Selling the American Dream, or Dreamerica, to travellers. How hard can it be? Haven’t movies and megabrands already ticked that box? Not necessarily so.
The recently-created government entity Brand USA and JWT New York had a monumental challenge here. Just where would you begin in marketing one of the world’s most contradictory, polarising, and all-pervading cultures?
The solution is a panoramic campaign that seems to borrow (appropriately) from Whitman – that great American poet of freedom and acceptance – as it attempts to experience America through the eyes of others.
“I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman, Song of Myself – Leaves of Grass
You can’t please all of the people all of the time, especially with tourism campaigns – with a country’s own citizens often being amongst the fiercest critics, let alone anyone within the advertising community. New tourism spots tend to be judged harshly: deemed to be way too “this” and not enough “that”.
How a culture thinks it is seen (or should be seen) can, itself, be a very divisive topic – not made any easier on the back of the travel sector’s worse decade in many years.
The period of time since the September 11 attacks has been referred to as the “lost decade” for the U.S. tourism industry.
So, it’s within the context of a troubled ten years for America (at home and abroad) that this campaign has tried to listen to the rest of the world before reaching out accordingly.
Land of Dreams is targeting the following 10 countries, over three phases: Japan, Canada, the UK; Brazil, South Korea; China, Germany, Mexico, India, and Australia. Extensive research and testing was undertaken by JWT’s global network within each of these selected markets and has helped inform the videos’ visual style and content.
So what are they selling? The “Land” or the “Dreams”? Both. In America, they’re inextricably linked. Inseparable. One sells the other.
Clearly, the big promise here is “cultural diversity and acceptance”. The clip is dripping with warm and fuzzies but not in the “Mom and apple pie” kind of way you might expect. No, it’s all about “the visitor” – along with the suggestion that this Promised Land of one’s dreams still stands for the freedom to express yourself and to choose your own destiny.
In “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare”, Henry Miller wrote that America is more of an idea than a place. Some years later, he had this to say about the link between travel and transformation:
“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.” – Henry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch
The song “Land of Dreams” was specially penned and performed by Rosanne Cash – Grammy award-winning songwriter and daughter of music legend Johnny Cash. Helping her perform it, among others, is American-born Brazilian singer, Bebel Gilberto, along with Tex-Mex and roots-rock veterans Los Lobos.
Even the music has copped criticism with some claiming it’s a little too simplistic or anthemic. I believe the song IS the right fit. There are those who wince when they see an acoustic guitar or hear anything sung in a cheerful major key. They say it’s too country, too folky, too… whatever. I tend to think the music is appropriate for the product – especially given the selected scenery.
What did impress me, aside from the inclusiveness, is the sense of humility and restraint – and from a culture not really renowned for either.
The “welcoming approach” probably owes a lot to the warmth of the song and the heartfelt delivery from Rosanne Cash. [The practical reality, of course, is that it’s another kind of “cash” – in the form of a weaker greenback – that’s making U.S. travel more appealing for the rest of the world these days. So the campaign’s timing is right on the money, too.]
Land of Dreams includes a mix of 60, 20 and 15sec spots, print, outdoor, as well as a major online presence and social media strategy. Visitors are driven to an impressive website with detailed destination content provided from the book “1000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die”.
Despite the encyclopedic nature of DiscoverAmerica, another point of contention amongst critics surrounds which cities and regions – of which there are many – got the lion’s share of the attention in the full-length video. Yes, New Orleans (and surrounding bayous) feature quite prominently which is not unusual given that it’s as much a cultural melting pot as New York.
New Orleans is also a city sending out the message that it’s well and truly back in the tourism business after the devastating floods and indignities of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In showcasing New Orleans, the tram footage features one of the 35 historic “trolley- or streetcars” still operating there. The St. Charles Avenue Line transports passengers down through the architecturally attractive Garden District; and, it’s here you’ll notice…
…the tram they chose to film was #910 – as in the day before that fateful date. It’s almost as if the ad is saying “we’ve healed and we’re just as strong as we were BEFORE 911”.
There’s other subtle symbolism throughout the vision, too – whether intentional or not, who can say. For example, in New York, as the camera pans around the musicians playing harmoniously, “bridging the cultural divide” as it were, there’s a nice transition between the harp-like “kora” instrument and the suspension cables on the Brooklyn Bridge. (“How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!” was how the poet Hart Crane once put it.) Yes, bridge metaphors are quite powerful.
Some of the most stunning imagery comes from the Zen-like beach art of Jim Denevan, in San Francisco.
I wouldn’t be surprised if ALL of these “culturally-significant themes” are meant to be here: the spiral as a symbol of rebirth and/or spiritual journeys, the recurring bridges, the use of colours, the emphasis on displays of affection, the extended families and friends “brought together” at the Long Lunch table, and so on.
Is there a lot of “strategy on paper” here? Certainly. Are the transitions a bit clunky in parts? Sure. Should they have used some longer cuts – especially more than two second’s worth for the entire Rocky Mountains region? Absolutely! But…
…I think, with the full-length version, they’ve looked beyond particular zip codes and itineraries in an effort to get the overall lovin’ feeling right.
To this end, they’ve also avoided (at least some of) the expected clichés and strived to hit the mark “tonally”. And, in advertising circles, “tonality” isn’t always seen as edgy or clever enough, but it can sometimes be the right way to go for an effective result.
Although I’m left feeling a bit ambivalent about the video, it’s only one aspect. Overall, I see merit in it. America, that is. The campaign. The place. The idea. This would’ve been a very tough brief for (apparently) an even tougher client. See behind the scenes in the Making of Land of Dreams
What are YOUR thoughts on the campaign? Or on tourism campaigns in general?
Australia’s different approaches, over the past decade especially, have also been cause for debate – anything to add?