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States often take wrong turn in seeking winning tourism slogans

NEW YORK — Nebraska’s tourism commission paid for months of research. More than 3,500 corporate leaders, potential visitors, and residents were interviewed. Thursday, the marketing campaign debuts: ‘‘Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.’’

Turns out that Nebraskans have a critical streak.

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‘‘It sounds boring,’’ said Andrew Norman, executive director of Hear Nebraska, an Omaha nonprofit he founded with his wife to change perceptions of the state as a hokey bastion of corn and beef. ‘‘There is a hell of a lot more going on here.’’

States hunting for the next ‘‘Virginia is for Lovers’’ budgeted more than $350 million in fiscal 2012-13 for advertising and promotion, according to the US Travel Association. Yet without ‘‘Mad Men”-level talent and adequate resources or research, the money can go for naught, creating ads that fall flat or, worse, provide an occasion for mockery.

Washington pulled the plug on ‘‘SayWa’’ after only six months in 2006 when critics found it baffling. After more than two decades of ‘‘Georgia On My Mind,’’ the Peach State tried ‘‘Put Your Dreams in Motion.’’ That one died amid comparisons to Coca-Cola’s catastrophic change to its signature soft drink’s formula in 1985. Alaska used ‘‘B4UDIE’’ for a month in 2005. The ads looked like vanity license plates, but conjured a frigid demise straight out of Jack London.

‘‘It’s pretty hard to create bad tourism advertising, because everybody likes to dream about vacations,’’ said Michael Erdman of Longwoods International in Toronto, a research firm that surveys travelers and works with states.

Yet, for every successful tourism slogan, perhaps 20 fail, said Barbara Lippert, a columnist for and former Adweek critic.

Many campaigns ‘‘are corny and backward,’’ Lippert said. ‘‘They just sort of go to that place where all bad ads end up, which is completely forgettable.’’

All that blandness is directed at a rich prize. Nationwide, tourism generated $887.9 billion in direct spending last year and $133.9 billion in revenue for governments, the US Travel Association said. In Nebraska, it is the third-largest income generator, bringing in $3.1 billion in 2012.

‘‘Visit Nice’’ has a dual meaning, said Angela White, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Tourism Commission. It combines how people feel about the state with experiences at such events as the College World Series and Sandhill crane migration.

Tourism budgets in 2012 in neighboring Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota were all more than double Nebraska’s $5.2 million.

‘‘We have to find ways to be creative,’’ White said. The campaign will target Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota and include television and billboards.

Reaction has fallen short of delighted. Scores of comments on social media and the Omaha World-Herald’s website suggest the state missed the mark.

‘‘Grandmas are ‘Nice,’ a soft blanket is ‘Nice,’’ ’ wrote Andrea Norris on Facebook.

‘‘That’s not the word I would use to describe Nebraska.’’

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