Rhinelander has something a little different than other northern Wisconsin vacation destinations: the Hodag. “Discovered” in 1893, this mythical creature is steeped in Northwoods lore and lives on to this day (keep your eyes peeled for Hodag statues and displays throughout town). This iconic entity is a boon to our tourism marketing—we use the Hodag in everything from newsletters to TikTok, raising awareness of Rhinelander and its assets, leading to increased website traffic and social media success (and a bunch of awards).
Telling the Hodag’s story
With more than a century of Hodag history to choose from, our first challenge was to figure out what parts of the story to keep and what to discard. Thankfully, there are no hard and fast rules to Northwoods tall tales, so we took the broad outline of the Hodag (a mischievous prankster), sanded down the rougher edges (he no longer eats white bulldogs but a Friday fish fry), and came up with a Hodag that fits a contemporary brand.
Choosing the right channels
Next, we had to figure out where to use the Hodag. With a unique personality to present to potential visitors and fans, the Hodag can be used in pretty much any place we could imagine—initially through content on our website, and eventually branching out to print pieces and then-emerging social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
When your community is home to something as unique as the Hodag, it gives you a lot of opportunities to do fun, creative things. We've worked closely with P+B in the last few years to come up with some really unique ideas that have helped put the Hodag and Rhinelander top-of-mind for potential visitors.
Executive Director, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce
A new look & feel
In late 2022, we launched a redesigned and revamped website for Rhinelander. Playing off the story of the Hodag—the homepage features a prominent “All Things Hodag” section—the new site encourages visitors to explore the legends of the Rhinelander Area and add a chapter to the story of their own Northwoods getaway. The site features extensive listings that allow potential visitors to search for lodging, restaurants, and more with a robust filter system. The site also offers easy-to-find information on recreational activities, events, and more.
We piggybacked our marketing on existing elements, including a years-old community fundraising campaign where local businesses purchased and painted their own Hodag statues. Many of these statues are still in places open to the public, so we created the Hodag Finder—a website with photos as well as a physical map they could pick up at the Rhinelander chamber—to encourage visitors to explore the community.
Hodag Fan Club
We also gave the Hodag his very own fan club. The free Hodag Fan Club sends members an actual printed newsletter (only sent to subscribers, not available online) every quarter filled with fun Hodag facts, games, jokes, and more. Everyone who signs up gets a welcome kit that includes an official membership card and an autographed photo.
With the launch of the fan club, we also launched the @therealhodag Instagram account, which highlights the Hodag’s day-to-day activities in the Northwoods and chronicles the Hodag’s efforts to become a social media influencer. The Instagram account is targeted to a younger audience—women 25-34 and 35-44 make up about a third of the account’s fanbase. We also have created nearly 50 Hodag gifs that can be used in Instagram stories and on TikTok.
The Hodag goes viral
When TikTok started its meteoric rise in popularity, we saw it as a great emerging platform that fit what we were trying to do with the Hodag. If you follow @therealhodag on TikTok, you’ll get everything from dance tutorials to jokes about life in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
Running the social media account of a Northwoods icon is a very unique and fun experience. It’s so much fun to see the comments flood in on viral TikToks from people who are so happy to see the Hodag and remember their times in the Rhinelander area.
Production + New Media Coordinator
Hodag for President
In 2016, Rhinelander’s downtown was dealing with significant construction. To help, the Hodag launched his campaign for president with one issue: making downtown Rhinelander better than ever. Visitors could stop in downtown businesses to pick up free bumper stickers, yard signs, and campaign buttons. This hugely popular campaign—which also included social media efforts and an “economic stimulus” giveaway—received lots of coverage from local and regional media.
During the campaign, we gave away 1,000 yard signs and 1,000 bumper stickers at local businesses.
The Hodag for President website (which promoted local businesses) received 5,000+ visits during campaign period