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Published January 14, 2012, 11:30 PM

Local actors surprised, dismayed by North Dakota tourism ad response

FARGO – Local actors who appeared in an advertisement that was pulled by the state tourism division last week say they’re astounded and personally hurt by public reaction to the ad.

By: Forum and wire reports, INFORUM

FARGO – Local actors who appeared in an advertisement that was pulled by the state tourism division last week say they’re astounded and personally hurt by public reaction to the ad.

Phaidra Yunker, 30, of Fargo, who appears as the leftmost of the three women in the ad, said the response has been overblown and “absolutely ridiculous.”

“I am a North Dakota native. I love North Dakota. And I was really, really excited to be part of this,” she said, choking up in a phone interview Saturday. “And now it’s awful.”

The ad was meant to showcase North Dakota’s nightlife: Two young men and three women flirt through the window of Fargo’s HoDo Lounge. Printed next to them is the message: “Drinks, dinner, decisions. Arrive a guest. Leave a legend.”

It was meant to be “a little flirty, a little fun,” said Pat Finken, president of Odney Advertising, the agency that created the ad.

Instead, some found it a tawdry come-on, prompting the state’s tourism division to yank it from its Facebook page late Thursday after it drew dozens of complaints and comments.

One commenter called the ad “sickening,” while another speculated about what the people in the photo needed to do to “leave a legend.”

Katherine Paynter, who is standing in the middle of the three women in the ad, said the five young people know each other well. One of the men in the ad is her boyfriend, Gavin Rehder, 27, of Fargo, who is shown seated at a bar table holding a half-empty glass of beer.

“When they posted it on Facebook for the public to view, I thought nothing of it, nothing at all,” Paynter said. “They’re trying to get a certain age group to look into the nightlife in North Dakota ... . It wasn’t supposed to be some sleazy, racy photo.”

Paynter, 24, a Fargo resident, is a model and actress who teaches public speaking at North Dakota State University. She said she was disgusted by personal insults directed at the models, some of which described the women as overweight and ugly and the men as gay.

“We were quite excited for this ad to come out, so for it to blow up like this is almost embarrassing,” she said.

Finken and Sara Otte Coleman, director of North Dakota’s tourism division, said Friday they were surprised by the reaction.

“It wasn’t my favorite ad. I thought, ‘Oh, this is a little cheesy.’ I certainly ­didn’t think it was over the line or seductive or in any way in poor taste,” Otte Coleman said. “It really just takes one or two (negative comments), and then people jump on the bandwagon.”

Yunker said she thought the concept for the ad was cute. She couldn’t recall if the tagline was mentioned during the photo shoot.

“The tagline could be different. It’s kind of lame,” she said.

Still, Yunker, who also teaches preschool and works with children’s theater, said the ad was only meant to be cute, silly and tongue-in-cheek.

“I had to call my parents and be like, ‘You know, you’re probably going to hear these words thrown around like slutty, sleazy, sickening,’ ” she said. “And I don’t think the ad is any of those.”

Otte Coleman said the ad was aimed at Canadian travelers and intended for placement in Canadian magazines. Manitoba is one of North Dakota’s primary tourist markets; many residents travel south to Grand Forks and Fargo for weekends, she said.

Diane Shober, Wyoming’s tourism director, said the state does not normally emphasize nightlife in its own campaigns. Wyoming’s main attraction to tourists is its parks and outdoors, Shober said Friday.

“It all depends on what your product is. We can’t sell anything with shopping or nightlife because we just don’t have it available,” Shober said. “What draws people here for a vacation is to see Yellowstone National Park.”

Ingrid Schneider, a University of Minnesota professor and director of the school’s tourism center, said the ad “is definitely not North Dakota’s current image, and this is probably what they’re trying to change.”

“I personally would not think of this as a tourism ad. I think this could be anywhere,” Schneider said. “I’m not sure this conveys nightlife. I think there are many other ways to convey nightlife.”

Otte Coleman said the 10 North Dakota print ads and six television ads cost less than $200,000 to produce. They will be part of an ad campaign that will cost about $1.8 million.

She said the Fargo photo will remain in the printed version of the 2012 visitors’ guide.

“You look at that in the visitors’ guide, and it’s mingled with all of those other activities,” Otte Coleman said. “It’s blended with so many other things that I think that definitely, the message comes through fine.”

Yunker has maintained her sense of humor about the ordeal. She said she hopes some good comes from it, such as stronger attendance at her next community theater show.

“Come and see the slutty, sleazy girl in the next play she’s in,” she joked.

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