Fantasy Tourism: New Zealand Embraces the Hobbit

October 23, 2012

New Zealand is putting its pop cultural capital to work with their new marketing campaign, New Zealand: 100% Middle Earth. 100% Pure. Watch it here. As home to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the soon to come Hobbit Films, New Zealand’s new tourism commercial combines fantastical imagery and an overly imaginative history that boasts New Zealand as “A land where giant eagles once guarded the skies,” “Where creatures dwell in ancient caves,” and “Where you can play on mountains protected by gods.” This bold take on destination travel begs a very interesting question: Is there room for fantasy in destination marketing?

With the incredible size of the LOTR films, not to mention the literary relevance of the popular novels turned into even more popular films, as well as the iconic mountainsides, hobbit villages and massive set pieces built into the landscape, it only makes sense that New Zealand embrace these picture perfect tourism locals and cultural real estate as assets, complete with a built in audience. New Zealand is indeed a unique case, but I wonder how other destinations might translate this unique value proposition and embrace the fantastical?

A rather unsuccessful variation of this fantasy concept is the new campaign for Peru Tourism titled: Peru: Empire of Hidden Treasures. Watch it here: The spot presents Peru as an “ancestral culture, chosen by Gods to harbor one of the greatest civilizations in the history of man.” Packaged in the guise of a movie trailer, the spot is structured as a campy, hollywood blockbuster, complete with deep voiced narrator. Though it tries very hard to hit the right beats, the epic nature of the voice over doesn’t quite suit the visuals and, in fact, feels a bit like a mockery of Peru, instead of a breathtaking visual tour that evokes a desire to see it in person. In short, it seems as though it is simply trying too hard.

It seems that these high concept, fantastical campaigns come in direct response to what has been a growing and very popular trend of creating very true to life, dare I say documentary, journeys told as compelling cinematic stories with emotional hooks and raw, naturalistic visuals. A very successful example of this, in this writer’s opinion, is the Incredible India Campaign in which a lone backpacker fumbles through remarkable day to day experiences while traveling on foot, on camel, on motorcycle, on river raft and on elephant. You can watch it here. It’s hard to resist to the down-to-earth comedic charm mixed with breathtaking landscapes and unheard of experiences. Though this vacation experience is not for the faint of heart, but rather a dirty, gritty adventure, it still speaks to this idea of relatable experience. But as more and more travel brands begin to duplicate this documentary feel, the creative real-estate may begin to wear thin, leading quite naturally towards a need for the fantastical.

In this great effort to convey value, New Zealand appears to have adopted a seemingly false history, mixing in the pop-cultural folklore of the Lord of the Rings with some of their own culture and folklore. This cultural mash up seems only acceptable because of how powerfully The Lord of the Rings infiltrated our culture in general. The campaign successfully plays upon the viewers pre-established interests, and manages to retain a sense of truth, despite its fantastical elements. This is a truth sadly not evident in Peru’s campaign, and it appears that the success of creatively manipulating and presenting a destination’s culture and history relies not in the conception, but in the execution. No one will complain about a creative photo editor combining the perfect sky from one photo and the perfect beach from another if the image is beautiful in the end and conveys some measure of emotional truth.

I see New Zealand’s successful campaign as opening the gateway to some very interesting possibilities where destination marketers reach deep into the cultural heritage and folklore of a destination to find fresh, creative messaging, and harnessing the magic of great cinema, present these ideals in exciting ways.

After all, what is this idea of travel if not a culmination of moments and feelings that live deep in our imaginations? We still want to believe in far off lands we have not seen, where we will likely have experiences we cannot quite articulate. We want someone to tell us that these places still exist. That we, in fact, have not seen it all. And where some are moved by the illusion of love and adventure on a sun drenched beach at dusk, some are moved by the fabled history of hobbits nestled peacefully in a country hillside.

About Tambourine: Tambourine is an ROI-obsessed marketing agency driving demand, revenue and brand awareness for travel and leisure clients since 1986. The Company creates inspiring digital experiences and engaging campaigns that produce measurable results. Based in South Florida and New York City, Tambourine recently received Gold and Platinum Adrian and Magellan awards, the largest and most prestigious travel marketing competitions, representing this year’s top marketing campaigns from across the global hospitality industry.

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