In the big scheme of things to complain about, I’ll admit that dumb and annoying travel advertisements don’t rank very high on the scale. But after looking at these two ads for months across multiple publications, I’ve realized that they represent a black hole of stupidity, millions of dollars turned over to some ad agency with a good Powerpoint presentation instead of being spent in ways that could really bring in more visitors to a destination. They represent what’s so wrong with how destinations market themselves. Instead of courting evangelists, conversing with fans, and highlighting what makes this specific place truly special and worth visiting for a certain type of tourist, they go for the big dumb media splash in hopes of getting noticed by some fraction of the masses.
Exhibit A, this truly horrible magazine ad from South Africa Tourism. It’s the kind of thing that makes people scratch their heads and then ask, “What the f*&% were they thinking with THAT one?”
Although I’m tempted, I don’t want to sully this ad with any funny thought balloons or arrows pointing to the silly parts, so just check out the following list. 1) They’re about to get mauled. 2) The guide has a gun. Is he really going to shoot an elephant in Kruger National Park? 3) One of the women is wearing shorts in the middle of a patch of razor grass. 4) Really, you think this is going to be a fun position to be in when you go waltzing through the savannah—and you think your tour company will really allow it? No and no. 5) What’s that “exuberance of the locals” line all about? The exuberant elephants or some mystery unseen humans hiding in the grass?
Exhibit B is not as dangerous, but is doubly dumb. I’ve now seen this is six magazine issues, which tells me they’ve spent a double-buttload of money on it. But what does it mean?
For anyone who has actually been to Scottsdale, Arizona, this ad is laugh-out-loud funny. Scottsdale is a city of strip malls with gargantuan asphalt parking lots, shopping malls that are big enough to be seen from space, and convention resorts surrounding carefully manicured golf courses. It’s about as close to cowboys and cowgirls as a boots store in Tokyo. The only thing you’re likely to lasso there is the iPhone of a soccer mom who is texting while driving her Hummer. Or a retired grandma who’s moving too slowly on her ScooterStore transportation device—in one of those shopping malls. (Are the diamonds in the ad a reference to the fact they have Kay Jewelers outlets?)
I’m sure there are natural cacti somewhere outside of Phoenix and Scottsdale, but I was last there for three days and didn’t see a one. No diamonds in the sky either—the light pollution along the six-lane roads killed anything that may have been overhead.
There’s a demographic that actually likes all this and will get excited about it, especially if they can use their Marriott loyalty points to come play some golf. So show them what you’re really about. Be honest. Don’t try to trick the rest of us into the idea that you’re like Flagstaff or Santa Fe. That deception is ridiculously expensive and it never works.
Figure out what makes you unique and communicate that to us in an genuine way.
(And when it comes to handing money to that ad agency, you might want to start looking at some research reports concerning how people are making their actual vacation decisions. I hear there’s this newfangled thing called the Internet…)
Related silliness: Careful with those Tourism Slogans!