Villing & Company

The Accidental Tourist Brand

As some of you may know, my wife and I like to spend much of our vacation time in northern Michigan. Specifically on the Leelanau Peninsula outside Traverse City. Beginning just north of Manistee and ending in a circle around the peninsula is one of the most picturesque highways you will ever have the joy of navigating. It is Michigan State Route 22, or better known as M22.

It is also a brand.

As I write this article, sitting on my desk is a coffee mug with a large M22 logo (which is actually just a reproduction of the highway sign). On my car is a magnet with the same logo. And if you have occasion to travel in the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, this logo is ubiquitous, showing up on just about every type of merchandise imaginable, from hats and sweatshirts to branded bottles of wine.

What makes this branding campaign interesting is that it really has no obvious sponsoring organization. No chamber of commerce or convention and visitors bureau. No regional confederation of retailers. You might say it just took on a life of its own. An accidental tourist brand, if you will.

The genesis of the brand can be traced back about 80 years. There were any number of classic postcards and advertisements from that era promoting the beauty of and attractions along this stretch of highway. But the brand began to take shape when a pair of kiteboarding brothers, Matt and Keegan Myers, decided that the best way to become missionaries for their sport was to advocate for the best place to engage in that sport. Here is how the Myers state the M22 brand essence on their website:

“The M22 lifestyle is marked by the simplicity and appreciation for natural wonders such as bays, beaches and bonfires, dunes and vineyards, cottages, friends and family everywhere. M22 is the feeling you get when you realize there is no other place you would rather be.”

The evolution of the brand makes for a fascinating read and a great case study. Today it is a business that has grown far beyond the modest original aspirations of those kiteboarding brothers. It is also a great case study in the power of cause marketing because one percent of M22 sales go to the Leelanau Conservancy, regardless of profit.

Perhaps you’ve seen the M22 logo in your travels around the Midwest and wondered what it meant. Now you know.

Filed Under: branding

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