes fun at the campaign and extols the reasons why people should check out Winona even if they can’t, or especially because they can’t, swim with alligators there.
The promotion is the brainchild of Visit Winona marketer Cynthya Porter and Shane Morris of the Bee Morris Agency in Houston. The pair dreamed up the promotion, built the site, and created the images in the span of about 36 hours to land it on April Fool’s Day. “Tourism marketing can suffer from this terrible sameness,” Porter said. “Everyone has great scenery, interesting restaurants, fun festivals, and so on. There is a lot of clutter to cut through to get peoples’ attention. People more and more are looking for something different, not just in a destination but in the way you reach out to them. We at Visit Winona believe that if you can give people a laugh, they are far more likely to think of your destination as a place they can come and let their hair down. Sure, it’s a risk to do something so tongue and cheek and we have heard some criticism of past campaigns like our “Miami of Minnesota” theme from people who think it’s too irreverent. But the positive feedback has dwarfed the negative by 20 to 1, so I think it’s working for us in establishing an identity in the marketplace and driving interest to check us out. Winona has the goods. It’s just a matter of getting their attention.”