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May 22, 2006
‘Life’s Better Outside’ for Texas Young People, Families
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wants to lure you and your kids away from TV, computers, gaming consoles, traffic, and the urban rat race and get you into soul-satisfying natural settings where you’ll relax and have fun.
The agency has partnered with a top ad firm to launch a new public awareness effort called Life’s Better Outside. The idea grew out of the Education and Outreach Advisory Committee appointed by TPW Commission Chairman Joseph Fitzsimons. There’s a lot of research showing this would be good for you and your kids. But like all great truths, the idea is self-evident in its simplicity.
“State parks and the great outdoors are healthy, fun, educational—these things are all true,” said Lydia Saldaña TPWD communications director. “But research has also shown that the natural world is ideally conducive to provide something important that is missing for most modern families— the opportunity for quality time spent together.”
The new public awareness initiative owes its spark in large part to GSD&M, the Austin-based advertising firm that created “Don’t Mess With Texas,” the anti-litter public education campaign that set the gold standard for such efforts years ago. In this case, GSD&M donated its services pro bono, seeing a cause worth supporting.
“We served on the advisory committee looking at this problem, went back and worked on it and came up with the tagline “life’s better outside,” donating our creative time and talent,” said David Rockwood, GSD&M community relations director. “We’re a Texas-based company with Texas roots, so this stuff is part of our DNA, you might say. We’re trying to evoke childhood memories and encourage people to get outdoors more.”
The Life’s Better Outside print materials show a video game controller hanging from a string before a tree-lined river in a state park. The headline reads "Do whatever it takes to get your kids outside.” A smaller subhead reads “Keep score by counting time spent together.” Print ads will run this summer in Texas Monthly and Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines.
Radio public service announcements titled “Home on the Couch” and “Click the Remote” impart a similar message with a different approach, making entertaining parodies of well-known children's songs. The PSAs shipped this month to more than 150 Texas radio stations that expressed interest in airing the spots. Donated billboards will also go up this month in many Texas cities, including major urban areas. The timing is intended to engage families as they plan summer vacation activities
Some careful thought went into Life’s Better Outside.
GSD&M did phone interviews with families, visited an urban Austin youth center, and held a mini focus group session with parents of young children. They asked several urban families to visit state parks and keep journals about their experiences. They also reviewed secondary research already done by national organizations, including the Outdoor Industry Association of America, Roper RSW, and the University of Michigan.
A key finding was that free time is fading away, with unstructured leisure time for families declining, not just among parents but, incredibly, among our youngest Americans. Among 3-to-12 year olds, discretionary time is down 12 percent and play time down 16 percent in the past two decades, while participation in structured hobbies such as organized sports is up 150 percent.
Not surprisingly, they also found parents wish they had more opportunities for things like uninterrupted family time, sleeping and relaxing, and getting away from home for fun and vacations.
In spite of these dreams, GSD&M found that modern families are creatures of the indoors for the most part, spending 50-to-80 percent of their waking hours outside work or school doing indoor things like video games and computer surfing.
“We’ve become way too captivated by appliances” said Robert, a parent from Houston.
“Inside it gets easy to be in your own little world by yourself” said Norah of Austin.
Some parents told researchers that time in the outdoors can make memories that stick with the family forever, the kinds of experiences they felt could not be had elsewhere. Some could vividly recount childhood stories of fishing or going on camping trips in state parks with family.
So what’s stopping them?
GSD&M found that unfamiliarity breeds uncertainty. Parents who were less familiar with the outdoors worried about things like “What do we wear?” and “Do we need to bring a lot of gear?” and “Will the kids get bored?” They also thought that the closest state parks were three to five hours away. (In fact, every major urban area in Texas has a state park within an hours drive.)
Life’s Better Outside aims to make it easier and more inviting for families to find new adventures and break from the everyday routine, enabling them to discover a depth of family connections that can be difficult to make indoors.
The lifesbetteroutside.org Web site is one way to make it easy for families who are less experienced enjoying the outdoors. The site offers links to Texas state parks, fishing, paddling, and maps showing state parks within 60 miles of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.
Toyota has signed as a corporate sponsor of the Life’s Better Outside initiative, providing funding for paid advertising to reach urban parents in Texas. The department is seeking additional sponsors. For more information, contact Darcy Bontempo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (512) 389-4574.
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