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Nature Valley Puts You In the National Parks

The thing you never understand about the Grand Canyon, until you actually go there, is that no photo does it justice. It’s so deep and so wide that the limited field of view provided by still or video cameras comes up seriously wanting. And no photo, by itself, is immersive enough either.

Now Nature Valley granola bars, a General Mills brand, is trying to do justice to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Great Smokey National Parks by letting you experience them as a virtual hiker.

Nature Valley and its agency McCann Erickson sent camera crews to capture 100 or so trail miles in each park using much the same technology that Google does for its famed street views on Google Maps, only all the equipment was mounted on people, not vehicles.

In February 2012 Nature Valley will unveil the first stage online. And you and I can follow along at a real-time walking pace. Writes Joe Berkowitz on FastCompany.com, “the resulting concept…is a model for how marketers can make a useful contribution to a cause without over-branding it.”

I disagree with Berkowitz’s conclusions about over-branding causes. The only cause that comes close to being over-branded is breast cancer, and I'd argue long and hard that even the pink ribbon isn't over-branded either. As things stand, over-branding U.S. National Parks is simply impossible. Despite the current governmental budget woes, no one believes buffalo in Yellowstone will soon be sporting signs on their humps saying “This Vista Made Possible by Nature Valley.”

And having been there I can tell you that the only corporate logos you’re likely to see in the Grand Canyon itself are on backpacks or water bottles.

For the most part I’m with Dan Pallotta when he says that if we believe that marketing works, why do we hamstrung nonprofit causes by passive-aggressively insisting that they not spend the money necessary to do it right?

Pallotta’s example is that if the tobacco companies are spending $500 million a year on advertising and marketing, why do we howl when the American Cancer Society spends $1 million in combating those messages?

Nature Valley is a long-time supporter of the National Parks in the United States. Right now, in fact, for every UPC you enter from a box of Nature Valley, General Mills is donating $1 to the National Parks Conservation Association up to a maximum of $100,000.

I applaud Nature Valley for making these… what to call them?… ‘trail-umentaries,’ ‘docu-hikes.’ It’s a valuable service. Whatever their name, I plan to check them out next year.

But having experienced both Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon (although, regrettably, not the Smoky Mountains) up close and personal, my expectations will be very high.

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