Oklahoma buys $2M ad campaign inviting visitors to the state as coronavirus surges

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An Oklahoma ad campaign urging people to visit the state as its coronavirus case numbers surge cost $2 million in CARES Act funds, money state leaders said is an investment into hurting businesses now and in the long term.

The 30-second and 15-second ads both feature Governor Kevin Stitt boasting an open economy while so many parts of the U.S. are restricted in response to the coronavirus surge.

The Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development, Sean Kouplen, said the state bought television ads, digital ads, and social media ads in Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri. They will run to the end of the year.

“We felt like it was just a great opportunity for our state to just try to bring people in and revive our travel and entertainment business,” Kouplen said.  “We just feel so sorry for hoteliers and restaurant owners who, they just don’t have the business that they had previously and we were just trying to help them.”

He explained that the idea came after watching a similar campaign out of South Dakota.

“They went out into the country and said, Hey, if your business is shut down, or if eating establishments and a lot of the travel and entertainment that you’re accustomed to is shut down, come to our state,” Kouplen said. “And they got a lot of publicity from those. And so I had seen those and I did present the idea to the governor that we should do that for Oklahoma.”

The ad buy was spent with $2 million left over from the $145 million Oklahoma Business Relief Program, part of the $1.2 billion Oklahoma received from the CARES Act.

Kouplen said they believed the money would make a broader impact through the campaign rather than divvying it up between businesses.

“It’s just unfortunate that by the time it all rolled out, our cases are spiking,” Kouplen said.

The campaign was approved in October and early November, according to Kouplen, so he said at the time they weren’t as concerned about the numbers surging as badly as they did.

In that time, the 7-day rolling average rose from above 2,000 new cases a day, to more than 3,200 a day. Over the weekend, Forbes listed Oklahoma as one of the top ten riskiest states to visit, behind states like Arizona and California.

There was also pressure to spend the money before the end of the year, at which point any leftover CARES Act funds must be returned.

“It’s something that we were admittedly being a little bit opportunistic because it’s something that the state hasn’t really had the resources to do in the past,” Kouplen said. “So when we saw that CARES money could be used for that purpose, we thought, what a great way to get our message out and our branding out during this time.”

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