The Future is a Place – Paris-Val de Marne by CuldeSac

Over the weekend, I got an e-mail telling me about a new place branding campaign for Paris Val-de-Marne – “The Future is a Place”. A Spanish creative agency, CuldeSac, prepared the following video as part of their promotional activities. I was pretty excited to learn about this initiative. Because prior to “The Future is a Place”, I didn’t know anything about Val de Marne. The video clip, the website and the press release are my only sources of information.

This video clip clearly demonstrates one fact: Place branding campaigns have different missions and the messages/images should change accordingly. This particular campaign wants to attract capital to the region, and all related arguments are quite convincing (i.e. infrastructure, proximity to Paris, transportation, existing businesses etc.). The images (airport, transportation, other facilities) used in the video clip bolster the arguments.

At the very same time, the video clip shows us the difficulty of branding only one aspect of a place. I tried to think like an entrepreneur while watching the video. Although I was convinced in business terms to invest in the region, I wanted to know more about the place. Who lives there? What do people do for a living? Any important landmarks? Moreover, especially during the first part (up to 01:30 min) of the clip, I was highly depressed by the dark images, crowded places, lack of faces, and indoor images. In fact, I started thinking of the movie Noi albinoi (The movie is about a socially misfit teenager in a small fishing town in Iceland).

Everyone knows and talks about importance of audience. Your message should be tailored to fit your audiences’ needs. As this video shows, not only the content of your message but also your medium and even technical details you use should attract your audiences’ interest and gain their respect. The quality of the images will appeal to business owners. However, I am not sure whether online media platforms (Youtube, Vimeo) are the best ways to reach this specific audience.

In a place branding campaign, we shouldn’t forget that there will be many people who have no idea about what we are talking about. Therefore, it is important to refrain from unclear images and symbols. Frankly speaking, I am not sure what is happening between 2:10 and 2:30 in the video. I don’t know the people, I just assume that they are important figures in the development agency. They are sitting in post-modern chairs (I don’t know how to call those chairs), so they should be innovative and creative. But seriously, who are they? Why are they there?

As far as I can see the website and video are produced by two different agencies. Still, I would like to see a consistent message in terms of content and packaging. The colors of the website are different from the colors I saw in the video. As a person who has never been to the region, I don’t know what to expect from Val de Marne. The website also lays out five areas of expertise – five prominent industries. Though I don’t think I saw all five in the video. I saw some themes (life, sustainability etc) on the video which were not mentioned in the website.

There seems to be a theme with the lines and small triangles. We see them all through the video and also at the end when they come together to make the logo for The Future is a Place. I am also not sure why they form that particular shape after 02:32 and constantly move. (- I can go ahead and say well Val de Marne connects several industries in a dynamic way but frankly speaking this interpretation is based more on my communication studies than on the video itself).

Lastly, I think the music has made me think even more of Noi albinoi. Especially together with the darker images, I was a little bit depressed.

Long story short, I would say, The Future is a Place is likely to be successful in reaching its target audiences provided that appropriate media platforms are chosen. The clip looks professional, it is short, and dynamic. In other words, it attracts attention and doesn’t bore the audience. The line of reasoning is quite clear and persuasive. The professional imagery boosts the credibility of the messages. The tagline (The future is a place) cleverly summarizes the project and can be seen in the video. However, especially after seeing CuldeSac’s website, I cannot understand why there were so many cloudy scenes in the video.

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SDM Campaign – A Story of ‘Sex Sells’ Marketing

As the competition gets tougher, I guess people started to run out of new ideas to promote places. Recently, I ran into this very interesting campaign from Israel – Size Doesn’t Matter (SDM). I believe this video is only a viral advertisement product (it is ‘too hot’ for the TV maybe, who knows?).

I don’t know where to start. Now, the idea is interesting because this particular marketing understanding is not widely used in place branding. But at the end of the say, ‘sex sells’ is one of the oldest advertising pseudo-strategies. Several products, from toilet paper to underwear, were advertised with sexual imagery. SDM campaign most probably used these suggestive scenes and dialogues to attract young people’s attention. Yet, is it the right way to go in place marketing? If you look at the images in SDM’s website intro, you will see many more nice looking men and women. Though once you are in the website, the campaign starts telling you about how Israel has big ideas, how the country is big on the environment, and on diversity. In fact, there is information on the website – once you pass the photos.

As far as I can see, SDM is a global PR campaign. I would love to hear Israeli people’s reactions. I won’t be very happy if a PR agency decides to promote my country in a similar way.

I understand that Israel is trying to diversify the news coverage and arguments on the country, but there are so many other things that could and should be introduced. I am not sure why such a suggestive and a little bit disturbing way is chosen. Some of the slogans and lines even don’t make sense unless you constantly think about the sex analogy. Why don’t you go to a small country for vacation? (Several exotic travel destinations are small countries). Why are you surprised when someone tells you Israel is small? (It is less than 0.01% of the world’s total area) What is wrong about going south in winter? Why small size big appetite for peace? (Who says small countries don’t like peace?) Last but not the least, who said anything about size and countries?

Israeli branding attempts and public diplomacy understanding taught me a lot of things. SDM, the newest piece, taught me how not to use bad marketing/advertising moves in place/nation branding.

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I didn’t say it – Lippmann said: Ethical Concerns in Nation Branding

Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion theory is one of my guiding theories in my thesis. While discussing the impacts of ‘the real world’ vs. ‘the pictures in our heads’ on nation branding, I felt the urge to differentiate rhetoric explicitly from deception. Shortly speaking, Lippmann claims that we are too lazy, the world is too big, and the couch is too comfortable, so we will not have the opportunity to contact a huge part of the real world. We will hear about events happening in the other parts of the world. We will read newspapers, watch TV, follow tweets (no, Lippmann was not talking about tweeting), and then interpret the information we get in a personal way to create a picture of the world in our heads.

It is called a fictional reality, reported reality, mediated reality, and several other names. In short, we don’t witness events, we witness how they are reported by some others. When we add up our own perceptive criteria on top of this manufactured reality, we end up with ‘our world’ (a.k.a. the picture in our heads). Putnam argues for the decreasing levels of social interaction. In daily parlance, it means the couch is more comfortable than ever. So, less real world, more perceived world through reported information.

Nation branding, in this sense, is providing a narrative to this reported world. Many people don’t know the reality about your nation (see the video below). Nation branding can try to:
– make a nation relevant to people (first step into the picture)
– help people know more about a nation (maintaining your spot)
– tell something else about a nation (repositioning)
– diversity the arguments (creating more spots in the picture)
– keep some issues off-the radar (shifting the discussions)

Persuasiveness, or rhetoric, is important in creating and restoring images in people’s minds. All these communication processes in nation branding take place not in the real world but in the perceived reality. Given the complexity of the real world, and the decreasing levels of social interaction , ideas are formed with the help of the mediated reality. Now after talking about the same issue in my thesis, I felt the urge to say “This research does not, in any way, argue for defamation, deception, or manipulation of the reality. Because of the fact that people’s views about a nation are created in this mediated reality, the author argues that nations should be actively involved in providing their narratives.” Even in keeping issues off-the-radar, the main aim is to avoid being associated with an issue which does not reflect the reality of a nation (i.e. Greece might want to keep discussions over current financial situation off-the-radar by promoting another issue. In long term, Greece and financial crisis should not be associated. Similarly, US tries to divert the attention away from domestic political discussions). The main aim is not to lie, to manipulate reality but to provide your narrative for your own image.

Rhetoric is all about persuasion. Yet, first rule of communication, if you cannot support what you say, don’t say. Communication takes place in several platforms, so nation branding messages should be present in all these with the aims of increasing the relevance of a nation and putting pictures in the perception, not of deceiving people. Branding campaigns do not (should not) censor other news sources, but should compete with them in terms of credibility, legitimacy, and efficiency.

Now I pretty much understand why Dr. Nancy Snow insists on saying ‘persuasion with principle’ and ‘truth is the best propaganda’.

Here are the books I talked about:
Lippmann, W. (1922). Public opinion (1st ed.). New York: Free Press Paperbacks.
Putnam, R. (2001). Bowling alone : the collapse and revival of American community (1st ed.). New York: Touchstone.

Here is the video: (WordPress, why are you so difficult to use? Please click on the link below if you want to watch the video)
Nation Of Andorra Not In Africa, Shocked U.S. State Dept. Reports

And my cross-posting announcement:

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Istanbul 2010 – An Opportunity for Branding

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me what Istanbul 2010 was. She saw Istanbul 2010 ads at Heathrow Airport in London, but didn’t have much idea about what exactly the ads tried to say. Istanbul has been selected as the European Capital of Culture 2010. Hosting international events, and being recognized by international organizations are good opportunities for promoting a place. Given the variety of events and images you can promote under ‘culture’, it is also a good branding opportunity. So how well did Turkey use it?

Okay, first of all, I have to admit one thing. I really didn’t have a clear understanding of European Capital of Culture. I know there were three cities in 2010, and one was Pesc. What was the other one? (I just checked, it was Essen). Although some might be my ignorance, some might be because currently I am not in Europe but still, I am not sure how well the idea of ECOC is promoted.

Istanbul will be hosting several events throughout the year (If you plan to visit Istanbul, 2010 might be the best year to do so). You can find additional information about the event on Istanbul 2010 website. They also had interesting videos (some of which did not even show the subway system!) Although I have no idea why they chose the background music, the video below is quite good – especially the last 45-50 seconds (even the music makes sense). We see Turkish ‘people’ and scenes from daily life as well as important places (i.e. touristic attractions historical places). We have business people, small business owners, people walking, kids, even traffic jam on the video. The scenes pretty much describes both the modern and the historical, the Western and conservative, the serious and fun-having sides of Istanbul.

Though I do have one main question. Recently I started reading, writing, and thinking about authority and legitimacy in branding. When I look at Istanbul 2010 from that point of view, I cannot stop questioning whether they have the authority to claim brand ownership and legitimacy to brand the city. The names on the executive, advisory, and coordination boards (yes, there are three boards, maybe there is a fourth board on boards) are quite well-known people, high-level bureaucrats, and professionals. But where are the people? It seems to be an adequate project with a few shortcomings.

What Went Right
– Although public doesn’t seem to be on any of the boards, everyone had the opportunity to submit a project to Istanbul 2010. In other words, if one wants to be a part of the event, it is possible.
– The domestic and (as far as I can see from my friend’s anecdote) international media presence of the event was great. Everyone knows that there is something called Istanbul 2010 (we are just not so sure what it is).

What Went Wrong
– There doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme. I don’t like “a place where you can do everything” as a brand message and Istanbul 2010 subtly gives this message. Unfortunately can-do-everything messages never give a sense of inclusiveness. Even worse, you end up with a ‘generic’ place which is lost in messages. The website pretty much symbolizes this chaos.
– Project members seem to be very involved with Istanbul 2010 and be living with the idea. This is why the website fails to explain what Istanbul 2010 is. If you look at benefits for Istanbul part, you will see that Istanbul 2010 will make Istanbul the greatest place in Europe, maybe in the world. But there are no substantive explanation about why or how. (A trivia question: Which city was the ECOC 2009? What about ECOC 2011?)
– The communication methods don’t go down to foreign publics. In other words, Istanbul 2010 uses mass media, and tourism fairs to promote. I couldn’t find any people-to-people, Web 2.0, social media communication understanding. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much direct interaction between Istanbul 2010 and target audience.

In short, ECOC is a good regional promotion opportunity. Istanbul 2010 is a successful campaign. It might have been better if more communication/public diplomacy and less advertising techniques were used.

For those who are curious, ECOC 2009 were Vilnius and Linz, ECOC 2011 will be Turku and Tallinn.
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