Pure Michigan: Still Crazy Good After All These Years

pure-michigan-logoThink back to the years of 2006-08. It was a rough period for Michigan and the country. It was the start of the Great Recession when the economy was in tatters and unemployment was surging. The city of Detroit was mired in severe financial difficulties as was the domestic auto industry.  In short, it wasn’t a happy period in our state’s history.

With this as a grey backdrop, the State of Michigan and its Travel Michigan office decided to launch a new tourism program aimed at promoting the state’s many attractive features, especially its physical beauty. It ended up being called “Pure Michigan” and it was a game changer.

Recently, I spoke to someone instrumental in that award-winning campaign that’s still flourishing 17 years later.

Always an admirer of the ad spots created for Pure Michigan, I chatted with Mark Canavan, then the creative director for McCann-Erickson, the huge Detroit-based agency that made the pitch to land the account in 2006.

“We went to Lansing and made our presentation, centering around the theme of “‘finding your true north,’” said Canavan. “When we got back to the office, the agency had already received a phone call from Lansing saying they loved our work and were happy to give us the account. That rarely happens that fast in our business.”

But there was one big catch.

Mark Caravan

Mark Canavan

“They told us the tagline of ‘finding your true north’ wouldn’t work,” said Canavan, now the Executive Creative Director for ReBuild Group in Detroit. “With so many regions of the state needing to be highlighted, the campaign’s tagline couldn’t be interpreted as solely focusing on northern Michigan,” recalled Canavan.

Thrown this curve ball, Canavan and his team assembled in a conference room, brainstorming and throwing out dozens of ideas and new taglines.

“In that meeting, someone mentioned “pure” as a keyword and someone else made the point that it would be smart to have “Michigan” included, as well.” Presto! “Pure Michigan” was born.

“I give George Zimmerman, the Vice-President of the Travel Michigan Bureau at the time, full credit for his vision of making Michigan a national destination even in that uncertain period of time for the state,” said Canavan, a life-long Michigander raised in metro Detroit.

Tim Allen

Tim Allen

Similar to the rocky start of finding the right tagline, Canavan’s introduction to the actor Tim Allen, the voice of the Pure Michigan commercials, was also precarious.

“For the initial recording session, we rented a studio in Phoenix, AZ, where Tim was on location for a film and I was going to direct him by phone from Southfield. We only had the studio for two hours which I thought was plenty of time,” said Canavan.

The celebrated voice of Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies, Allen began reading the scripts prepared by Canavan and his team. “It just wasn’t working,” said Caravan. “He sounded like Buzz and it didn’t fit. After more than an hour, we didn’t have anything. After many attempts, I finally said, ‘Tim, remember the days growing up and listening to the radio and hearing those voices?’ Go in that direction.’”

It clicked and Allen found that authentic and reassuring voice for Pure Michigan. “I literally got goosebumps when he first read it.”

“Afterwards, I heard Tim was so frustrated with those extra takes he said he wanted to crawl through the telephone line and strangle me,” said Canavan laughing.

The other element of the commercials was the music chosen. It was taken from the movie Cider House Rules, the 1999 film whose score was nominated for an Oscar and composed by Rachel Portman.

“What was different about the music is that we used it throughout the campaign. Usually, you change it with new ads but we didn’t,” said Canavan. “We wanted the music to act as a trigger to put the listener in a certain mental space.”  Again, it matched up perfectly.

Of course, besides Tim Allen as the voice and music from Cider House Rules, there were the marvelously crafted scripts that helped define the essence of the Pure Michigan spots.

Canavan says the secret sauce of the script came down to a timeless conversation between the spot and the listener

“Pure Michigan never told you what to do here but rather how you’re gonna feel,” said Canavan.

Indicative of that theme was a spot called “Sunrise” written by Canavan’s colleague Dave Moore. Here are the words:

25,000 mornings, give or take, is all we humans get. We spend them on treadmills, spend them in traffic and if we get lucky, really lucky, it dawns on us to go spend them in a world where a simple sunrise can still be magic. 25,000 mornings. Make sure some of them are Pure Michigan. Your trip begins at michigan.org

Here’s the actual commercial:


I’m also partial to a spot called “14 Clubs,” written by Canavan, admittedly an 18-handicap golfer but one well-versed in the game.

14 Clubs. That’s what they tell is the legal golf bag can hold. While that leaves a little room for balls and tees it doesn’t leave room for much else. No room for deadlines or conference calls. Not a single pocket to hold the stress of the day or the to-do list of tomorrow. Only 14 Clubs. Pick out the right one and drive it right down the middle of Pure Michigan. Your golf trip begins at michigan.org

Listen to it at:


Canavan said the Michigan travel website received hundreds of messages and letters praising the ads and eliciting an unexpected outcome.   

“It woke up a sense of pride in Michigan,” said Canavan.

Years ago, after the Pure Michigan campaign was well established, I met a travel bureau executive from another Midwest state. When she learned I was from Michigan, she immediately said, “I’m so sick and tired of hearing those commercials. Please make them stop; they’re too effective,” she said with a wry smile.

That initial campaign garnered several Mercury awards, known as the Oscars of the state tourism councils: Best State Tourism Advertising Campaign (2007), Best State Tourism Television Commercials (2007), and Best State Tourism Radio Campaign (2008), Best State Tourism Radio Advertising (2009) and Best State Tourism Niche Marketing (2009). Moreover, for five straight years, it was deemed the best radio advertising.

Fast forward to  2023. The Pure Michigan campaign is still going strong but with a new iteration. Launched last month, this year’s theme is “Keep it Fresh,” aimed at welcoming and inspiring visitors via fresh perspectives and voices. Detroit poet jessica (yes, lowercase j) Care Moore will be one of those voices for the TV campaign and with new music by Michigan-based Assemble Sound.

Rest assured, the familiar voice of Tim Allen will still be heard in a conversational duet with Moore.

And fully expect some out-of-state Travel officials to be ‘sick and tired’ of it.


(Note: Special thanks to Bob Drake for lending advice and direction on this story.)

Images courtesy of Travel Michigan, ReBuild Group, and The Movie Database

4 Responses to “Pure Michigan: Still Crazy Good After All These Years”

  1. Bob Drake

    Hey Terry…GREAT job on this “Pure Michigan” feature. You did a nice job connecting all the dots from the genesis of the campaign to its present iteration. Congratulations…I’m sure you’re proud the end result as well. BTW…Is the jessica Care Moore a relation to you, too? Meanwhile, have a great week…and after all the rain (and snow) stops, hopefully we can tee’ m up sometime.

  2. Terry Moore

    Thanks, Bob! appreciate your initial guidance on this column…No, neither Dave nor jessica Moore are related.

  3. Joe Huyge

    Always love to read your work T. The additional in-depth explanations of how these things got done keeps me in the article through to the last word.

  4. Terry Moore

    Thank you for the kind comment, Joe. In appreciation, please take 25% off your next purchase at Meijer’s

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