How to manage the safe and responsible return of visitation to Asheville and Buncombe County in pursuit of economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is the objective of media plans developed by Explore Asheville’s marketing team. In creating this strategy, our team provided direction to Buncombe County TDA’s agency of record, 360i, and collaborated with staff from the City of Asheville and Buncombe County in guiding the decisions that are part of these plans.

We have sought the most responsible path forward, using a well-researched and thoughtful, data-driven approach in selecting markets and targets. These plans, with details below, are designed to encourage visitors who can help restart the community’s economy, while also ensuring that we invite people here who will act responsibly when it comes to respecting and complying with public health precautions.

Advertising Update – as of July 15, 2020


Based on an analysis of the Johns Hopkins data as described below, along with research that indicates Americans’ reluctance to travel, we have paused our advertising until key indicators change.

Learn more from this presentation made at the July meeting of the Buncombe County TDA by Marla Tambellini, Deputy Director & VP of Marketing (presentation starts at about 1:17:05 into the video).

Highlights of the Strategy (when advertising resumes)


No advertising in counties identified as “hotspots” based on statistical analysis of Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 data.

    • More than 67% of Americans who intend to travel this year will take a road trip versus flying to a destination, according to recent travel research. TripAdvisor insights indicate travelers are willing to travel as much as 6-1/2 hours, or approximately 300 miles. This serves as the initial radius for the selection of markets to place advertising.
    • Within that area, we are overlaying Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 county-level, new case data, taking population into account.
    • Further analysis will result in a mean number of cases and a determination of a standard deviation. Counties with case levels above the standard deviation are considered COVID-19 hot spots and will be excluded from consideration.
    • The agency will review the data weekly and will make changes if a consistent trend line develops over a two-week period, continuing to exclude or add back counties as circumstances change.

Targeted audiences who are responsible travelers most likely to follow rules and willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.

    • Audience development starts with using “intent signals” to identify travel intenders, then further segmenting by disposable income needed to support spending with local businesses.
    • Additional filters will be applied using a proprietary audience database that yields deep behavioral insights. Based on responses to statements that suggest behaviors such as conformity, rule following, benevolence and willingness to make sacrifices, the agency is able to identify prospective visitors who are more likely to follow requested precautions, such as wearing a face covering.

Explore Asheville Sample Facebook ad - couple wearing masks - July 2020Messages that include a strong emphasis on safety.

    • At the start of the pandemic, Explore Asheville immediately stopped advertising. In mid-May we launched a simple online video spot, “Together in Spirit,” aiming to inspire future travel, but without a call to action. The spot is voiced by local voice talent Marissa Blake, also recognized as the announcer for News 13 promotional spots and show openings on WLOS-TV.
    • Moving forward, the creative message will blend inspiration and safety and will include a re-edited version of the existing video spot along with new digital ads. The advertising shifts to a soft call to action and digital ads will include images of visitors wearing face coverings. Consistent with research that says travelers are seeking out places that are less crowded, the ads will focus on outdoor scenes and activities that allow for social distancing.
    • The ad will link to a landing page on that includes the Asheville Cares – Stay Safe Pledge. The website has strong reminders about the requirement and responsibility for visitors to bring their face coverings to wear when they come to Asheville.

The placement of only digital advertising, which enables us to easily switch advertising on and off based on data trends.

    • Instead of using less nimble traditional advertising, we will use more flexible online media channels, enabling us to quickly make changes as we monitor COVID-19 data trends and the uncertainties of the pandemic. Digital advertising allows us to quickly change, turn on or switch off markets and messages.
    • With stabilization of the situation, it is anticipated that spending levels will increase in 2021 and that more traditional TV and radio advertising may be added to the media plan.