The unexpected challenges of place branding


Place branding for Singapore must be an intimidating task, especially when your agency is British.  You’re facing intense scrutiny from Singaporean citizens.  You have to please them while appealing to tourists, and the wants of the two parties may be unexpectedly difficult to reconcile.

When the creative team at Tourism Malaysia put out their “Malaysia: Truly Asia” campaign, with images of rainforest flora and fauna, the Malaysians felt their nation had been cast as an uncivilized and savage jungle.  You have to understand that Malaysians proudly show off their vast palm plantations and factories that stand on the ruins of leveled rainforests.  To Malaysians, a leveled rainforest symbolizes progress and modernity, though visitors to Malaysia might regard the deforestation in a different light.

Tourism campaigns in South America and Eastern Europe can rile up locals for a similar reason.  Developing a tourism campaign is so challenging because widespread internet access lets Malaysians or Romanians or Bolivians see how their country is represented to the world, and nobody wants to be made to look primtive.  Many Bolivians would be horrified to see images of indigenous Quechua tribes on “Visit Bolivia!” billboards.  They’d choose instead for a tourism campaign to feature the cities or the soccer teams.

As for the “Malaysia: Truly Asia” campaign, the ad series ended up featuring white folks buying expensive clothing and purses in Kuala Lampur’s malls.  Malaysians are happy, but the campaign has zero appeal to white tourists as far as I can tell.

Place branding is extremely difficult, and to do it effectively, you almost have to do as the Your Singapore campaign does and include every facet of the city you can list on a dry erase board.  Wolff Olin approached their New York place branding in the same way.  Credit to the ‘Your Singapore’ design team for designing something remarkable and inspiring in spite of such a challenge!  See more ads by creative director Steve Elrick here.

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The unexpected challenges of place branding

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