Country as a brand: the art of travel advertising

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

I came across this wonderful piece of ambient work for South Carolina Tourism. All the creatives were placed in airports – so they got their media placements right. From the pillars that were made to look like Golf Tees to the escalator steps that were made to look like suitcases, the campaign is an attention grabber.

Can’t say much about the press ad though. But the idea of ‘Time to thaw’ and the execution of the ambient ideas were brilliant. Made one think about this category of advertising. This category is like any other when it comes to luring the consumer: my brand vs. the competition. Advertising packages the brand’s benefit (OK, Ok, conveys half truths) into something more attractive than a competing brand. Ditto with countries. But is it that simple?

Creating perceptions about a country is not something that advertising has started. America stood for a set of ideals and ideas at the turn of the last century and that was the magnet that attracted the migrants there. Post independence India and the socialism resulted in a lot of brain drain to UK and the USA – as they were seen as cradles of higher education and free enterprise. So every country is a brand. Some of the issues that come to my mind when it comes to branding a country:

– The task of creating a differentiated perception about a country or state is linked to the people. In other words, branding a country is branding its people. And they have to live up to the reputation that is built. Travel advertising differs from traditional advertising in that respect – in the latter you can control a lot of things like pricing, distribution etc. In the former you cannot control the on-ground experience all the time. However the truism that ‘good advertising kills a bad product faster’ is true of both.

– Country advertising must not only appeal to the tourists but must also ring true to the locals. For e.g. Malaysians must feel that their country is ‘Truly Asia’.

Of course, a country’s reputation or simply recognition can be served by celebrities and word-of-mouth. I am sure Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie did a lot to Namibia than any advertising campaign. How can one forget the contribution of Yash Raj Films in promoting travel to Switzerland & UK? There may even be a Yash Chopra Mountain somewhere in Europe by now. India’s image as an attractive option to visit is boosted not only by the Incredible India campaign but also by the PR that the country gets in mainstream Western media. The reverse is also true – the post-Tsunami effect or news reports of unrest in a country can also colour people’s perceptions.

A soft drink can be a ‘brown carbonated drink that is flavored with an extract of cola nuts, or with a similar flavoring’ or brands that convey an attitude, a style statement and a whole lot of emotions. A country too has its set of perceptions that can be managed. A Panama hat conjures up images of tropical cool – never mind the fact that the hat actually originates from Ecuador! But would it carry the same cool quotient if it were called ‘Ecuador hat’ from now?

Some of my favorite campaigns (apart from this blast from the past in my career!) in this area are:

Pure New Zealand: the relative obscurity of the country was neatly turned into an advantage. And all the coverage as the location for Lord of the Rings helped.

Incredible India: hats off to the Ministry and all the agencies that have worked on this idea.

Incredible India

The efforts to educate the general public to stop those who bring disrepute to the nation by behaving badly with tourists is also commendable. But reports of molesting tourists in Goa and the cheating auto drivers in airports do not help the overall objective. But hey, that’s Incredible India for you.

Facebook Comments


  1. Hi

    Fine post. I think the ad people did a great job with the “Athithi Devo Bhava” line to promote Indian tourism. But somehow I don’t quite like the Incredible India tagline — sounds like a contrived alliteration.

    What about the God’s Own Country campaign? Easily one of the most creative to emerge out of India. Perhaps each state should work harder to promote itself.

  2. Thanks, cram. Yes, God’s Own Country was inspired stuff. In the US almost every state has a dedicated campaign and a baseline to boot. When new states were formed in India a few years ago (Chattisgarh, Jharkand etc.) those state governments called for pitches. Karnataka has a dedicated tourism advertising campaign – I like the idea behind the tag line ‘many countries in one state’ but the line is not as pithy as the Kerala one.

Write A Comment