I was lucky enough last Thursday to see a preview of the TV ads that have been commissioned to help promote Britain overseas as we approach 2012.
Sandie Dawe and Laurence Bresh from VisitBritain (VB) had battled through the driving rain to give me a presentation of the videos which will be popping up all over the world in the weeks to come. These are, in fact, the opening shots in the £100 million campaign that we kicked off at the beginning of the year. Even on a laptop screen where the images occasionally stalled and stuttered, it was clear that this is really good stuff.
More than just castles and cathedrals
They’ve focused it around five celebrities – all of whom have given their time, talent and support for a small flat fee – and each one picks up on a different theme of what makes this country such a fantastic experience for visitors. The men and women who’ve stepped up are Dame Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Jamie Oliver, Dev Patel and Twiggy and all five of them deserve our thanks. Looking at each of them doing their stuff, brilliantly intercut with images and clips from the themes that each represented, reminded me just how strong our tourism offer (to use the expression so beloved of the marketing folk) is. The creative challenge (ditto), of course, in all this is to find images and ideas that get across that Britain is more than just chocolate box castles and cathedrals or, at the other extreme, the excruciating ‘Cool Britannia’ of not-so-blessed memory.
It’s actually about an overall experience which is as much to do with a West Country pub garden on a summer evening as it is about the razzmatazz of Leicester Square when a new film is being premiered. Fishing in a Scottish river, or a night out on Manchester’s ‘curry mile’. The ads get this across cleverly and with considerable style, but also without laying on the clichés with a trowel. Stonehenge and Snowdon, and Beefeaters and Beatles are important parts of being British, yes, but they aren’t the whole story – any more than bang-up-to-the-minute Brit symbols like Gok or the Gherkin might be.
VB are also boxing clever with their placing of the ads. They’ll be seen in our key existing markets like the US and Europe, but also the growth areas for the future such as China and India. They’ve also hooked up with BBC Worldwide so that the ads get shown on BBC World News and BBC America. And, as I said earlier, this is just the beginning. The idea is to inspire visitors to come here and, if it all goes to plan, hit the eye-popping target of four million extra visitors across the next four years, spending £2 billion across the country while they’re here.
Our beaches make the European Top Ten
So I wish the campaign well and look forward to seeing the results which, we all hope, will be measured in increased visit numbers and spending as planned, not just for the next four years but for some time beyond as well. And while they’re here, let’s encourage them to enjoy our beaches too. Now I appreciate that, as a seaside MP, I may not be the most, shall we say, impartial commentator on the delights of the British beach holiday, but I can now point to some hard evidence to support my position. The Guardian have reported that 97 per cent of our beaches have reached minimum EU standards and, even though the beaches of Gibraltar are – rather touchingly – also included in the UK total, this is an absolutely splendid result. This puts us in the top ten for the whole of Europe and, best of all (though don’t tell anyone I said it) the UK comes ABOVE Spain, France, Germany and Italy.
The message for the summer on the UK’s beaches seems therefore to be: come on in, the water (really) is lovely.