How To Sell A Country? New Tourism Ads Are Redefining Destination Marketing

‘Oslo is rubbish – don’t come here!’ This Visit Oslo's tongue-in-cheek campaign is both witty and endearing. We explore the lessons here for tourism marketing

By Stephen Lepitak

Featuring astronauts to typing ponies and even Mark Zuckerberg lookalikes, recent destination marketing campaigns from Scandinavia have woken up to the potential of creativity to help promote their countries and cities to the world as they rebuild visitor numbers post-pandemic.

Iceland, Sweden and Norway have all used humour to poke fun at themselves while garnering attention to drive interest in their countries. It’s a trick that the UK maybe about to adopt too as VisitEngland seeks a new agency partner to brand build and The Great Britain and Northern Ireland campaign aims to up its game creatively as well.

"With a value of £2 trillion, tourism makes for 10 per cent of the global economy," states Laurent Simon, chief creative officer of BMB, although differentiation is proving a problem for many destinations.

"it’s no longer advertising’s job to simply show people pretty pictures to encourage tourism. Google, bloggers, and comparison sites are better at that. Advertising’s job in today’s market is to find the quirk or spark that will give you the edge... Forget photos. It’s all about creating human memories and experiences. And great advertising can deliver plenty of that," Laurent continues.

And it’s a trend that looks set to endure judging by the latest campaign, this time for Visit Oslo, which sees a local talk about why they wouldn’t visit the city themselves as a tourist while showcasing the many attractive qualities of a destination as he puts it down.

“I wouldn’t come here, to be honest,” he states before asking “I mean, is it even a city?”

It’s a hilarious piece of deadpan delivery that showcases the local humour of the country to the world and has helped it go viral within the first few days of release.

“It's quite easy to make beautiful destination commercials, because there are so many wonderful places. But to stand out and to have someone choose your destination, not just because the currency exchange rate is favourable, or because you just got a cheap Ryanair flight there, to make an impact and put the destination on the bucket list, you need that to stand out and get their attention,” explains Visit Oslo’s director of marketing, Anne-Signe Fagereng.

Explaining a similar approach taken in Sweden where the country recently gained attention through a campaign that aimed to tackle the common confusion it faces with Switzerland, Nils Persson, chief marketing officer for Visit Sweden explains the aim to meet the desire for travellers to learn more about their destinations.

“Destination marketing has been quite boring, to be honest. It's been full of white sand beaches, palm trees, and pina coladas or whatever and we wanted to change the stereotype on how tourist market can be done," he adds.

"The days of limitless fast travel and travel oversharing are coming to a close. Between overcrowded destinations, selfie queues and careless tourist behaviour, a clear need for boundaries is giving rise to tighter regulations and more mindful travel."

Raquel Chicourel, chief strategy officer, TBWA\London

Striking an emotional chord is now a vital component for destination marketers to attempt so that they make their campaigns memorable to people when they begin to plan a trip away. But that involves creative thinking, which is not so easy when it comes to tourism for various reasons.

Jae Hopkins, marketing director of tour operator Explore Worldwide believes that the lack of creativity within such campaigns comes from having so many stakeholders to appease, meaning that risk-taking is a rare thing.

“It's government money and they have to make sure it's spent wisely and because of that they [tourism bodies] just roll out pretty much the same stuff over and over. It's just now getting to the point where the people who are making those decisions are the ones who have either been saying or hearing this stuff about emotions for the last decade,” added Hopkins.

Internal Politics at Play

Tourism marketing departments are notoriously underfunded when it comes to campaign production, working on low-budget campaigns that tend to skew towards images of the sea and sunny beaches, smiling locals and a few landmarks thrown in for good measure.

“Like most destinations, we should have had much more resources to get our message out there as also not just as an individual attraction. So, we have to be creative,” explains Anne-Signe Fagereng. “If you can imagine the value in kind of advertising value we've got on this, that's just the way we need to go to get the impact we want,” she adds.

And to prove internally that the creative approach would drive an increase in response from audiences, the team at Visit Sweden began to test through its always-on social media content initially.

“It's also about taking risks and trying to put yourself out there and see how it's perceived by the audience,” says Nilsson as he reveals the origins of the ‘Discover the Originals’ campaign that attempted to reclaim the names of IKEA’s furniture ranges which are “stolen” from real places across the country.

And while this approach has proved successful for some countries, it might not translate to other cultures, warns Jae Hopkins, especially those countries and public sector decision-makers that take themselves a little more seriously than perhaps the people of Scandinavia do.

“Nationalities that are brave enough to be comfortable laughing at themselves, I think gives them a real edge,” she adds.

A Competitive Investment in Tourism

Post-pandemic, as the world reopened to allow tourism to return, there was still, understandably, some trepidation. This prompted countries into action, with marketing their best tool to bring people back to their shores - and Australia chose to go big.

Introducing its new brand platform 'There's Nothing Like Australia' the global campaign has been fronted by Ruby, the CGI-animated souvenir kangaroo who visits various beautiful locations, while on her adventure of exploration. It's visibly a tourism campaign, but with big brand thinking behind it.

Raquel Chicourel, TBWA\London's chief strategy officer, who has worked with Tourism Australia, has seen signs of a global cultural shift described as 'untourism' as people travel less.

"The days of limitless fast travel and travel oversharing are coming to a close. Between overcrowded destinations, selfie queues and careless tourist behaviour, a clear need for boundaries is giving rise to tighter regulations and more mindful travel. People are traveling less and looking for more transformational travel,"  Chicourel reveals.

"The shift from high-volume to high-value travel will forever change how we define a brag-worthy trip.  And so, tourism marketing is rewriting its code," she continues.

The UK has trialled being a bit more innovative around how it approaches selling itself as a destination while using a bit of humour, with encouraging results.

Last year, VisitBritain released an AI-powered online game called Fake (Br)it Till You Make It. It challenged players to recreate a variety of accents from across Britain, and then share links about each of those destinations to drive bookings.

It's a surprisingly clever way to promote the various cultures and destinations this small nation offers visitors.

"Britain isn’t known for its beautiful, sun-drenched beaches or its epic mountains," admits Owen Lee, CCO at FCB London. "We’re known for our wit, our creativity, and our British idiosyncrasies. If ever there was a nation that should market itself with idea-led, humorous campaigns, it’s us."

Lee sees more of a use of humour as a clear way forward for future destination marketing strategies.

"While the UK may not have the weather, the white sandy beaches, or the crystal-clear oceans that some countries enjoy, we are the masters of self-deprecating humour and irony, and we have an abundance of creative talent capable of using that to sell Britain to the world," he adds.

There is a clear way forward for Britain to take in selling itself to the world beyond tapping into 'the Bridgeton Effect' and looking backwards to its antiquated history. By adopting a more creative approach and introducing humour to its communications, it may yet get back to pre-pandemic levels in the coming years.


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