Cactus Elevates Vail Beyond the Slopes

By: Jeff Strahl

Vail is an iconic winter destination, but for the rest of the year, the town lacked any discernible identity. We needed to develop a summer and shoulder-season brand that elevated the Town of Vail into a year-round, world-class destination without relying on the mountain for the messaging. We essentially needed to create a unique voice that enabled the town to speak for itself while appealing to high-net-worth individuals who tend to stay longer and spend more. 

We had two things going for us: a brave group of clients, and the fact that Vail doesn’t look like any other mountain town in North America. It wasn’t built from a mining camp, railroad stop, or cowboy hideout. Nestled in the Rockies, it was purpose-built as a high-end, Bavarian-inspired ski destination that appeals to an international audience. From that foundation comes an ethos of adventure, style, romance, fashion, play, achievement, and self-actualization. Our spring/summer/fall campaign unapologetically leans into this heritage and positions Vail as a singular destination in the U.S. that’s not afraid to push into the surreal, the fantastical, and a dream-like space of romantic escapism. When you’re here, you have fewer responsibilities, commitments, and distractions. The burdens of life don’t feel so heavy in this mountain air. You feel lighter. It’s easier to relax, fall in love, and get carried away. 

This campaign changes the well-worn hiking, biking, smiling family-of-four visual narrative of the mountain travel and tourism category. It’s a shift that blends style and fashion with an iconic destination, with one very important purpose. It’s a reminder to enjoy life and do it now. 

One of my favorite aspects of the campaign that lives just below the surface was our small but mighty global approach to production. We brought together artists, actors, and crew from Russia, Sri Lanka, the U.S., Australia, Columbia, and Brazil to not only give the campaign a sophisticated feel but also to reflect the guests who make Vail a truly International destination. It was amazing to watch our Print Producer, Raven Checkush, negotiate in rubles, rupees, dollars, and bitcoin as we created this campaign. Cheers to the Cacti, our production partners, Graphis for the recognition, and our Town of Vail clients who challenged the status quo.

Cactus is a strategically-driven creative agency specializing in consumer behavior change. For over 30 years, we’ve existed to grow the brands that help people thrive in their lives—the ones that make the world a better place to live, work and play. Cactus is a full-service agency with end-to-end capabilities spanning brand strategy, research, creative, design, comms planning, performance media, analytics, and digital experience. Driving behavior change is at the heart of everything we do at Cactus. Our Belief & Behavior Design® process is built on decades of experience blending behavior change models with breakthrough creativity to achieve our client’s desired business outcomes.

Jeff Strahl is a senior creative director at Cactus with a background as an art director, exhibiting photographer, gallery owner, author, and tree climber. He came to us from us, taking a pause to write a book and tour a few other agencies. His travel and tourism portfolio is extensive, including the Colorado Tourism Office, Arapahoe Basin, Jackson Hole, Vail Resorts, Town of Vail, Greater Zion, and Winter Park Resort. His other areas of expertise lie in health and wellness, natural product CPG, higher ed, conscious living, and creating exceptional viewing experiences for all of the brands that he works with. Jeff has an unrivaled sense of passion, purpose, and integrity that he brings to the Cactus team, challenging and encouraging everyone to do their best work to turn the “What if?” into what is. 

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Author: Graphis