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Destination Slogans: Silver Bullet or Meaningless Puff?

1st July 2015

Virginia “is For Lovers”, Egypt is “Where it All Begins”, and Dubai is “Definitely Dubai”. But how much impact do destination slogans truly have?

Adding Value

Too often the plaything of marketing agencies (at the DMO client’s expense), destination slogans invariably fail to hit the mark and add little to what might otherwise be a brilliant brand. How much money has been wasted with creative agencies generating mediocre calls to action in insipid slogans? Slogans, like logos, should be an expression of the destination brand. So, ideally, they should aim to be a ‘forever thing’ defining the destination, or at least designed to last for longer than this year’s marketing campaign. Otherwise they are eminently forgettable and add as much value to the destination as sugar to tea – something that is not necessarily an enhancement and you are probably better without.

Memorable and Impactful

Slogans are great when they are inspired, convey a destination’s appeals succinctly in a way that evokes the essence of the place, and could be nowhere else. It helps too if they say something new to you and say it in a way that grabs you, makes you smile and think “yeah, that’s nicely put”. A slogan needs to be impactful, memorable and contain one strong idea, such as Egypt’s “Where it All Begins”, Costa Rica’s former “No Artificial Ingredients” and even Texas’s “It’s Like a Whole Other Country”, whose folksy tone succinctly conveys both the character and the size of the state…..or New Zealand, a country that seldom puts a foot wrong in tourism marketing, whose killer slogan “100% Pure” manages simultaneously to be both slogan and logo and evoke not just the country’s scenic beauty but also the quality of its natural produce.





Great Slogans

Apart from New Zealand, there have been few killer slogans in the history of tourism branding. “Ireland – the Ancient Birthplace of Great Times”, which was used several years ago for incentive campaigns in the USA, gets my vote for cleverly juxtaposing two of Ireland’s strongest brand values – heritage and fun – and claiming a unique space as the inventor of the craic. Croatia has sadly had to retire “The Mediterranean as it Once Was”, as it has become just as congested and expensive as the rest of the Med. Similarly Costa Rica’s bold, if not entirely substantiated, “No Artificial Ingredients” has been dumped in favour of a could-be-anywhere “Essential Costa Rica”.






Changing Perceptions

Sometimes slogans can have a less-than-forever life, if there’s long-held perception problem to address – usually in a market that is relatively familiar with the country. Mexico, which had become a jaded ‘been-there-done-that’ place for many Americans, introduced a new slogan a few years ago in the USA to challenge this complacency and refresh its appeal: “Mexico - The Place You Thought You Knew”. But, for sheer courage in tackling prejudice and fear about visiting the country head-on, it is hard to beat Colombia’s now discarded “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay”. Although this could only ever have been temporary to get over the crisis of consumer confidence in previously violence-and corruption-ridden Colombia, its new Gabriel Garcia Marquez-inspired slogan of “Magical Realism” falls short of its brave former, no-prisoners, in-your-face slogan.








But mostly destination slogans fail spectacularly.

The risk is that a destination looks amateurish and hick if it tries too hard and fails to come up with a compelling slogan, in which case no slogan at all is better than an embarrassingly lame one that patronises readers – and, more disquietingly, residents. If it doesn’t paint a visual picture, it’s a dog. But it’s not easy. Unearthing a destination’s brand values is only one step on the ladder; translating them into a slogan that’s original, distinctive, succinct and compelling is a Herculean task. You can just imagine the marketing team pouring over a SWOT analysis and coming up with Belarus’s “Hospitality Beyond Borders” or Bulgaria’s “Unique in its Diversity” – both well-meaning but uninspiring. Similarly, you can see what Zambia’s aiming at with “Let’s Explore” and Canada with “Keep Exploring”, even if your inner Indiana Jones does just that and keeps on truckin’ to somewhere more undiscovered. Worse still, slogans should never be direct translations of the original. What might work in one language is almost certain to come across as clunky in another. Quebec may have been “Providing Emotions since 1534”, but does this turn you on?

Use Your Stand-Out Assets

If you can’t come up with the Holy Grail of a killer, emotionally evocative slogan, it’s best to use a descriptive one that anchors the place in a single powerful idea, which at least paints a picture of your destination, ideally based around a unique recognisable icon if you are lucky enough to have one, such as Peru’s former “Land of the Incas”, Innsbruck’s “Capital of the Alps”, or Tanzania’s “Land of Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and the Serengeti”. Or be bold and claim the space, as long as you can back it up, like “Angus – Scotland’s Birthplace”.







Conclusion: Keep It Real

As with all branding, consistency and longevity, which require both sustained management will and a significant budget, are essential. 52% of Americans interviewed[1] recognised that Virginia is indeed “for Lovers”. But perhaps that’s no surprise, as the state has been running this slogan for 46 years since 1969. “Incredible India” and “Malaysia – Truly Asia”may not in themselves be visually evocative, but the investment ploughed into them over the years, associated with a jingle that lodges in your brain like a cheesy pop riff, has paid off.









Finally, a warning:  if you feel the urge to rebrand, think carefully about how much brand equity has been built up over the years and don’t be tempted to change for change’s sake. I was once asked by a client how long an NTO logo usually lasts, to which I replied without hesitation “the tenure of one CEO”. Changing logos and slogans can create an illusion of movement, just like a go-faster stripe on a Toyota. But think carefully before you squander your inheritance. And, if it isn’t underpinned by substance, like the government reforms that underpinned Colombia’s “Only risk” campaign, then it’s no more than meaningless marketing puff. And, worse still, people will see through you in an instant and tell their hundreds of digital friends you’re a fraud.  

So, it’s worth bearing in mind Jeff Bezos’s (CEO Amazon.com) observation:

“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends.
If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.” 

In other words, get your brand right, try to find a meaningful slogan that succinctly reflects what you’ve got, stick with it, and treat consumers as potential visitors who want to be inspired and informed, not patronised. Oh, and take heed from Hong Kong’s unfortunate timing, whose slogan at the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory disease (SARS) epidemic in 2003 was “Hong Kong Will Take Your Breath Away”………So, make sure it’s credible!

Destination Slogans: Silver Bullet or Meaningless Puff?