Your Place In Space — Rachel, NV Tourism Campaign: Case Study
My brief was to build an impactful brand campaign and responsive website that promotes a location of my choice, whilst highlighting its individual identity and engaging my chosen user.
Rachel, Nevada, USA
Rachel is in the middle of the Nevada Desert, off the Extraterrestrial Highway and right next to Area 51. It is known for its alien sightings, UFO hunters and isolation from ‘normal’ civilization.
- Build an engaging and impactful brand campaign that promotes tourism in Rachel.
- Create a strong visual brand identity and a responsive website creating engaging, impactful, predictable and well-designed experience for the users and optimized to meet business goals.
- Establish a consistent visual identity that carries through different marketing and promotional materials.
- Create a logo for the campaign that captures the direction, mood, tone and audience you will be capturing.
Rachel is unlike any other place in the universe…that we know of. For this reason I wanted to provide my users with not just an experience, but a memory. I wanted to make sure that Rachel was not just another vacation destination, but a place that people would cherish for the rest of their lives and never forget.
- 2 Art Directions
- 2 Social Media Ads
- 2 Display Ads
- 2 Branded Marketing Items
- Responsive website for desktop and mobile
- Animated walkthrough of website
I had so much fun researching Rachel. Last summer I went on a road trip through the Nevada desert, along the famous Extraterrestrial Highway, through the desolate and beautifully empty landscape, visiting all the essential landmarks on my way to find Area 51. I’ve never been happier than I was on that trip, so when it came to researching the area I got very, very carried away.
I began by looking into what Rachel was all about. I wrote down things that I already knew about the area and things that I had experienced, but also dug a lot deeper online to find out more information.
I found that Rachel had a few websites dedicated to the town but there was one that had the most relevant information and stood out from the rest. Since Rachel is such a tiny town with a population of only 98 people it does not have a Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Bureau, so this website was curated and run by resident and owner of the town’s only restaurant ‘The Little A’Le’Inn’, Pat. This site contained:
- Rachel Info
- E.T Highway
- Local Business
- Nearby Places
- Guest Book
It was a lot. After asking people how they felt about the amount of information on the website it became evident that while it was relevant and delivered what was expected from a tourism website, the thing that caught their eye the most was the guest book. There are posts dating back to 2002 and while I couldn’t read every single one, the general theme of the posts was sheer enthusiasm and love for Rachel, its residents and its welcoming nature.
This made me realise that Rachel is not a place that is driven by tourism for financial gain, but visitor satisfaction and respect for the community.
What began with basic research about things like Rachel’s population, attractions, community and size, turned into a couple days of searching deep into the US Air Force, Area 51, alien conspiracy theories, weapons testing, Black Projects, Groom Lake and more conspiracies about the Military being in contact with beings from outer space. It was at this point that I realised I needed to settle down. All these concepts are so fascinating that I could have researched for months on each topic, but there was no time for that. What it did give me was a solid concept of the two art directions I wanted to explore. The town itself is so charming, fun and welcoming, but the area that surrounds it and the things it is affiliated with can go so far in the other dark, mysterious and almost dangerous direction.
No matter where I went with my research, it always took me back to the people of Rachel. They aren’t only passionate about Rachel as a town, but about the way it makes them feel. I found an interview with one of their longest standing residents who said the reason he loved the area so much was because of…
“the remote location, tiny size…freedom and simplicity”
This statement reenforced everything I had found so far about the general feel of the town, but then I read this sentence and it rang so true to my own experience that I couldn’t get out out of my head…
“On most days you can see forever, and at night the stars seem so close that you feel like you are out among them.”
Choosing An Audience:
After reading the Guest Book on Rachel’s website deciding on who my audience was going to be was difficult at first, simply because of the vast diversity of people who had evidently been to Rachel in the past.
Eventually I decided to cater to the weirdos. The fun, open minded, believers who haven't dedicated their lives to conspiracies, but would listen to anyone’s opinion and value it. Since Rachel isn’t really on the way to anywhere else, my audience are people who go there for a reason. It is a life goal of theirs because they know the reputation that the town has and admire its quirky culture. These people go to Rachel to escape reality and experience life out of the ordinary while they’re still young (25–35). They are tech-savvy and are enthusiastic about their adventures.
The twist with my audience is that I wanted to appeal to people who had already been to Rachel.
But Cat, surely catching the eye of people who have already experienced the town is a silly thing to do for a tourism campaign…no? Usually, yes. But since Rachel is not driven by financial gain, this campaign is to promote and celebrate the people who have already contributed their time and money by having visited in the past. By adding to their community outside of Rachel its spirit and culture will spread into ‘the real world’ and eventually allow Rachel to grow.
The next question I had to answer was why someone would visit a tourism website after having already been to the location. I wanted my audience to be able to escape reality and remember that they are a part of something bigger, so my “why” became…
From my research, audience choice and my “why” I was able to create two mood boards to showcase the different art directions I could take the project in.
- SPOOKY: This art direction was very much inspired by stories and conspiracies from real people. The Area 51, Black Projects, Groom Lake, X-Files, UFO and Alien stories that people provide “evidence” (I cannot either prove or disprove these tales/photos) of give a very eery and creepy feel to the whole concept. This mood board definitely gave off the vibe of being “beyond the normal” but in an almost sinister way by using monotone colours and curious imagery.
2. FUN: This art direction was the complete opposite of its pre-decessor. I designed this mood board with the community of Rachel in mind. It uses bright, playful and inviting colours to fill the space and keep the mood fun and explorative. The choice to use illustrations was very conscious as I realised photographs are such a personal thing. Using someone else’s photos, or vision of their memories would distract from the user’s own memories and I really wanted them to preserve their individual experiences. This particular style of illustration is soft, friendly, fun and so unrealistic that is provides that “beyond the normal” and sense of escape from reality that I wanted to achieve.
This “Fun” mood board was the one I chose to use going forward because it spoke to my audience perfectly and represented the spirit of Rachel’s community. The colours and style of illustration I chose were also inspired by Air Force patches. The solid colours and quirky nature gave me a whole new perspective on Special Projects and the camaraderie/community that comes with them. I realised at this point that I could combine both the fun-loving community feel and the mysterious, secret world of the Military/Air Force/Area 51 that Rachel provides us with.
Below is my final Design Inception:
After deciding the mood and artistic direction I wanted to take my project in I was able to start designing my logo. I started out by doing a few sketches of things associated with Rachel. I was inspired by the stars, constellations, UFO’s, telescopes and aliens. It all seemed pretty generic, but then I looked at the shape of the town of Rachel and discovered that it was very similar to the shape of an alien eye.
I also realised that an alien head was a very similar shape to that of a location pin which further iterated the idea of Rachel being a very distinct location. From here I decided to roll with the alien head concept and started playing with the shapes and placement of the eyes in particular.
It was very important that I found a good balance between fun and inviting and mysterious and secretive. If you take a look at examples of the eye placement where the thicker parts are at the bottom, the alien looks much more menacing. For this reason I put the thinner portions at the bottom, rounded the corners and shortened the length to give a friendlier wide-eyed appearance.
I had a lot of concept ideas for this project, including “Area 52” (the idea that Rachel was the real base hiding all the aliens and UFOs), “Do You Know Rachel?” (a concept born to humanize the town) and “Hiding In Plane Site” (a play on words to suggest that those who come to Rachel are part of a CIA/Air Force-type secret mission). These were all fun ideas, but they weren’t speaking to me. They weren’t exciting me.
After a lot of brainstorming I started looking at maps of Rachel and took a step back from my thoughts.
Road maps lead me to Google Maps and the satellite view of the town was absolutely beautiful. As soon as I saw it I felt like I was looking at Mars and I realised that Earth is just another planet in Space.
Just like Mars and all the other planets, we are alien to someone or something else out there. Rachel was quite simply…
“A Place In Space.” I loved it. It made sense. It was simple. It could take me anywhere, yet my mind kept wandering back to the quote I mentioned earlier:
“On most days you can see forever, and at night the stars seem so close that you feel like you are out among them.”
I wanted my audience to feel like they were out among them, like they had a place in space…a place in Rachel. So the planning began…
Before I did anything I went back to my “why”:
To join and remain a part of a community beyond the normal.
My end goal here was to provide my audience with a way to feel like they were a permanent part of this community.
I then thought back to the Guest Book page from Rachel’s existing website and how connected it made its users feel. After some thought I knew that I literally had to give my users the chance to claim their place in space. I had to provide them with a platform to make a permanent mark and revisit their memories with something concrete. This platform would be my website.
With this, I came up with my…
Step 1 — Road Signs: Because I knew I wanted my audience to visit the website after visiting Rachel, I knew I had to begin my campaign in Rachel itself. I wanted to plant seeds and not give too much away as I wanted to keep the whole campaign exciting, mysterious and fun, but I needed to make the visual language of the campaign resonate in the minds of my audience.
The first step in the campaign was placing custom road signs along the Extraterrestrial Highway (the road on which Rachel is situated). The signs read:
“YOUR PLACE IN SPACE”
The idea is that the signs are rotatable to indicate that you can belong absolutely anywhere. They were designed so that no matter which direction the sign is pointing in “YOUR” is the first readable word, making the sentence easy to read in every situation. Since the highway is usually so desolate, it would be safe and easy enough for people to stop their cars and interact with the signs.
Since standard directional road signs are green I chose to make my signs green to further indicate the idea of location. The shape of the signs derived from the design of the logo for the campaign.
Step 2 — Special Projects Patch: Once the road signs had put food for thought in the mind of my audience, the next step was to give them a clue as to how to get onto the website. How? Through actual food.
Once the road-trippers made it to Rachel, the only place to eat is the famous Little A’Le’Inn. As I mentioned earlier, this establishment is run by the same woman who runs the current website for Rachel. She seems to be the heart and soul of the town and therefore I wanted to make sure that both her and the Little A’Le’Inn were a part of this campaign. Upon serving the road-trippers their meals, Pat would bring a special patch to the table for each person on the trip and tell them to…
“Put a .com onto the end when you get home”
This patch would again reenforce the visual language of the campaign branding without giving too much away…after all, the idea is to make the user feel like they’re a part of something special and close-knit within the community.
The wording on the patch changes slightly from “YOUR PLACE IN SPACE” to:
“MY PLACE IN SPACE”
I did this to give the user a growing sense of attachment to the campaign which would then lead to the continued exploration and interest after they leave Rachel.
Step 3 — Web and Social Media Ads: Just like steps 1 and 2, I wanted step 3 to not give too much away, but encourage the user to land on the website if they had forgotten to visit it upon returning from their trip to Rachel. Because this campaign is very specifically targeted at people who have already been and shown their interest in the town I didn’t put any information on the ads. Instead I relied solely on the visual brand identity to spark memories of steps 1 and 2.
These targeted ads would use geographical and behavioural methods to pop up in my user’s browser and social media feeds.
Step 4 — Website: The final stage of the campaign is when the user makes their way to the website. I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I wanted to provide my users with not only a memory, but an experience. This website is exactly that. An experience.
Apart from a couple of onboarding screens, I deliberately chose to not include a lot of copy to keep the mood fun and explorative.
Because of this, animation was a huge part of my design and therefore had to be very primitive and simple to urge the user’s interactions with the site. The shape of the logo, as well as the sun further down the page helped again with the user experience of navigating around the website.
The ultimate goal is to have the user find their place in space. Their mission (as stated on the onboarding screen) is to:
“Scroll and click to uncover secret locations on this site. Leave your mark and remain a part of Rachel forever.”
When fully developed, the site would be able to create a location tag within any section of the screen, whether it be behind a mountain or in a grain of sand. In the time I had I chose to make screens where the user could make their mark by adding a new star to the night sky, or grow a thorn into a cactus.
Alright. The time has finally come. I get to show you the campaign from start to end!
Picture me this…imagine you’re on your road trip. You’re completely isolated. No one else is around for miles. You literally have no idea what is beyond, even though you can see forever in the distance. You’re driving along the Extraterrestrial Highway on your way to Rachel. You see a road sign in the distance that you’ve never seen before.
You get out the car, look closely at the sign and read “YOUR PLACE IN SPACE”, get your friend to take a photo, then realise you can spin this sign. You play with it, not having a clue what it means and then happily get back in the car not knowing what you just witnessed.
You drive for miles and miles more and eventually end up in the tiny town of Rachel. At this point you’re absolutely starving, so you pop into the Little A’Le’inn for an Alien Burger. When the owner, Pat, comes out with a huge smile and a huge burger she places a patch next to your plate, raises one eyebrow and says “Put a .com on the end when you get home”, winks at you, then walks away.
You look at the patch and realise you’ve seen something like this before. It was the road sign! You wonder why, put the patch in your pocket and devour the burger.
You’re now at home, back in reality, passing the time online as usual.
This video below will take you on a walk through of your experience from this moment on. Be patient and follow the curser. I encourage you to think as the user as you watch. For the full experience, make the video full screen!
You can also find an interactive version optimized for mobile here.
By digging deep and really getting to understand Rachel and its community I was able to cater this campaign strategy to fit their goals.
Using design and branding strategy I was able to plant subconscious seeds for the user.
Personalizing those seeds and further building the brand identity gave my audience an experience, the opportunity to cherish the memory of their road trip to Rachel forever…
…and ultimately find their way home and find their place in space.