Pinellas County's tourism marketers continued their streak of clever campaigns by sending in the yetis this winter.
Clad in tropical bathing suits, sunglasses and beach towels, people dressed as yetis danced in Times Square, attended Cupid's Undie Run and Chicago's Polar Plunge, took selfies and gave lots of high fives.
The yeti campaign by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater was dispatched to New York, Boston and Chicago to market St. Petersburg and Clearwater to Northerners during the coldest months of the year. It is the first year the agency targeted Boston.
The campaign encouraged potential vacationers to visit YetiLovesSun.com, which is filled with photos and videos of the hairy white beasts playing volleyball, enjoying margaritas and doing yoga in Clearwater and St. Petersburg. The message: "If Yeti can say goodbye to the cold, so can you. Be like Yeti: escape to the sun this winter."
Last year, VSPC arranged for snowmen to be built in Northern city streets. Each snowman held a witty sign urging people to visit Pinellas County — promoted by the hashtag #winterblows.
"It has to be something that pushes the envelope a little bit," said Pinellas tourism chief David Downing. "It has to be something that no one is doing."
He said that the agency looks to build on its previous campaigns and this year wanted something more "mobile" and interactive than a snowman.
The trick was finding the right costume.
The yetis "had to be striking, but we didn't want children running and screaming from them," Downing said.
In years past, VSPC has used April Fools' Day as a marketing vehicle.
Last year it launched a weeklong campaign called Grouper Week, reminiscent of Discovery Channel's Shark Week, to promote dining at local seafood restaurants. April Fools' 2014 brought us the manafin, a dolphin/manatee hybrid that went viral.
But this is the year of the yeti.
The $2.5 million winter marketing campaign, which included advertising on buses and about 1,400 elevators, ran from the beginning of the year until the end of March. VSPC tallied more than 500,000 yeti views on social media, Downing said.
Downing said the agency will be launching a pilot campaign in Seattle this summer and is already starting to plan next winter's campaign.
"It's a growing sector. Every year there are more destinations we compete with and every year we have to find new ways to give our brand a leg up on our competition," he said.
Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow @KnotheA.