Apr 15

COLOMBIA: FROM RISK TO MAGICAL REALISM. THE NEW INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN OF COLOMBIA.

Last Wednesday we had the enormous honour of being present at the official launch of the new international campaign: “Colombia: Realismo Mágico” (Colombia: Magical Realism), as Paul G has already recounted in the way only he can.

In this post I’d like to share my opinion on this change of strategy, as both a professional in the world of tourism and communications and as a foreigner in love with Colombia

I am a public and enthusiastic admirer of the outgoing campaign “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay”. For me, the majority of the campaign, including the concept, phrase and delivery, deserves recognition as an excellent marketing concept. This is mainly because it did something that any publicist in the world would want to achieve with their product: to convert a weakness into a strength and seize upon that to transmit a clear and effective message.

“Risk” is a dangerous word to use in whatever category, more for a tourist destination and much more for a country with the general perception that Colombia has (which, thankfully, improves all the time). This is a country still harshly judged for the history and violence of the past. Even today Hollywood and various international (and national!) media strive to show this as Colombia’s only reality. And therein lies the genius of the concept: by openly accepting that risk is an existing and widespread perception about Colombia but facing this fact (rather than sweeping it under the carpet like a more traditional campaign), the weakness is faced and subsequently contradicted by testimonies from foreigners that, before us, discovered Colombia’s magic.

 

That is to say: you take a risky concept and revert it using the same group you target – formalizing what pioneering backpackers said a long time ago about the destination – thus establishing a peer-to-peer dialogue that ultimately works out extremely positively for the campaign.

At the same time, as a compliment to this campaign the country’s branding machine would repeat to us that “Colombia is Passion“. This is a phrase that stuck for many Colombians, and still today you see locals using bumper stickers on their cars and trucks with pride despite the change of image in 2012. Both campaigns realign and inspire that – then new – emotional sensation that Colombia was changing and finally opening to the world.

 

El cambio de Marca Colombia en 2012.
The change from Brand Colombia in 2012

 

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that the official campaign that left us this week was a success. I might even say it that it could have, in one way or another, had an influence upon my decision to choose this as my adoptive country.

For a couple of years, however, there has been a debate, in many cases whispered and in others a little louder, about whether now is or isn’t the moment to leave the “risk” out of the international publicity that wishes to present Colombia as a viable tourist destination.

I, honestly, until recently was on the fence between both options. In fact being in contact with potential visitors everyday with See Colombia Travel for the last 2 years has given us to opposing messages: one was that effectively, little by little, the number of foreigners that wanted to visit was growing and that interest in Colombia was evident. The second was that the first question for a high percentage of those (around 70%) was if Colombia was a safe country, if they were going to be kidnapped of if they could be caught in the crossfire of the FARC. That is to say, the perception, even though it had improved, still had these caveats.

 

El slogan preciso para el momento preciso.
The exact slogan for the moment

 

However, more or less since the beginning of these year we have noticed a gradual but noticeable evolution in the type of passangers that are getting ready to come. Now they’re not just pioneers, and nor are they those that explore exotic or even “dangerous” destinations. More importantly, they are travellers that expect international standards because, for a while now, they’ve been exposed to the message that Colombia is ready to receive them, and they’re not particularly disposed to allowing the same concessions that the “pioneers” would have.

The message has worked. The campaign “The Risk” seems to have in many ways completed its objective: there is now talk that we don’t have to convince but seduce. This implies another type of risk that we’ll talk of later.

There is another factor in my gradual change of position: time. For everyone it seems it was just yesterday that we heard, for the first time, the slogan about “risk”, but I rememeber in 2009 while in Buenos Aires, while I prepared to go to the office with CNN in Spanish on in the background, that I heard one of the excellent “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay” spots. At this time it already had almost 2 years on the circuit. So, in 2013 we’ve had 7 years getting the same message. All these factors make me lean towards a change. But what change? The challenge was large and complex because tourism, perhaps unlike any other industry has an objective to make dreams and overcome expectations.

When I learned about “Colombia Realismo Mágico” a couple of days before it seemed to me a very shrewed and extremely intelligent choice. After all, it’s a phrase that immediately evokes a great Colombian icon: García Márquez. Not only that, but it takes back the authority and ownership of the phrase for Colombia itself.

It’s very Colombian, it’s very positive, and it’s very evocative. Very good start.

It’s a little soon to make a deep analysis, the pieces that have been presented up to now are impeccably done and visually beautiful, but it seems to me that, on this occassion, there are some difficulties in the execution of them with respect to the central idea and, above all, the ability to complete the promises that they make and whether the message can be effectively conveyed in all media. In that sense the graphic pieces work much better than the audiovisuals, as we see below:

 

Colombia Realismo Magico Posters

 

 

Obviously we must wait to see more examples and the final versions in order to judge better, but for now from the four spots for TV it’s the one from Cartagena that we’ve most liked. It’s also the most literal imagining of the central concept. To see the letters of the book flying through the walled city is a very powerful message; it exudes “magical realism”. However, this doesn’t work so well in the other three spots: in the generic one about the people, the one about the cultural coffee landscape but especially in the one about San Andres and Providencia, there’s a disconnection between the message, the spot and the promises they’re meant to fulfill (which is to say, reality).

 

And this is the risk of the new campaign. We’re not convincing any more, we’re seducing. We’re not telling people to come and discover us, but that we are safe and you can come and enjoy the country. And, being completely honest, I don’t know if we’re prepared, as an industry, to fulfill this promise outside of Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena. How can we be prepared when, for example, in San Andres, which is so often and fervently promoted,the infrastructure is based fundamentally on local tourism and suffers from an obvious lack of international standards; when still in many areas of the country people wrongly confuse sheer friendliness with good service; or when there’s no clear regulation for the classification of hotels, resulting in hotels being labelled and charged as “4 Star” and “Boutique” when they’re clearly not.

There is a clear directive that, in my opinion, should be corrected: not to encourage backpacker tourism. For me, this is a group that not only opens up destinations – in fact they were the first to promote Colombia through word of mouth – but that also evolves and attracts other types of tourists. It says a lot that all the audiovisual spots present couples with a very specific profile, and no individuals or groups. The fact is that it’s not necessary to exclude in order to include others, as is shown in this extraordinarily “inclusive” spot from Brand Perú:

“Colombia Realismo Mágico” is a visually stunning campaign and it will fill those that live in Colombia with pride. The question is how effective it will be for its target group and particularly if those promises that we are making can be fulfilled. For now, all those involved in the industry and those that want Colombia to become a reference for tourism in the region need support this new campaign and to keep working in order to professionalize the standards of service. The objective? To make it so what we promise to our visitors is indeed a reality.

JL

2 thoughts on “COLOMBIA: FROM RISK TO MAGICAL REALISM. THE NEW INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN OF COLOMBIA.

    Sandra on

    Que alegria ver tan hermosa propaganda de mi pais en el tren de Nueva York. Hermosa promocion que nos hace sentir orgullosos de nuestro pais!
    En la escuela de mis hijos vamos a celebrar el dia internacional. Que posibilidad hay de comprar los afiches para mostrarlos este dia.

    Gracias!

    Reply

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