Two advertising pros weigh in on B.C.’s latest efforts to sell itself to the world

Tourism report: Two advertising pros weigh in on B.C.'s latest efforts to sell itself to the world

Credit: Courtesy of Bill Cozens and Alvin Wasserman

Super, Natural British Columbia advertising from 1984

Part 4 of the BCBusiness Tourism Status Report takes a look at the province’s branding and marketing efforts

When the province’s tourism marketer unveiled a revamp of its long-running promotional campaignin 2014, the latest incarnation of the storied Super, Natural British Columbia brand faced high expectations. “It wasn’t so much a reinvention as a reinvigoration,” says Marsha Walden, president and CEO of Destination BC.

Created by Vancouver agency Camp Pacific, today’s campaign aims to capture the flavour of B.C.’s natural and built environment, Walden explains. “Globally, travel to cities is strengthening relative to rural areas, so we want to make sure that we’re still connecting our city experience to our wilderness experience,” she says. “So that’s where it started: just trying to re-embed a layer of strong emotion around what that looks like for the western edge of Canada and then connect people to that emotionally.”

Destination BC, which receives a $51-million annual budget from the provincial government, recently relaunched its consumer-facing HelloBC website to let potential visitors from around the world customize their experience. But more than half the people who plan travel begin with a Google search, and they’ll probably look at some 40 sites before making a decision, Walden stresses. “So rather than focusing all our energy on our website, we focus our energy on our web presence,” she says. “Regardless of where people are looking, they will find elements of British Columbia as part of our promotional strategy.”

For an outside perspective, we turned to Noel O’Dea, president of Target Marketing and Communications, agency of record for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism since 2005. O’Dea, whose St. John’s–based firm has won roughly 300 regional, national and international awards for its brand and tourism campaigns showcasing his home province, notes that he doesn’t know B.C.’s target audience or how effective its current branding effort has been. “I’m not being critical,” he says. “These are just my observations in looking at it for the first time.”

About 25 years ago, O’Dea says, he first saw the Super, Natural British Columbia ad showing three killer whales surfacing against a mountain backdrop. The tagline: “So many of our visitors return in Spring.”

“That was a highly memorable and relevant ad to me,” recalls O’Dea, who is also Target’s director of strategic and creative planning. “And it remains memorable because it has such simplicity and strength, and it has an easy-to-understand brand personality and attitude. The words haven’t changed—Super, Natural British Columbia—but the brand personality is much more difficult to decipher.”

O’Dea praises the current campaign’s photography. “And the art direction is very tasty, and it is exceptionally good work.” But for him, there’s something missing. “What I find as an outsider is that it’s kind of self-conscious and reverent in its sophistication,” O’Dea says. “It lacks a personality, and it lacks a certain kind of humanity and emotion.”

Asked what the marketplace thinks, Walden says that Destination BC does baseline and ongoing tracking research around criteria such as travel intentions and what she calls the brand’s emotional and functional resonance. “Our awareness levels are very strong,” she adds. “When we look at our Net Promoter Score, compared to our key competitors we remain No. 1 or 2 in most key North American markets.”

As media channels have changed, so has the way that people around the world connect with content, Walden says. “We find, for instance, in very real-time, real-world testing, that wildlife, not surprisingly, has an enormous draw,” she explains. “And so we use that as a bit of a hook to get people into the broader story of British Columbia.”

Credit: Destination BC

Super, Natural British Columbia advertising from the campaign refresh in 2014

Veteran creative director Alvin Wasserman was part of the second and longest-running team to handle the Super, Natural British Columbia brand, from 1979 to 1992 at McKim Advertising Vancouver. Now chair and chief executive storyteller at Vancouver-based Wasserman + Partners Advertising, he wrote the copy for the whale ad, which was art-directed by Bill Cozens and appeared in 1984.

Wasserman, whose agency is among those qualified to work on Super, Natural British Columbia, admits that he wants it back. When he and Cozens started, all they had was the slogan and some photos, he remembers. The resulting work “won anything it was entered into,” Wasserman says. Along with McKinney Silver & Rockett‘s efforts on behalf of North Carolina, he maintains, “we basically set what became tourism branding around the world.”

Applauding the imagery of today’s campaign, Wasserman thinks there’s room to express the brand more fully. “The thing is not to be on the nose,” he says. “It’s a piece of visual poetry.”

Ideally “it’s one voice, one brand all the way through—one website,” Wasserman asserts. “Mainly they’re trying to harness the power of the Internet and the power of crowd and people talking to each other to inspire people. But you miss that opportunity to strike that beautiful chord, to say, This is the key that Super, Natural is sung in.”

Credit: Destination BC

Super, Natural British Columbia advertising from the campaign refresh in 2014