By Mihalis Kavaratzis
I came across an older advertisement for Germany as an investment location. It was a photograph of the famous top model Claudia Schiffer who was lying naked, covered with the German flag. The ad read: ‘Invest in Germany boys!’. Then I tried to find more of this style of advertisements. I found the photograph of a half-naked Korean (South, I assume) girl holding a sign that read: ‘Made in Korea’. I remembered the poster to promote Budapest with the photograph of Miss Europe 2003 (a Hungarian) which read: ‘She is one of us. For more beauty visit Budapest’. Finally, I remembered a poster I often show to my students. It promotes the town of Piran in Slovenia. Only, it does not depict the place but two beautiful girls sunbathing in their bikinis and asks the viewers whether they can even notice the town that is shown somewhere at the back.
First of all, there is a certain humor obviously involved in those advertisements. The use of humor in advertising does not sound like a bad idea despite the significant differences in peoples’ sense of humor. It might be a good thing if the first reaction of the viewer is to smile. However, can such advertisements be taken more seriously? What do they actually imply? Claudia Schiffer is German and the world knows that. She is also beautiful and the world seems to agree on that. Can she however, persuade investors to consider Germany as the place of their next investment? Will she, at least, get them to think about Germany and check its opportunities and conditions? Furthermore, it was the same Claudia (dressed this time) who agreed to promote the Spanish island of Mallorca a few years ago. The girl ‘Made in Korea’ is even worse. What this implies goes beyond the scope of this blog. It is not clear to me whether this is an advertisement of some Korean authority but in our interconnected world this has little significance. Miss Europe 2003 is used as an example of the beautiful Hungarian girls one can meet in the streets of Budapest but she also serves as an example of the ways in which some of these girls interact with tourists when the night falls. Budapest is indeed a favourite destination for ‘Stag parties’, especially for British. Beautiful girls, cheap drink, good food, low-budget flights from all across the UK – what else do we need? Except, does Budapest really need this? The Piran advertisement is more humorous than anything else and I admit to liking it. It hasn’t made me travel there though – the thought hasn’t even crossed my mind.
I will leave out of this post the gender-related, sexuality-related, discrimination-related etc. issues but I’m sure other people might actually find the above ads rather disturbing. My question is: If two of the strongest tools of advertising, i.e. beautiful women and humor, cannot be taken as adding value to the place, then what scope is there for place promotion altogether? Is place promotion only following what other industries have done for a very long time without considering any implication of the nature of the ‘product’ that is advertised? Is this a way to win the ‘war for attention’ that consultants have persuaded us we have to fight? By the way, what makes us think that places have to fight this war?