The tourism commission's logo for its Hancock County Smiles campaign features a laughing face mask.
The tourism commission's logo for its Hancock County Smiles campaign features a laughing face mask.
GREENFIELD — The Hancock County Tourism Commission is asking local businesses to put on a happy face.

The latest advertising campaign by the commission is emphasizing both friendliness and COVID-19 precautions, using masks featuring cartoon smiles and the catchphrase “Hancock County Smiles.”

“Our real smiles may be hidden, but we’ve got our smiles on our masks,” Hancock County Tourism Commission executive director Brigitte Cook Jones said.

A series of digital ads featuring local business owners wearing the smiling masks will be rolling out online this spring, aiming to attract more business from nearby communities to Hancock County.

With travel dramatically reduced and an overall downturn in the economy, the tourism industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. That’s true of the tourism commission as well. While it has received some grant funding in the past year, the majority of the entity’s money comes from a tax on local hotel rooms. Until more people start to visit Hancock County again, the tourism commission’s revenue will be down.

The Hancock County Smiles program hopes to counteract that.

Jones said the intention of the campaign is to advertise the county as a safe, friendly community where people who might be frustrated with visiting the same few locations after months of social distancing can enjoy something new without traveling too far.

Jones hopes the county might also be able to attract some traffic that would otherwise be going to Indianapolis. For those in the “doughnut” counties, Hancock County might be a more comfortable destination than heading downtown, she said. Indianapolis attracted some negative attention for a high level of violent crime in 2020, recording a record number of homicides in one year.

For many people, travel that requires an overnight stay is also still out of the question.

“They want to go someplace different, but they don’t want to go somewhere real far,” Jones said.

To recruit businesses to participate in the campaign, the tourism commission sent out postcards to locally owned businesses. Several of those that responded are now working with Andy Wilkins, digital sales manager at the Daily Reporter, to create videos that will be used in the digital advertising campaign.

“We have a lot of locally owned restaurants, so we are highlighting several of them,” Jones said, along with retail stores and other local businesses.

The tourism commission is also looking to expand the campaign. In the future, they’ll be encouraging people to use the hashtag #hancockcountysmiles to share their memories of visiting the county’s businesses. They’re also seeking a local vendor who can mass-produce the smiling masks.

Greenfield Chocolates owner Jayne Hoadley is one of the business owners participating in the campaign. She said she appreciates the campaign’s focus on sending the message that small businesses are being careful about COVID-19.

“Since the beginning of COVID, we’ve really implemented a higher level of awareness and visibility with our safety practices,” Hoadley said. While the business’s employees were careful anyway, she said, she wants customers to know about the steps employees are taking to protect customers’ health.

Unlike many businesses, Hoadley said, her level of business has remained relatively steady throughout the pandemic. She said she thinks it’s because many people were looking to treat themselves in a COVID-safe way.

“Chocolate is affordable luxury,” Hoadley said.

Costas Stylianou, owner of Costa’s Grill and Lincoln Square Pancake House in Greenfield, is also participating in the campaign. He said the county is well-positioned to take advantage of tourism on a smaller scale, with people looking to visit a nearby community.

While the majority of Stylianou’s customers live in Hancock County, he said, he has seen an increasing number of visitors from Marion and other counties in the past few months.

“Hancock County, especially Greenfield, is a very up-and-coming area,” Stylianou said.
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