Boats line Chattanooga's riverfront with the Tennessee Aquarium rising in the background. (Chattanooga Convention & Visitor's Bureau Photo)
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The Holmberg Bridge provides a welcoming stroll to Hunter Museum of American Art. (Chattanooga Convention & Visitor's Bureau Photo)

From his corner office on the 18th floor of the SunTrust Building downtown, Bob Doak has maybe the best view of the city anywhere. It gives him a panoramic view from Missionary Ridge near the Georgia line to Cameron Hill.

Below him sit all the major downtown attractions -- the Tennessee Aquarium, AT&T Field, Memorial Auditorium. Even on a clear day, it's not likely he can see seven states, but he knows they are out there, filled with potential visitors to local hotels, restaurants and attractions.

As Chattanooga Convention & Visitor's Bureau President and CEO, it's Doak's job to get them here and, since 1997, except for a slight dip in 2008-'09 when markets everywhere took a serious hit, the line on the tourism revenue chart has "been heading northeast," he says. In fact annual revenue from tourism has risen from more than $477 million in 1997 to $934.6 million in 2014.

The Tennessee Aquarium, which opened in 1992, deserves much of the credit, of course, as do the additions of other attractions such as the Riverfront, the revamped Walnut Street Bridge, Rock City and Ruby Falls and the overall renaissance that has taken place downtown, but Doak also points to a shift in how the city has been marketed.

Most of those ad campaigns touting the wonders of Chattanooga are never seen by local residents unless they travel outside of town and happen to catch one on TV. The spots, which can vary from 15 t0 60 seconds, run in places like Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Knoxville. They are designed to make the city attractive to everyone from newlyweds to families looking for a weekend getaway or a week-long vacation.

When the Convention & Visitor's Bureau switched to The Johnson Group as its marketing firm in 2001, it also switched from a philosophy of promoting the city's attractions -- basically, Ruby Falls, Rock City and The Chattanooga Choo Choo at the time -- to branding the city as a whole as a destination. The switch was a result of national surveys taken from both tourists and those in the marketing industry, according to Johnson Group founder Joe Johnson.

"The research indicated you should promote the intensity and density of your downtown," he says. "If you have a downtown -- and we do -- it helps brand you more as a destination."

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The Block, a climbing wall on the face of a downtown building, is one of many attractions featured in a marketing campaign that focuses on the city as a destination. (Chattanooga Convention & Visitor's Bureau Photo)

Doak says what visitors want is an "authentic experience." They don't just want to visit a homogeneous city much like their own, or one filled with kitsch.

Johnson Group partner and Creative Director Roger Vaughn has spearheaded the marketing campaigns and did some of the camera work, often stuck in a bucket lift way up in the air. David Lang and Bobby Stone at Atomic Films also helped produce many spots over the years.

In that time, the Johnson Group has created several campaigns touting Chattanooga to out-of-towners, but few have been as popular, or as successful, as the last three. The creative team says that's thanks in large part to newer "tilt shift" camera lens, which make things look as if they are miniature and toy-like, similar to when miniature trains or cities are photographed. Everything takes on a different, smaller scale and the city ends up looking almost like a fairytale destination.

"It gives it this dreamy vibe," Vaughn says.

He first used the tilt-shift photography four years ago for the Convention and Visitor's Bureau and its "Chattanooga Take Me There" campaign. It was one of the first times the lenses had been used for such a project and it won a national Addy Award from the American Advertising Federation.

For this latest campaign, Vaughn, the guys at Atomic and photographer Jack Parker shot thousands of photographs of the city and, and when strung together, they create a mini-movie or slideshow effect with lots of activity and action. Many of the familiar attractions -- the aquarium, the climbing wall, the bridges, Coolidge Park -- are shown, but they're not the focal. It's exactly the effect Vaughn was looking for since it depicts Chattanooga as a dynamic, hip city.

"We wanted to capture the vibe of the city," says Vaughn, who recently was awarded the 2015 Silver Medal lifetime achievement award by the American Advertising Federation for his contributions to the advertising industry over his more than two-decade career.

The crew at the Johnson Group thought about going in a different direction for the newer campaigns, put together in the last year, but realized that the tilt-shift technology had not been overdone and still worked, so they took unused and new footage and reworked the music, giving a funkier vibe sound and a new song called "Take Me There."

"We haven't gotten any indication that people are tired of seeing the spots," Vaughn says. "When we test them, people say they want to see the whole spot and we hear from people who say they look forward to seeing them."

Allen DiCenzo of Circa Music did the arrangement of the new song, "Dreaming," while Vaughn wrote the lyrics, which open with the lines, "Am I dreaming? Or are you real? It's like I'm seeing you for the first time."

"I wanted it to sound and feel like a love song to my wife," he says.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

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The Johnson Group creative team used a "tilt shift" effect to make city landmarks, like Coolidge Park, look like a fairytale destination. (Chattanooga Convention & Visitor's Bureau Photo)