The next star of Irish tourism marketing is the landscape
Forget your long-lost cousins and go on a road trip through a remote, frontier land
If you’re vulnerable to cultural cringe, then you’ll probably prefer to steer clear of Ireland’s tourism promotion videos, lest several Riverdancing leprechauns jump out of the screen yelling “top of the morning” and insisting everyone must come to Ireland for the “craic”.
One group of people who can’t, for professional reasons, submit to any kind of cultural cringe – the conviction your own culture is inferior to that of other countries – is the marketers at Tourism Ireland charged with pulling in holidaymakers from across the world.
If it turns out creepy red-bearded mythological figures of short stature do the business for boosting visitor numbers and Exchequer coffers, then they have no option but to stick those creepy red-bearded mythological figures front and centre of every communication and give them a pint glass prop just to be on the safe side.
Happily, how Ireland is both perceived and marketed abroad is a great deal more sophisticated than this. But some clichés are worth embracing.
The temporary obsession with portraying the country as an exclusively urban and “edgy” cosmopolitan paradise, stuffed with young folk laughing uproariously against Celtic Tiger skylines, has subsided somewhat. At the same time, there has been a revival of some classic tropes – such as the unmistakably Aran sweaters that featured on The Gathering Ireland 2013’s postcards, or the traditional music that featured (ironically) in comedian Andrew Maxwell’s “cheeky and humorous” guide to the whole shebang.
Next year, The Gathering is no more. Instead, tour operators worldwide will be blessed with marketing material for Homecoming Scotland 2014, a repeat of Visit Scotland’s 2009 exercise to lure in North American roots tourists and anyone desperate to connect to the old-world charms of golf and whisky. Back home, the major focus of our tourism policy has cannily and logically shifted from enticing people to come together in a mass celebration of Irishness to encouraging them to do the complete opposite: go on a road trip through a remote, frontier land.
Tourism Ireland’s advertisement for the Wild Atlantic Way, which will run on German and French screens over the next couple of months, is like a movie trailer in which the landscape, not the people, is the star. The coastline, not your long-lost second cousin, is the draw. “This is where you can journey along our nation’s soul,” says the thunder-throated voice-over man, talking up the “invading sea” and failing to mention that much of it will be invading vertically in the form of rain.
Elsewhere, the marketing of Ireland takes on an “old reliables with a modern twist” vibe. A new promotion that will run on video-on-demand sites in Britain concludes with the line “Dublin - bring your second wind with you”. It’s a slogan that subtly hints at Ireland’s drinking culture, in that “second wind” is so often used in this country to describe a resurgence in one’s social stamina, as opposed to the physical energy context it has in less alcohol-fuelled parts of the world.
Another Tourism Ireland line, “we’ve saved you a seat”, achieves the same effect, in that it channels our fondness for liquid “craic”, but with a degree of plausible deniability. Cramming its ads with visible representations of alcohol isn’t a cost-efficient tactic in any case, due to various advertising restrictions – such as the ban on alcohol advertising on French television – with the result that one of 2012’s “Jump Into Ireland” ads was set inside the driest Irish pub on the island.
Tourism Ireland will feel like pouring relief-champagne after visitor numbers rose 7 per cent this year and revenue climbed 6 per cent. But resources are tight, the agency says, meaning it must concentrate its investment on the markets that deliver the best return (North America and mainland Europe) and target the consumers that represent the industry’s “best prospects”. In glorious marketing-speak, it has segmented these into “Social Energisers”, the “Culturally Curious” and “Great Escapers”.
In the highly competitive global game of triggering the “must go now” impulses of holidaymakers, sharp marketing is essential. But it’s not a guarantee of success, nor does a sudden influx of tourists always reflect genius promotional tactics. So much depends on the domestic economies of Ireland’s target markets.
One way of knowing for sure that Ireland’s tourism marketers are doing a cracking job will be when your American, German and French friends start enthusing about their apparently long-held ambition to do the “Wild Atlantic Way” and your Irish friends are mystified as to what that exactly entails. The correct response in this situation is probably not “oh, so you’re a Great Escaper then?”