Mining an opportunity

American Experiment unleashes a comprehensive public campaign to emphasize the statewide benefits of mining.

American Experiment in September deployed an assortment of public outreach tactics—including a television ad featuring NBA legend Kevin McHale—to support the release of a policy paper entitled, “Unearthing Prosperity: How Environmentally Responsible Mining Will Boost Minnesota’s Economy.”

The paper used original research and cutting-edge economic modeling to conclude that developing Minnesota’s vast untapped mineral deposits could create more than 8,500 jobs and contribute $3.7 billion to Minnesota’s economy, while also protecting the state’s environment. The paper was written by Isaac Orr, an American Experiment policy fellow; John Phelan, its economist; and Debra Struhsacker, an expert with 30-plus years of experience with environmental regulation of mineral exploration and mining.

American Experiment President John Hinderaker acknowledged the hard work that goes into producing a significant paper, from the original research to triple-checking all the facts, but the “real fun for our policy people,” he said, “is turning it into op-eds, TV commercials, and radio ads. They know that their report won’t just be read by a small number of insiders who are interested in public policy. Their messages are going to reach potentially millions of people.”

Thinking Minnesota magazine previewed “Unearthing Prosperity” as its 2018 summer issue cover story. Extensive publicity around the paper’s formal release in late August “sparked a real debate and controversy about the future of mining in Minnesota,” Hinderaker said. A Star Tribune editorial described the paper as “a first-of-its-kind look at the potential of all precious minerals found in the region, such as ilmenite, an important ore for titanium.”

Beyond achieving widespread acclaim for the quality of its research, Hinderaker promoted the paper with statewide billboard and radio campaigns—tactics he has used for other issues. “We love billboards,” he said. “You can’t make a complex argument on a billboard, but you can make a point and then drive traffic to a website ( where they can read our paper, read a fact sheet, download materials, and watch our TV commercial.”

The most dazzling component of the promotional campaign is a 30-second television ad, the first ever produced by American Experiment, which features a cross-section of regular Minnesotans making a case for mining. It ends with McHale, a Hibbing native whose father worked in a mine, saying, “We support mining in Minnesota because it will be a slam dunk for all Minnesotans.”

Even the ad placement was non-traditional. Hinderaker eschewed placing the ads on most cable news programming—the traditional target of public affairs advertising—in favor of the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, Lifetime, and the NFL channel, and placements during Gopher football telecasts. “We want to reach the broadest cross-section of Minnesotans we can,” he said. The ads will reach a million-plus Minnesotans on television and another million on the internet, he said, adding, “I want 19-year-olds to turn on the TV or radio and see our ad. We’re not just here for wonks and politicians.”

YouTube advertising enabled Hinderaker to package a 54-second version of the ad, which was seen by 60,000 Minnesotans during its first six days in rotation. YouTube ads typically allow viewers to skip the “commercials” after just five seconds, and go on to see the video they requested. Advertisers are usually content when one person in 100 stays long enough to view the entire thing. By contrast, half the people who see the Center’s “Unearthing Prosperity” ad stick around to watch the whole video. That means, Hinderaker said, that they cost only about a penny per view.