MacCarthy’s World | Green lighting

One of my favourite time-wasting activities is a game called ‘Where on Earth?’ The only equipment necessary for this is a television tuned to CNN. After a wait of 20 minutes or less, you’ll find yourself viewing a cheesy commercial for a country or city region you might never have heard of before.


You know the sort of ads I’m talking about – the opening clip invariably shows a sweeping mountain vista accompanied by a soaring orchestral soundtrack. The next 30 seconds or so will involve some combination of ancient architecture, smiling girls in ethnic costumes, dynamic young men in business suits, and skyscrapers so big they could rival Manhattan’s best.


These ads are so unremittingly bland and generic that the only way to endure them is to try and guess the name of the region in question before the voiceover delivers its explanatory punchline. “Let’s all go to Quilin Now!” they boom, or “Macedonia, the root of Christianity” or “Ukraine. All about U”. The appropriate responses to which are respectively: “Why?”, “Really?” and “Yeah?”


The voiceovers are often uttered by somebody who sounds like he learned English from the back of a cornflakes package five minutes ago. And even when the commercial emanates from a former Soviet satellite with an unsavoury record on human rights, they’ll still try and convince you of their goody-two-shoes wholesomeness.


Naturally enough, there’s big money in the racket for Saatchi & Saatchi and their ilk. And also CNN, whose global advertising rates are stratospheric. This barrage of unconvincing vacuity is all happening in the name of nation branding. It is an accelerating trend that sees relatively less developed or less well-known territories try to enhance their image so as to attract foreign direct investment, tourism revenues and trade deals.


Impoverished countries and those with badly battered reputations are getting in on the act. For some, buffering up the image makes perfect sense. What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the word Colombia or Kosovo? And of course, some of the advertising campaigns are extremely well executed. I love the “Incredible India” ad for example – it’s full of colour and charm and reinforces my already favourable impression of that country – though I haven’t yet visited, I’m sure to go one day.


Likewise “My South Africa, Your South Africa” makes me want to jump on the next plane. Both of these latter campaigns are costly production numbers and they do seem to work. But even recession-hit countries on a tight budget can achieve terrific results with a bit of imagination.


The recent courtesy call to Copenhagen of the Royal British Navy’s flagship, the HMS Bulwark, is a good example. It’s a machine of war, of course, but on this occasion it was pressed into service to promote British industry and trade and it did so with the sort of understated elegance that only the Brits can pull off. The entrance gangway to the onboard reception for Danish businesspeople was lined with officers in full dress uniform. The officers were friendly and welcoming, and the ship’s captain and the UK ambassador to Denmark did a convincing job in telling us that Britain is open for business. In short, a persuasive and targeted exercise in country branding.


But when it comes to successful global marketing on a budget, my own country, Ireland, wins hands down. As Tourism Ireland (a body that represents the entire island) points out, Ireland was a brand long before the concept even existed. And though the country’s tourism marketing executives took their time in realising this fact, they’ve now made up for it in a big way.


St Patrick’s Day is the cornerstone of the country’s branding effort and this year will see one of the most spectacular exercises in global country marketing

yet seen.


Under the banner of Tourism Ireland’s 2012 global greening initiative, some of the world’s best known and best loved landmarks will be bathed in green light to mark what has become an international day of



Places that are going green this year include Niagara Falls, the London Eye, Burj al Arab in Dubai, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Table Mountain in South Africa. The city halls of Vienna and Brussels, the Ciebeles fountain in Madrid, and even the entire town of Moraira on the Costa Blanca are also joining in the fun.


Besides the ingenuity and sheer fun of this initiative, what makes it really remarkable is the low cost – it comes out of Tourism Ireland’s total annual budget for marketing programmes: a paltry €52 million that also covers a plethora of other marketing activities, like printing brochures and running websites and social media networks.


Ireland is undoubtedly lucky in having a pre-existing brand to leverage. But really, wouldn’t other countries get more bang for their buck by offering something better than an identikit CNN commercial?