Yesterday I chatted with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan from ABC Adelaide’s aptly named Breakfast with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan. The topic was the previous evening’s launch of Brand South Australia, a project that I was admittedly pretty much in the dark about.
After taking a quick glance at the logo and reading a few pages on the positioning I plunged in as most talking-heads do – without a clue as to what I was going to say, but with a hope that it’d at least be entertaining and perhaps a little informative for all involved.
I think it lasted about four minutes, much of which seemed to involve Matthew and David explaining some of the work we’ve done to their Australian audience (perhaps because they didn’t know of our legions of fan down-under) and summing up my abilities as a brander with the exclamatory, “You’re evil!” which, given the esteemed reputation I have with myself I can only surmise is Australian for awesome, similar to how Bostonians label everything good as wicked.
So, right back atcha, Matthew and David! Wicked evil!
Anyhow… I shared a couple opinions about the fact that the only thing the logo seems to do well is convey where South Australia is, and if that is the primary reason that people aren’t visiting the area then it’s doing its job well. I also mentioned that the logo was fine aesthetically.
But what I didn’t say is that I don’t think that a disinclination to read maps has anything to do with the troubles South Australia has had in attracting businesses and tourists.
There are plenty of towns and regions that most folks can’t find on a map, and yet many are stacked with tourists every year. We don’t need to know where something is in order to get there. That’s what we pay the airlines and taxi cabs for. I’d wager that 99% of the world’s population couldn’t point to the location of the Sundance Film Festival, but that doesn’t prevent Park City from being overwhelmed by tourists and artistic-types every January.
The new South Australia logo combined with the built in “open the door” messaging conveys a lack of understanding about what brands can do. While it is technically true that in order for any international traveler to get to South Australia they will probably have to open at least one door, a lack of understanding about how handles and hinges work has nothing to do with why they haven’t beaten a path to the region. (And yes, I know it’s a metaphor, thank you.)
Open the Door sounds like a feel-good way to broach the wide ranging possibilities and opportunities of SA, but it’s actually pretty damn tired. Googling “open the door” and “slogan” finds about 6.5 million hits. It’s the sort of phrase that creative types resort to when they can’t come up with a singular compelling reason to engage with their product. It’s a lot like how every business considers using some variant of turning dreams into reality or resorting to other time-tested but valueless positions.
The reason masses of people haven’t visited South Australia is because no one in the region has come up with a compelling reason for the masses (or a profitable subset of the masses) to do so. Pointing out where it is and that there’s lots of stuff to be had in the region that is “Creative. Innovative. Industrious.” is neither compelling, nor unique to the region.
It’s true. A book on religious perspective published in 2006 states, “Americans have historically proven to be a creative, innovative, industrious [...] people.” And the same three words in the same order are used to attract high school kids to the film industry, and to reinforce the moral leadership and eco-political realities of the Philippines. Also, for a limited time only, there’s a company in Atlanta that apparently would like to put all of Southern Australia to work.
Best of all, in a book called Brass Tacks Tips for Business Owners, a chapter beginning on page 111 starts, “Creative, innovative, industrious managers are a hot commodity these days. The owners of companies know that the quality of their leaders determines the success of their ventures.” Replace “managers” with “regions” and there’s your brand! Heck, it even comes with a built-in spokesperson. I found Mr. Andropolis on LinkedIn, whose own summary of his skills is right out of Brass Tacks, making him ideal for the job. Well, except for the fact that he lives in Wisconsin. (Still, you’re welcome, Perry. And I’ll only charge 10%.)
This has all the hallmarks of a brand built by committee. The logo is all about the cartographic location and opportunity (but not conveying what kind, since that would end up peeving some of the stakeholders.) The tagline, “Creativity. Inovation, Industriousness” tries to sell every ingredient of the regional cornucopia at the same time rather than picking what matters most and running with it. And can South Australia truly claim those three qualities more genuinely than Victoria or New South Wales? And if the brand is meant to attract international attention, then how will their claims stack up against similarly positioned heavyweights like England or Switzerland, or even States in the US like California or Arizona? Or Mr. Andropolis?
Brands aren’t meant to be built by groups. They’re meant to be built for groups once a singular goal is identified. It looks like that singular goal was never found and it led to an aesthetically pleasing but mostly meaningless launch campaign that tries to boldly state “we’re for everything and everyone, so come visit us because we’re RIGHT HERE!”
If there’s good news in all of this it’s that most regional brands don’t do much better. Since so few regions are willing to take the risks involved in creating meaningful brands that change the behavior of a target audience, it’s unlikely that the populace will know that things could’ve been any different. The citizens appear to be focused on what the logo looks like rather than what it can do for them – and that might be because they haven’t been told what it will do, so the only thing they have to take issue with are colors and shapes.
Oh, and maybe a few qualms about the stealthy secession of Tasmania from Australia.
Last, the launch did get a lot of notice and press coverage, and now there are hundreds of thousands more people who know where South Australia is. Assuming that Nathan Paine (Executive Director, Property Council of Australia) is correct and, “The ‘where’ is important: the geographical misunderstanding that triggered the state’s search for a new external identity…” is the reason behind the lack of interest in the region, then it stands to reason we should see a huge uptick in tourism and businesses relocating to the region in the next year to eighteen months. The clock is ticking.
Creative, innovative, and industrious operators are standing by.