Leveraging a Legend

Operation Bigfoot typifies a guerrilla strategy to make the most of limited resources with a small destination marketing organization to compete with larger rivals and generate big results.

The hairy beast has been part of Humboldt County lore since the Patterson-Gimlin film footage was shot in the 1960s. But decades later, the legend, and tourism economy, needed a boost. Toward that end, Stenger launched a strategy identifying top digital, print and TV prospects to promote the messaging.

First, he reached out to Laan Labs, a mobile app developer that makes Face Swap Live, one of the most popular iPhone apps. He convinced them to include Humboldt’s Bigfoot as one of their face filters so people could turn themselves into the famous man-beast. Within months, more than 300,000 turned themselves into the Humboldt Bigfoot and clicked back to a campaign landing page.

Second, Stenger researched the exact location near Willow Creek of the P-G film, and framed it to the media as a great reason to explore Six Rivers National Forest, a million-acre public playground in eastern Humboldt. He guided an overnight expedition to the film location with a Westways Magazine reporter, a longtime friend, who turned his experience into a six-page cover story, highlighting, among other things, local attractions, businesses and lodging.

Third, the Bureau worked with the Travel Channel to feature the P-G film location for the show Legendary Locations, which aired the Humboldt segment in the episode “What Lurks Within” in 2019. He served as the local Bigfoot researcher and location guide on and off air. The result? Ten minutes of nature shots showcasing the beauty of eastern Humboldt’s mountains and rivers, with a few Bigfoot cameos.

In total, the digital and media hits reached an audience of about 11 million and generated about $1 million worth of earned media, the equivalent of the print space and air time had it been purchased as advertising.

In 2020, Operation Bigfoot earned a California Poppy Award from the official state tourism office for best public relations campaign for a destination.