by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
This week the SoolNua team attended a highly impressive, compelling presentation organised by Ireland’s national tourism development authority, Fáilte Ireland. Aimed at the movers and shakers in leisure and business tourism in the greater Dublin area, we got a report card on past progress (lots of A+s), a survey on how we’re perceived (“Dublin is not really that well known”) and a look at plans for the future (“Dublin runs the risk of pricing herself out of the market”). The backdrop to the entire presentation was the on-going roll out of the new “brand” for Dublin – “Dublin – a breath of fresh air” and, in particular, its role in creating a new image and reputation for Ireland’s capital in the leisure and business tourism sectors.
I am an Atheist
I should start by stating that I’m an atheist when it comes to believing that a country or a city can indeed be branded. I’m firmly with Simon Anholt when he stridently states that the belief that you can
… “do branding” to a country (or to a city or region) in the same way that companies “do branding” to their products is both vain and foolish.
I do believe, however, that it’s possible to do great promotional campaigns with themes and messages, unifying all of these under a single graphical device or logo which, over time, can become a powerful signifier for the underlying campaign objectives. And “Dublin – a breath of fresh air” is a well thought out campaign, shaped by empirical research and scientific evidence.
There has been much discussion about the new Dublin logo and tagline. Designed by Annie Atkins who famously did the graphics for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, most comments coalesce around the logo being too “retro” and not, perhaps, meaningful for the MICE segment. The logo follows the current fascination in the graphic design community with vintage fairground-style fonts, has movement and dynamism, dual colours (symbolising sea and hills, apparently) and playful birds that hover above the I and N in Dublin. Personally I like it but I do agree that its retro-ness may limit its impact both in terms of time – ie, it’ll date quickly – and in its application for the Meetings sector – although we were assured at the briefing that this piece of the jigsaw was still in the pipeline.
The tagline has had its fair share of naysayers too. It gets lost in translation, it’s not a call to action, it’s kind of meaningless etc Would it be really any different, for example, if it said “Dublin – a kick in the arse” or “Dublin – a shot in the arm”? For me, on the other hand, it bootstraps well the urban / rural duality and reality around which the campaign pivots, highlighting a unique characteristic of our city where “city living thrives side by side with the natural outdoors”. And, at the end of the day, in an extraordinarily monochromatic and two dimensional destination marketing landscape, who doesn’t want “a breath of fresh air”?
The real issues
But in real terms none of this matters. Logos are like marmite and contemporary fine art. One man’s potion is another man’s poison. And there’s nothing intrinsic to the logo or the tagline that utterly defines Dublin, no matter what the brand guys might like us to believe. Shakespeare put it perfectly when he had Juliet declare:
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
What matters at this stage is that we fully embrace the campaign and lend our 100% support to it. It’s only with the full support of the entire Dublin tourism industry, both public and private sectors, that the campaign has any chance of achieving the ambitious targets set for it. In a way it’s too late for discussion now – that took place over the past couple of years under the Grow Dublin Taskforce and now it’s time to get on with the business in hand.
Profile and Perception
According to the Fáilte Ireland presentations this business has two key objectives. One is to overcome our lack of profile and visibility as a leisure and business tourism destination and the other is to figure out how to keep the dial out of the red zone when it comes to perception amongst visitors over value for money.
Regarding visibility and profile I’d challenge the findings of John O’Mahoney’s thought-provoking survey which ranked Dublin at a low eleventh position against its competitive set in terms of profile and appeal. These findings simply don’t tally with other surveys both inside and outside of the tourism sector where Dublin performs significantly better in terms of “being known” – a recent survey of influential US meeting planners places Dublin in third position, ahead of Barcelona, Amsterdam and Berlin.
John’s survey of Irish places and attractions, likewise, shows depressing levels of recognition (on 19% of the 4000 surveyed heard of the Book of Kells) but it’s also true to say that visitors don’t primarily chose our country for our attractions. Failte Ireland hopes to address the visibility and profile issue with the new promotional campaign and judging only from the excellent digital resources available on the new website you’d have to believe this will happen.
I’m far more worried, however, by the perception of value for money and think we need to build convincing strategies around this both to address the perception issue and to target its actuality. Sadly, there weren’t any super bright ideas emerging from either the stage or the floor area as to how this vital issue might be tackled. This is where our industry must direct itself without delay before we kill the goose that has the potential to lay golden eggs.
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua. With his partner Patrick Delaney Pádraic works with destinations, venues and hotels on matters related to strategy, marketing and training with an exclusive focus on the MICE sector.