Wisconsin Tourism Taps Into Top Chef With Its First National Cable TV Ad

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Forget stereotypes about cheese and beer. Wisconsin believes that hosting Top Chef will translate into highlight the state’s culinary offerings and boost tourism to the state.

Wisconsin has been trying to lure tourists with more than just cheese and beer in a national cable ad — the state’s first — that plays off the reality show Top Chef.

“This is our biggest campaign to date,” said Anne Sayers, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. “That’s the first time in Wisconsin’s history that we’ve had that kind of reach.”

Top Chef’s 21st season takes place in Wisconsin. The culinary competition’s season consists of 14 episodes featuring local cuisines and ingredients and the state as a backdrop. “It’s like a 14-episode infomercial for our state,” said Sayers.

The ad launched on March 19 and features restaurants, arts, and local activities. Top Chef viewers see it during the show’s commercial breaks.

The ad and the show’s run come as the state prepares to host a presidential debate in August and the 2024 Republican National Convention in July. Wisconsin’s state lawmakers allocated $10 million to Visit Milwaukee to host the events, both of which could bring thousands of visitors.

Over 111 million visitors came to Wisconsin in 2022, up nearly 9% from the year before, according to Travel Wisconsin. Tourism is a $23.7 billion dollar industry for the state.

Getting Top Chef to Wisconsin

The Bravo network brought the show to Wisconsin, partly thanks to $1.3 million in incentives provided by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Destination Door County, Destination Madison, Visit Milwaukee, Travel Wisconsin and local businesses. “We got some money together, ideas and pitched the show,” said Sayers.

Travel Wisconsin invested $167,000 for its ad to fill 15 seconds of the 30 second cable ad spot. Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation ran its own ad for the remaining 15 seconds.

Travel Wisconsin’s increased investment in cable advertising comes as more destination marketing organizations reduce theirs to invest more in social media and connected TV.

The state also created a landing page for Top Chef fans to visit the locations used in the show. Fans can see what restaurants judges loved the most when they visited. Travel Wisconsin also puts suggestions of hidden culinary gems.

Travel Wisconsin has reorientated its marketing this year around the Top Chef buzz. Last week, it kicked off its summer advertising with an emphasis on Wisconsin’s culinary scene in 13 Midwestern markets.

“We have reoriented all of our regular work,” said Sayers. “Right now is our culinary moment for Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin Expects TV Tourism Boom

Popular TV shows can inspire travel from their fans to destinations. After being filmed in Sicily, HBO’s White Lotus, for example, caused a boom in international travel to the island. Netflix’s Emily in Paris continues to inspire travel to France, according to the country’s National Center for Cinema and Animated Image.

Wisconsin is betting that fans will do the same. “With Top Chef, it is a younger audience, and they are very committed fans,” said Sayers. There are people who have never missed an episode.”

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