Asheville: Foodtopia

Napoleon – the emperor, not the pastry – said that an army marches on its stomach.

Apparently, so do today’s travelers.

According to research we did for the city of Asheville, travelers increasingly want to visit places with cuisine that reflects the culture of the area and that is a distinctive experience in its own right. Thus, great restaurants, wineries, bakeries and the like are having an ever growing impact on destination choices.

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This was a problem, of sorts, for Asheville.

Now, people have been escaping to elegant hotels in this city nestled among the southern Appalachian Mountains long before Thomas Wolfe told us you can’t go home again. It’s been attracting visitors of every style and inclination for decades because of its diverse mix of artists, musicians, scenery and, of course, cool, cool summers.

But not necessarily because of its food.

Not that Asheville doesn’t have great stuff to eat and drink. It’s got America’s most popular winery, a vast network of artisan food makers and strong farm-to-table culture. There are literally hundreds of restaurants and cafes and bakeries making everything from baklava to barbecue.

In fact, it’s a foodie paradise. A utopia. A “Foodtopia,” if you will.

We just had to spread the word about it.

But how?

Because you have to be very careful. For although it’s imperative that folks know about Foodtopia, the message can’t feel like advertising. It can’t feel like a claim. It has to feel like a culture.

So we took over the town, with wayfinding signage and window decals and store posters and bumper stickers, to draw attention to the food culture as people walked the streets.

And we handed out pocket guides with local food lore and profiles of area Foodtopian luminaries.

And we supported it all with TV, print, online, OOH, mobile, direct mail, social media, events, PR and more.

But most importantly, we were able to activate over 256 local independent restaurants and businesses – creating a bottom-up effort that would prove to visitors that Asheville was an authentic food paradise.

And the results? Record website traffic. In-state PR and news coverage that went through the roof. Increased room nights. And more revenue from everything from tax receipts to parking meters – key indicators of economic success.

Oh, and as for Napoleon – the pastry – you can get an amazing one at the Old Europe Bakery on Broadway next time you’re in town.

Key Results

  • Drove record levels of website traffic
  • Increased room nights at hotels and revenue across the board
  • Used a multi-level marketing campaign that incorporated TV, print, online, mobile, social media and more
  • Developed innovative message that repositioned Asheville in tourists’ minds and spoke to their foodie desires
  • Supported traditional marketing tactics with inventive elements like pocket guides and coffee-table books

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