, Fla. (AP) — Remember how you wanted to shop at the characters' favorite New York
haunts and drink cosmopolitans at the same bars after watching an episode of "Sex and the City
?" Or how you wanted to visit the seaside cliffs of Ireland
after watching "Game of Thrones
Small towns like Wilmington, North Carolina
, from “Dawson’s Creek,” and the woods of Senoia, Georgia
, from “The Walking Dead,” have benefited from Hollywood
’s flattering spotlight, and that’s exactly what travel
marketers in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida
, hoped to capitalize on when they commissioned an original, scripted TV series, hoping to attract quarantine-weary tourists to the area.
The eight-episode show “Life’s Rewards,” which is based on a charming yet cavalier wealth
manager who loses his money
and uses travel rewards points to stay at the posh, pink
Don CeSar hotel while rebuilding his life, premiered on Amazon Prime
Each episode is only eight to fourteen minutes long and was shot with a local production company, director, and actors
; the series cost about a million dollars to produce, which was split between the city and the state's tourism arm.
Some of the "ad" spots woven throughout the dialogue are obvious, such as the random episode about the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, but the characters quickly pivot back to plot-forwarding dialogue. It's a quick-hit ad as opposed to the sustained 15- to 30-second hard sell of conventional commercials.
At times, the settings, such as the gay nightclub Blur or a tour of the colorful WhimzeyLand "bowling ball house
" in an episode featuring a scavenger hunt, feel natural, and even the countless gratuitous beach shots are mostly convincing.
“I’m watching something and I’m drawn into the show because of the story line, but also the places I’m seeing in front of me,” said Steve Hayes, president
of Visit St. Pete Clearwater, who mentioned that he and his wife frequently discussed visiting Wyoming
while watching their favorite show, “Yellowstone.”
While it can be awkward at times, the characters in "Life's Rewards" refer to each location in the scene by name; there are no phony dive bars or coffee shops.
“You start to build, ‘Hey, this looks like a really cool place I want to visit,’ and it’s in the background, not in the front where you want to go through and hit the fast-forward button,” Hayes said.
It's too early to tell if the series has had an impact on tourism, or even how widely it was watched.
had a significant impact on the hospitality industry, and tourist towns are eager to capitalize on the newfound willingness to travel, putting even more pressure on destinations to think outside the box.
“Every destination in the world is now looking for that tourism boom, and I believe it is more important than it has ever been,” said Alexandra Delf, executive vice president of Grifco, a travel marketing firm based in London
The firm is using pandemic binge shows to promote its biggest clients, noting that scenes from Netflix
's "Bridgerton" were filmed near The Gainsborough Bath Spa. "Game of Thrones" packages at Slieve Donard Resort and Spa tout tours where notable scenes, such as Robb Stark's battle
camp and "Red Wedding," were filmed nearby.
With travel halted due to the pandemic, scenic destinations seemed even more enticing.
“A lot of what we do in travel marketing is selling that dream of relaxation,” Delf explained, “because it gives them something to look forward to.”
The production company behind the Florida show stated that scripted shows are a new genre for travel marketing, and that they are already in talks to shoot some for other cities in the state, as well as a full-length film for Brand USA, a tourism marketing group that promotes tourism outside of the United States
“We don’t want people
to feel marketed to; we want them to get lost in the story and invest in the characters just like any other show on streaming or TV, but we’re providing a positive context for our destination,” said Brianne Maciejowski, Odyssey Studios’ director of film and video.
According to her, consumers retain far more from branded content than from traditional advertising, and because the Florida TV series ended on a cliffhanger, a sequel
is still a possibility.
“Part of our business
model is to assist destinations in finding a voice in this entertainment-first world,” Maciejowski explained, adding, “There’s a lot more in our future.”