Beaufort News

Chamber launching Bluffton billboard campaign on I-95

A yearlong marketing campaign to launch next month will advertise Bluffton to motorists traveling Interstate 95.

But at least one town councilman wonders if drivers will spend too much time in the fast lane to notice.

The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce plans to rent four billboards between Walterboro and the Georgia border at a cost of $46,000.

"We're kind of taking advantage of the low-hanging fruit," said Susan Thomas, vice president of the chamber's Convention & Visitor's Bureau. "These are visitors who are already coming to the Southeast. We want to make them aware of all Bluffton has to offer."

Three of the displays will be visible from the southbound lanes, with the first to be about 55 miles away, near Walterboro. The other billboard will be visible from the northbound lanes and situated north of the Georgia border but before exit 8, where U.S. 278 meets I-95.

The ad designs aren't finished, but Thomas said the images will highlight aspects of the community that might be unknown to the casual tourist. They also will direct people to a chamber-run Bluffton tourism website.

The campaign will be funded through a one-time local accommodations-tax allocation that comes in addition to the chamber's $65,000 allocation from state accommodations-tax money. The Bluffton Town Council awarded $114,000 in accommodations-tax grants Tuesday, including the chamber's request.

Not everyone loves the idea.

Councilman Mike Raymond, the lone dissenting vote Tuesday, questioned whether the signs would make much of a difference.

"I wasn't sure the 'Bluffton state of mind' would translate well to a billboard on a freeway," he said after the meeting, referring to the town's marketing slogan.

Councilwoman Karen Lavery supported the request but suggested signs in a major city might be more effective.

On Thursday, Thomas said campaigns targeting people in major cities have paid off for Hilton Head Island, but at a much higher cost. She noted that the billboards are in addition to other print and online advertising aimed at raising Bluffton's profile.

"In a market like Charlotte or Atlanta, you are literally talking about six figures or more to effectively saturate a market of that size for a couple months," she said. "With a much more limited budget, we see this as a way to reach folks who are already predisposed to visit this region."

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