One of the oddities of country branding is the desire by those responsible for marketing, or for promoting a destination, to require a short descriptive catch line to appear in all advertising and promotional material. The idea is that these few well-chosen words will encourage a potential traveller to investigate further the possibility of visiting.
At their best, such expressions sum up a nation or what it offers, remain in the memory, last for decades, and can encapsulate how a country feels about itself. At worst, they can be puzzling, unhelpful, changed too frequently, or become unintentionally amusing.
At a recent tourism industry trade fair at which the industry in the Caribbean and Latin America was well represented, there were multiple examples of the good, the bad and the hard to understand.
Some, like that being used by Aruba (‘A happy Island’), were outstanding – able to encapsulate in a few short words a sense of fun, safety, relaxation and a people at peace with themselves. Others, such as the slogan employed for many years by the Dominican Republic, ‘the Dominican Republic has it all’, unfortunately stated the obvious, and had become tired from over-use.
There were also some more puzzling examples on display. For instance, Cuba continues to use the line ‘Authentic Cuba’ suggesting somehow, in relation to what has arguably become the hottest destination in the world, that there is an inauthentic Cuba, perhaps meaning Miami. The expression, which has been used for many years now, seems outmoded given the surge in visitor numbers the country is experiencing from the US, Europe and elsewhere.
In contrast, other countries chose the descriptive, for example Guatemala: the ‘Heart of the Mayan World’. In a similar vein, Guyana used the words ‘South America Undiscovered’.
Tellingly perhaps, given the presently difficult to describe experience of visiting Venezuela, the country chose to say nothing, just using the word Venezuela. In contrast Ecuador seemed to be playing on lyrics of a Beatles song, using the words; ‘All you need is Ecuador’; more enigmatically Bolivia proclaimed ‘Bolivia awaits you’; while El Salvador – ‘impressive’ – and Nicaragua – ‘unica’ – had decided that all that was needed was a single word.
What is far less clear is whether the effort and money that went into developing these expressions are worth it, or whether such descriptors have value with potential visitors.
Understandably, perhaps, marketing experts say that such slogans remain important and point to the most successful destination branding ever, that of the US State of Virginia.
Its slogan, ‘Virginia is for lovers’, was created in 1969 and has been in constant use for the past 45 years. So successful has it become that it has crossed over to the state’s overall branding and has been licensed for merchandising. Not only has recent market research shown that it has significant brand recognition among an older generation who have grown up with the words, but that it is also recognised by millennials.
However, others are not so sure. They note that brand relevance requires destinations to be able to differentiate themselves by suggesting that the experience of visiting will somehow be different or more pleasurable than if visiting their competitors. They observe that whatever is used a descriptor must be inspired, succinct and convey the unique essence of a country. They question too whether consumers really care, and if in a digital age the issue and message is now more about driving a potential traveller to view online images of a destination that are likely to have much greater impact.
This has become particularly apparent at trade shows in recent years, where destinations including Jamaica have hosted promotional events to launch their latest on-line offering, albeit still containing a catch line.
Despite this, and unsurprisingly, the region’s best slogan and brand remains the word ‘Caribbean’. A logo saying just that, developed jointly by the Caribbean Tourism Organisational and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, is outstanding and says it all. Although used with the strapline ‘Life needs the Caribbean’, an expression that for me at least is of uncertain meaning, the warm, fun and welcoming multi-coloured stylised typeface used for the word Caribbean says it all in a single word when appended to any promotional material.