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Galveston, Wichita, Phoenix are not what you might consider tier 1 destinations. Yet for a while they were probably the three US cities that I thought most about. If you’re a fan of great American songwriters you’ll know why – Jimmy Webb wrote three perfect songs with these cities in their titles and then Glen Campbell etched them indelibly in our hearts with his impeccable recordings. That’s the emotional power of music and when you’re lucky enough to have your destination immortalised in a song then you’ve got a free meal ticket to a never ending buffet. Here are some destinations where all the MarCom heavy lifting was done by the songwriters:

1.    California

Without recourse to Google, most of us can name at least 3 songs with California in the title – “Hotel California” (Eagles), “California Deamin’”(The Mammas and Papas) and “California Girls” (The Beach Boys as opposed to the more recent Katy Perry song, “California Gurls”). Wikipedia lists over 70 songs simply called “California” and the number of songs about California, or about cities and towns in this US state runs to thousands.

The songs, inevitably, evoke sunshine and smiles, eternal youth and boundless freedom, friendly easy going people driving soft top cars along the beach front. Naturally we all want to go there. The mind pictures evoked by the song lyrics are highly motivational and achieve a level of brand recall that marketers could only (California-) dream about.

My own favourite California song? It’s not so obvious unless you’re a Jackson Browne fan but “The Barricades of Heaven” is the one that makes me wish I’d lived in LA in the 1960s

“Better bring your own redemption when you come
To the barricades of heaven where I’m from …”

2.    New York

If California songs are, by and large, day time, outdoor songs then New York songs are definitely night time tunes. First in most people’s mind will be “New York, New York”, that great paen to the Big Apple itself. Those strident, immortal lines “I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep” sets NYC apart from all other cities as THE city par excellence, always on, always available, always ready. You get the same unburdened hope from Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind”

“Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Hear it for New York, New York, New York!

Here you’re told how this city re-invigorates you, motivates you, fills you full of belief and hope. Who wouldn’t want to visit such a place!?

3.    Spain

More cheesy than a Swiss town called Gruyere, “Y viva Espana” is to Spain as Guinness or Jameson are to Dublin. Heavily clichéd maybe, but undoubtedly true for millions of 40 something Northern Europeans who spend 50 weeks under a blanket of grey only to break free for 2 glorious weeks of sunshine on the Costa Brava. In the dark days of January in Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki or Belfast these are the words which give you comfort and, with them, Spain is still the destination of your dreams:

Oh this year I’m off to Sunny Spain Y Viva Espana
I’m taking the Costa Brava ‘plane Y Viva Espana
If you’d like to chat a matador, in some cool cabana
And meet senoritas by the score, Espana por favor

For those of us who can’t stand the cheese, Spain is well represented in songs such as “Daniel” by Elton John (“…I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain …”) and the magnificently enigmatic “Holiday in Spain” by The Counting Crows:

… take a holiday in Spain
Leave my wings behind me
Flush my worries down the drain
Fly away to somewhere new

One interesting and striking fact concerning cities and destinations which feature in well know songs is the fact that US locations occur most frequently than any others, including world cities like London, Paris, Rome. Yes, Britain has some good tunes but nothing like “Sweet Home Alabama” or “American Pie”. So which comes first? Does desire for the destination beget the song or does the creation of the song beget desire for the destination? Whatever the answer it’s clear that music and songs play a huge part in that crucial emotional connection that binds us to certain destinations. Good destination marketers know this and leverage it expertly. A good marketer might even utilise Monty Python’s unkind but hilarious song about Finland:

You’re so sadly neglected
And often ignored
A poor second to Belgium
When going abroad

[with suitable apologies to two of my best friends in the meetings industry – the Viking with the Latin heart, Jukka Paco Halonen (Finland) and Ovation Global colleague, Mr SmartyPants himself, Hugo Slimbrouck (Belgium)]

PS Gráinne, one of the many Gilligan daughters and convinced Americophile from a very early age, tells me that Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” evokes strong memories for her of America with its samplings of “Sweet Home Alabama” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolf of London”.

I’m just unsure as to whether I want to tell the world that a daughter of mine likes Kid Rock!

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One thought on “Want to build your destination brand? Hire somebody to write you a great song!

  1. Thank you for reminding us of the powerful connection between emotion and place.

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