Sam Butts and Brittany Carel: Illinois tourism sets up couple on 390-mile blind-date.

Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match.

That’s exactly what the Illinois Office of Tourism did when it brought Nashville, Tenn., resident Sam Butts, 27, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident Brittany Carel, 23, together to see Illinois for the first time.

“When you think Illinois, the first thing that pops up most of the time is Chicago,” Butts said. “So having had this experience and (being) able to see much more than just that one area, there’s definitely room to go back and explore more.”

The blind date unfolded during a 390-mile road trip — the focus of Illinois Tourism’s new summer digital advertising campaign running through mid-July. For one weekend in May, the couple traversed the state, stopping in Wilmington, Braidwood, Utica, Auburn, Alton/Grafton, Springfield and Starved Rock country. There were wineries, nature, Abraham Lincoln history, zip lining and more. Destinations were selected to “raise awareness of all the cool, amazing things there are to do outside of Chicago,” said Sarah Brick, JWT campaign account director.

“We wanted to pick those special destinations that could be quintessentially part of a road trip — like off the beaten path, those gems that people just don’t know about that would pique interest. … And then of course, we added a lot of outdoor adventure as part of that,” she said.

According to the tourism office, the concept, executed by the J. Walter Thompson marketing firm, came about when creatives were looking to do something different to show off the state. It took a crew of 12 people about eight weeks to shape the idea into four videos — one 70-second and three 15-second spots, the former showing Butts and Carel meeting and exploring Illinois together and the latter showing highlights of the trip. The videos will run on Spotify and sites like perezhilton.com, among others.

Butts and Carel were chosen from a group of 12 for their approachability, personality and how compatible they are as a pair. According to the tourism office, Butts was more reserved and Carel more outgoing — a combination that when paired together would tell a great story.

The couple met in Chicago, and both agreed they had chemistry.

“We did so many things in such a short amount of time, it definitely felt longer than it actually was,” Butts said. “We’ve been able to maintain that … getting to know each other since then, so I think we’re doing pretty good.”

Carel said that since her blind-date Illinois experience, friends and family are texting her with questions like “Who is this handsome boy? You need to bring him home.”

“I tell my friends that I met this amazing guy and he’s a yoga teacher. My friends are really happy for me,” she said. “They think it’s a great concept. They’ve never heard of anything like it before.”

The duo are already trying to schedule visits to each other’s home states — Nashville is on Carel’s bucket list, and Butts is looking forward to attending a Miami Marlins game. And the two haven’t dismissed coming back to Illinois for a visit.

“I was really taken by surprise by how many hidden gems are in Illinois, so I would like to go back in a heartbeat,” Carel said. “I’ve never had such genuine conversations with strangers in my entire life until this trip. Everyone was just so nice and actually interested in what we were doing and gave us recommendations on where to go.”

Butts confirms that the state’s hospitality is reason for a return trip. “That welcoming feel is really hard to miss,” he said. “That was clear any place we were going — the welcoming, Midwestern mentality. Those are the parts that embed in my head for blind-date road trip.”

Starved Rock State Park was among their favorite spots because of its beauty. It was also where they noticed they truly had a connection with each other. As for the future?

Carel’s father asked about the open-ended nature of the videos, as did Butts’ family.

The Illinois Office of Tourism said creating a “part two” is a possibility, as is continuing the theme with another couple or another road trip.

“My family saw it, and they loved it. They were happy that we were able to experience all that we did,” Butts said. “Now they’re asking about more.”

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