Branding Countries: The Art of Tourism Advertising

When it comes right down to it, choosing a country to visit for your vacation is much like choosing a product at the grocery story; there are many similar items with comparable attributes and you’ve got to narrow down your choices to just one.

Advertising has grown fat and wealthy from the cognitive dissonance which develops over so many choices in our world. Painting a product in a positive light so that it becomes more attractive to potential consumers, and consequently consumed is the very essence of the advertising world.

So, it comes as no surprise that advertising agencies do the same for entire countries in order to attract tourists. According to a fascinating article in this month’s Travel & Leisure, advertising execs in charge of a country’s tourism campaign treat countries in the same manner as they treat cars, bottles of ketchup, or sports shoes. They must brand their “product” and create a “reputation and perception” in the minds of the consumer (i.e. tourist) which is unique, appealing, and consistent. Just as Volvo has spent years trying to make the word “safe” pop into your mind every time you think of their car, the brain trust behind tourism advertising seeks to evoke similar positive attributes associated with places like Portugal, Norway, and Alaska.

Author John Cook provides two examples which you should easily recognize. What do you think of when you hear “New Zealand?” Is it The Lord of the Rings? The national tourism board has spent millions of dollars showcasing the kiwi nation as the location of Middle Earth and in the process, increased tourism by 50%.

Cook also discuses the great advertising campaign touting Spain. I’ve been seeing the same hip ads for a number of years now with the same cool Joan Miró swirl. Every time I see this “trademark” I immediately think of Spain (just as the Nike trademark makes me think of running shoes). This probably explains why I’ve been harboring a nagging urge over the last few years to return to Spain as soon as possible.

So, whether you realize it or not, marketing is indeed alive and well in the world of tourism. And don’t forget, the target of such intricately planned advertising campaigns and manipulative branding efforts is you, the potential tourist.