It has been rightly commented that the main consequences of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in spring 2010 – the closure of airspace in northern Europe and the multiple affectations for the traffic of thousands of people across the continent – did put Iceland on the map.

For many lovers of hiking and natural tourism perhaps not, but for millions of Europeans astonished by the images of the volcanic eruption, Iceland was still that country that in the middle of the financial crisis – October 2008 – suffered the collapse of the main commercial banks of the country and that managed to save the national economy in exchange for letting them drop.

Both facts, the financial crisis and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, are often mentioned when talking about the recent tourist success of Iceland. To complete the frame of the notoriety of this tiny Nordic country it would be necessary, however, to add a third element, and precisely not least: the success of the national football team, both in Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In fact, the “national football-identity” binomial was exploited in a very interesting way by the Icelandic national airline Icelandair in a promotional ad published on the occasion of the 2018 World Cup. The chosen slogan could not have been more successful : “Never stop dreaming”.

The truth is that Iceland, an island with little more than 300,000 people, on 2018 will receive the historic record of 2.4 million tourists. The secret of the equation is multiple, but one thing is clear: Iceland has taken advantage of the situation (economic shocks, unforeseeable natural events and unquestionable sporting successes) to claim its place on the map and reinforce its positioning as a natural tourism destination. 

At the institutional level, the operation started in 2010, after the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, with the “Inspired by Iceland” campaign. His person in charge, Inga Hlín Pálsdottir, lifted it in 10 days. The eruption caused the cancellation of many flights and reservations, and the Icelandic tourism industry, together with the institutions, had to react quickly to redress the situation.

“In fact, that was the first time that many companies joined forces. The campaign [Inspired by Iceland] was a source of pride for them. The government had invested so much money that companies also decided to put the same amount of money. They felt as if it were their campaign”, explained Inga Hlín Pálsdóttir.

The fact is that in a few months the banking crisis and depreciation of the local currency – the crown – led to a rapid growth of tourism. While in 2008 tourism accounted for 10% of Iceland’s GDP, nowadays it already accounts for 40%.

“Inspired by Iceland”

At the internal level, the consequences derived from the increase in tourism have been multiple: from the increase in demand for housing to the restructuring of the labor market. There are voices that believe that the bubble of Icelandic tourism will pinpoint, but the fact is that the international projection of Iceland as a tourist destination has transformed the icelanders’ attitude towards their own representation as a national community and also has impacted the way in which the rest of the neighbor countries execute their promotion campaigns.

Over the years, “Inspired by Iceland” continues to be the paradigm of successful campaigns of territorial image. To make it possible, from the minute 0 the institutions and companies worked side by side, along with the decisive contribution of advertising agencies such as the British agency The Brooklyn Brothers.

In any case, the creators of the campaign are clear that success had not occurred if their own voice had not been given to the companies directly involved in the decrease in visits caused by the volcanic eruption of 2010.

In the words of Inga Hlín Pálsdóttir, “internal communication was very important to us: allowing companies to know what was happening. At that time, we had an integrated marketing campaign and we had the same story in different channels in all countries: social media, trade fairs, television, etc. Sometimes you think you need different messages for different channels and countries, but actually you don’t”.

In the “Creative Brief” portal, the responsible for the campaign explained the path they followed:

The ‘Inspired by Iceland’ platform we created was targeted firmly at the independent millennial traveller, socially engaged, highly mobile and hugely suspicious of traditional tourism ‘advertising’. We knew this audience were the most dubious, led by experiences, digital natives who are much more likely to listen to their peers via word of mouth beyond any other marketing discipline. It was clear, that the paid for advertising approach was not going to cut it with Generation Y. We needed to engage with them in a different way that encouraged them to share their stories, make their own recommendations and ultimately, make their own mind up.

We needed a brand idea with people power at its heart to connect with Iceland’s core target millennials to turn the cycle of negativity on its head and create a virtual social movement of our own. Rather than target tourists, we wanted to stimulate Icelanders to share their inspiring stories with the world.

We created an army of fans that spread news and positive messages across Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo. (…) By the end of the first day 1.5m people had downloaded different videos from the website”.

The results (22.5 million stories published around the world, an interaction with more than 60 million people, a 61: 1 ROI) rewarded a bold and pioneering campaign, which combined traditional advertising with digital media, social media and experiential activation. The campaign won multiple international awards, including Three Lions in the Cannes festival.

The video “Ask Gudmundur”, one of the “highlights” of the “Inspired by Iceland” campaign, portrayed with humor the supposed way of being of the Icelanders while showing some of the country’s dazzling landscapes.

Although “Ask Gudmundur” is a production of 2015, the humorous and uncomplexed tone of the spot has ended up influencing how to represent the country and its people, especially when broadcasters are Icelandic. The influences can be appreciated in pieces like the promotional spot of the Midgard hotel, tourist establishment of the south of Iceland. The profile of the traveler who chooses Iceland as a tourist destination seems to have been thoroughly studied by the hotel team. It is a video that attacks not only local clichés but also plays openly with the stereotype of a family-owned hotel.

In any case, the “Inspired by Iceland” campaign has not only influenced the way in which Icelandic tourist entrepreneurs communicate, but also their geographical neighbors. I could venture that the video “Ask Gudmundur” could have been one of the inspirations of an interesting campaign promoting the Faroe Islands.

3 thoughts on “Territory images. Conjuncture, intuition and long term. Iceland as an example

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