Friday, July 12, 2013

Videos as a tool for country branding: two case studies (Belgium and .... Switzerland!)

It finally feels like summer and I will soon go off on holiday. The few posts before my departure will focus on a slightly different theme. Don't worry, it's still all about Europe, communications and videos; but the summer weather made me want to leave the European quarter of Brussels just for a while and look at...the whole of Belgium! And beyond! I want to look into European country branding! Why? Mainly because of a new video made to promote Belgium. The video, two actually, have been heavily criticised as they are considered too old fashioned, full of clichés and badly executed.

Here they are. One is aimed at potential tourists, or, as they say, at the general public:


And the other at potential business investors:


I am not sure whether the criticism was the same for both videos. I can certainly understand it for the first one. But understanding does not mean agreeing. Old fashioned? A bit maybe. Clichés? Yes for sure, but frankly this type of videos will almost inevitably contain clichés because they are trying to attract tourists - i.e. people who do not know much about Belgium. So, any surprise that all the famous sites are on show? Where should they have filmed? In Charleroi? And of course there will be chocolate, beer, frites and mussels: what else? Pizza? As for the execution, it is indeed a bit conventional (and quite long actually) but, again, you need to think at the target audience: non Belgians, and not necessarily social media, computer or animation buffs, which means a totally different group of people from the one criticising it this much. Maybe they should have chosen a different name (it is not exactly beyond expectations) and the music is pretty bad. Independent of the target.

Having said this, I really don't understand nor agree with the criticism if applied to the second video. True, it's quite straight forward but, unlike for the first one, the title is more appropriate because it told me interesting things I did not know; and I live here.

But talking more generally, are these videos effective? Is this a successful way to do country branding? What are the key ingredients? Is it necessary to stereotype? Do you need to be controversial? Remember the Danish one that was so criticised that had to be pulled? That one too played heavily on stereotypes and it went viral only because people thought it was a true story.

Can you afford in this day and age to be 'conservative' as the Belgians have done? And how would you measure success? An increase in country visits or high levels of criticism hence notoriety?

Let's look at a successful country - I guess in more ways than one. Last year, Switzerland was number one on the Country Brand Index. So, where are the effective Swiss videos? I found two that can be compared to the Belgian ones. The first is well filmed, although, as clichés goes, we are up there with the Belgians.

 But the second that looks at the business side of tourism is just so fantastically Swiss.

It's a spoof of a news coverage of an important tourism fair. The thought that not all the people interviewed probably understood they were being made fun of, cracks me up. So does the fact that they had to write 'funny' above the title on the video page of the Swiss tourism website, just in case someone took it seriously and thought they were being slightly unprofessional, to say the least. Unprofessional in Switzerland? NEVER!

But it's more than 9 minutes long  and I am afraid it's too much. Ironically both videos are trying to be funny which is not necessarily what you would expect or associated with the Swiss. So, I guess they should be praised for it. But does it work?

My feeling is that Switzerland is number one because it is Switzerland, not because of its more or less successful attempts at being funny. What do you think?

And this only got me started on country branding!

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