Two years ago, Montana photographer Tony Bynum found himself within a few hundred feet of a grizzly sow and her cub in a snowy gorge in Glacier National Park. He'd been out shooting mountain goats for the day, but naturally swung his lens in the direction of opportunity as the bears slid down a steep embankment.
"I can't tell you what they were thinking or what they were up to," Bynum says. "But it looked to me like it was a combination of playing and getting somewhere, because there was no hesitation at all to roll around in that snow."
The images Bynum captured in 2008 might never have left the walls of his East Glacier gallery. Yet that sow and her cub—along with several landscape shots that Bynum's accumulated in his 10-year career—are now set to adorn the sides of buses and retail storefronts in Seattle, Minneapolis, and Chicago. It's all part of selling Montana as a destination.
"Montana's such a visual brand and it's such a big state that what we've learned and what's most effective when we communicate with prospective travelers is how we can bring Montana to life," says Katy Peterson, consumer marketing manager for Montana's Office of Tourism.
Images like Bynum's did the heavy lifting in last year's tourism campaign, their first in metropolitan areas, she says. Information gathered by third-party researchers with the Leisure Trends Group showed a dramatic upswing in recognition of Montana as a result of the four-month advertising blitz.
"Awareness of Montana in those three markets rose by almost 40 percent, and people who were aware of the advertising were three times more likely to actually come to the state than those who weren't, which is a pretty big point for us," Peterson says. She adds that people aware of last year's $4 million ad campaign spent roughly $424 million while touring Montana.
Bynum's bears will eventually end up on bus wraps in Montana's three target cities this spring, and Bynum says he isn't bothered at all that his name won't appear next to them.
"How many people get to see their images at 100 feet wide on the front of a building in downtown Seattle, or on a train or on a bus?" he asks. "It's pretty rare."