22 July 2008


No sweat to tell the difference between a public relations professional who knows how to use the tools to do the job compared with well, the opposite.

On the opposite side, we have this ham-fisted piece of nonsense from the company doing advertising for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Incidentally, the ham-fist is not the billboard on the Gardiner.

Then compare it to Joseph Thornley's personal pictures from a recent holiday in Prince Edward Island. Sure he used it as a means to talk about how easily he uploaded the great photos to his blog and to Flickr, but what he is telling is a simple story of someone who went to the Island, had a great time, took gorgeous pictures and then uploaded them to the Internet complete with geotags.

I uploaded about 100 pictures of the attractions and historic areas of Charlottetown, North Rustico Harbour (the epitome of a Canadian east coast village), the beaches and cliffs of Prince Edward Island Park (look for the picture of the fox that trotted right up to our car while holding a rabbit in its mouth) and, of course, Green Gables (if you’re the parent of a girl, you’ll know what that is.)

I uploaded photos from my flickr page directly to PlanetEye. It was simple. Took about 2 minutes for each batch of 20 to 25 pictures. And then the geotagging worked perfectly. I simply dragged and dropped my photos onto a map in the location where I’d taken them.

The difference between the two approaches is a simple word: authentic. Thornley's experience carries with it all the credibility of someone who has actually been there and done it. There's a story to be told here and the pictures are part of the whole thing.

Now theoretically, he could be working for the PEI tourism department or the software companies he mentions but nothing on the site would suggest he is. Ethically he'd be obliged to disclose such a connection and base don a number of factors, including the fact he doesn't comment on the issue, it's a reasonable assumption that he isn't. Note that one of Thornley's viewers chides him about the software developer.

Even after a suspicious mind has gone to that point and returned, you come back to the integrity and the sincerity of the post.

His last line, which will be seen by thousands in exactly the demographic Islanders are looking to hit, says it all:

If you’re interested in an unspoiled place for a summer vacation, take a look at Charlottetown on PlanetEye or at my Charlottetown photo set on Flickr .
A simple call to action - for you marketers out there - and the links are left in it so you can act, just as Thornley would have wanted.

Compare that to the other thing. There was a conventional media story in the billboard. The thing would have to be pitched and worked to get coverage.

A n Internet search turned up this story online, albeit in a media trade publication. There's another mention, again from a trade publication that focus es on the agency and not the client. The Telly had a picture on July 11. Notice this story appeared the very same day as the release, suggesting it was organized ahead of time.

There might be other stuff but it sure as heck isn't turning up online where the video and the story of the billboard had a chance to go truly viral.

If handled properly.

And that's the catch.

This was a potentially hot new media story, completely with daily blog posts about the development, complete with amateur video done by the creators as they were doing it. Three weeks worth of material is stuff most blogs would kill for, especially stuff as compelling as that. When you combine the story inherent in the billboard production with the authentic flavour of a local artist hired to complete the work you have a truly delightful tale that tells itself.

And seriously, except in a world where agency self-stroking is the goal, the trade pubs that showed up in the search are useless to accomplishing the client goal of boosting the number of people who don't usually come this way headed to the farthest eastern airports in the country.

It's not like the record on this over the past couple of years has been anything to write home about, although plenty has been written and spoken at home about it.

Throwing more cash into tourism advertising isn't necessarily the way to go in a highly competitive market at a time when it's tough to get people to travel.

Being genuinely creative in your approach - being authentic - sure can make a difference. As the great advertising persuader put it, authenticity helps break through the wall of cynicism about advertising generally.

It's easy to talk about authenticity, but sometimes it's pretty obvious that some people don't get what the word means.



stephen said...

I'd say the reason they didn't release it on an ongoing basis as it was being painted because the market - Toronto - got to view it every day as the painting progressed and that was the point. Do you really think a "viral" video is released sequentially? Do you think people are going to return daily for THREE WEEKS to say to themselves "Oh Wow! He painted a little more today but I still don't know what it is." They'd lose interest after two days. On the other hand, people are captivated by three weeks worth of material condensed into a 2 minute video - something they will definitely forward to their friends unlike a 5 second daily updatre. Obviously you don't have a clue what "viral" is. Besides, I've had around a dozen people email this video to me since it was released - that's not viral?

Why don't do you stick with what you're good at it - cause advertising obviously isn't your strength.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Toronto is a big place.

Not everyone in Toronto travels down the Gardiner even over the course of three weeks.

Similar billboards were mounted elsewhere.

There was one in Ottawa.

By taking an entirely different approach - using new means to tell the story - you have the potential of reaching more people over a longer period of time, reaching a much wider audience than those driving up and down the Gardiner and essentially putting some buzz and chatter into this.

Several billboard sites? Make the thing part of a larger connected series of events. Use the angle of hand painted work being created instead of mass produced advertising which matches the notion of a unique experience in Newfoundland and Labrador versus yet another packaged tour or a trip to cottage country.

Conventional media have not and likely will not pick this up in a highly competitive market like Toronto, especially now that the thing is done.

They are far more likely to pick up a story based on the sort of novel approaches I described.

As it is, the story is old - at this point - and, from what I have been able to gather, is a pretty hard sell to a GTA newsroom, especially from a distance where there is little in the way of a connection between the person doing the pitching from the east end of Water Street and someone in a newsroom anywhere in the GTA.

Do you have any idea how many stories are pitched in Toronto daily? Do you have any idea what sort of work it takes to get a story - especially one about advertising - in the news in a place where stories about advertising and everything else are a dime a dozen?

You've received it from 12 people. Marvelous, but that's not even close to the sort of travel you'd need to have this take on the sort of distribution of a viral. Sounds to me like what you have there are a bunch of ex-pats handing it around among themselves.

Maybe that's the target audience. If so it worked brilliantly, but frankly, you can get an ex-pat back here for a lot less cash than was spent on this project. Most of them are heading back on their own. The real challenge is to get people who aren't from here to visit. That's basically like the notion that part of the challenge sometimes is to get something that reaches the audience, not the client.

By taking a different approach they could have created something which people who don't already have a connection to Newfoundland and Labrador will pass around and get excited about. The link to the site I mentioned can be passed around. People can join in the creative process on a far wider basis than just the odd fellow who, as in the youtube amateur vid, manages to get out by the side of a busy expressway and shot 40 seconds of video. By pulling people in and making them somehow connected to the experience you have a far greater chance of having them look at all the other stuff you want them to see and then maybe decide to actually come here for a visit.

As an alternative, there is nothing, or was nothing to prevent them from take an approach akin to the one used by Sony for its annual Bravia spots. Tell the story of making the billboard. Be creative.

In short there are great many creative ways of adding to the story of the billboard and using the story to draw attention than the effort made here and beyond that to the advertising campaign.

It's a lovely billboard. Great concept. It just could have used a lot more support than it evidently is getting.

How are things at Web Talk these days?

thornley said...


Thank you for the kind references to my blog post. I took the photos, uploaded them, and wrote the post during a family vacation to Charlottetown. PEI is an absolutely glorious place and I wanted to share my experience with friends and family. And I combined that with the chance to put a Canadian WebApp through its paces. (Yep. I'm an unapologetic Canada-booster. So, I celebrate Canadian successes whenever I can.)

I would have disclosed any business connection I have with the province or the Websites I mentioned in my post. I don't work for them, so I didn't include a disclaimer.

You are absolutely right in your assertion that authenticity and transparency are essential to the credibility of bloggers. I'm always mindful of this. And I'm thankful that I passed the test of your scrutiny.

stephen said...

Just because you did a google search and only came up with one or two hits doesn't mean it didn't get attention - perhaps you didn't notice the 2-3 articles in the Globe and Mail on it (for example).

Ed - you don't get it and you don't know anything about advertising. Stick to what you're good at - self-hate, Liberal Party, cynicism, etc.

Take this line for instance:

Several billboard sites? Make the thing part of a larger connected series of events. Use the angle of hand painted work being created instead of mass produced advertising which matches the notion of a unique experience in Newfoundland and Labrador versus yet another packaged tour or a trip to cottage country.

This is exactly what they did. Because you're literally blind to it doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Your arrogance is stunning. You don't read or listen and as a consequence you think you've come up with original ideas.

Also, I've heard incredible feedback about NL's tourism campaign from Ontario friends and family. I don't get your bit about ex-pats being the target of these ads - again, another one of your arrogant assumptions.

Hey Ed, how many awards have been won for NL's tourism campaign? Also, why are you letting your obviously amazing talents go to waste when you could be making incredible ads? What a joke.

How's Web Talk these days? Why don't you ask the blog owner?!

Edward G. Hollett said...


I started the post as just a mention of your post and the strong features I think it showed.

There is the skilled use of the technology and all the rest of it.

I mentioned the disclaimer part simply because it is an issue from time to time, as you well know. I debated leaving it out but thought it better to kill the idea to rest myself rather than having it pop up later, if someone wished to take issue.

In the end I left it in and hopefully made it clear: the guy's a pro. If there's no disclaimer it's because one wasn't needed.

As I wrote it, the post stood as a marked contrast to another post so I used the contrast to hopefully make a point that is easy to understand: a couple of essentially amateur accounts of a trip can have a disproportionate positive impact compared to conventional advertising approaches. I had previously linked to a video of an iceberg off the coast here as it broke up.

My compliments on your great blog. It's proven to be a great resource and great inspiration. I trust you'll forgive me for using you as a prop, of sorts.

Edward G. Hollett said...


Thanks for wandering over from Web Talk and sharing your comments here versus there. It must be lonely with Myles away for a while. He'll be back soon enough, I am sure, and you can go back to posting there where ad hominem slurs are the regular fare.

In the meantime, though, you've evidently been missing just about everything I've noted in this post, the previous one on disclosure, another couple on tourism trends and Heaven knows what else.

Fair enough. It's your right to ignore the words, make up your own conclusions and then attack me personally rather than deal with the points. Again, as I said, that's evidently what you are used to from the other place.

On the other hand, let's deal with the points. The uptake on this story, even with two or three Globe hits (care to send faxes of them or post links?) is still very small compared to the impact that could be had over a longer time with different approaches.

I've googled as well as called some contacts to see what they know or have seen of the story. There isn't much play, as near as I can tell but I could be wrong. It certainly hasn't come even close - and shows no signs of coming close - to the Nissan X-Trail spot for attention, for example.

That's the point.

In a highly competitive market where the ability to get conventional news media space is limited by the volume of stuff vying for attention, the new media offers a way around the log-jam.

At the same time, the new approaches very often prove to catch conventional media attention once they hit a certain point. The story becomes the story and that in turn carries forward from there.

As for the multiple billboards, you clearly missed my point. Rather than post a produced vid to youtube and to the mynews.ctv site, an entirely creative approach that used new media to augment the traditional advertising would have multiplied the impact dramatically. The evidence is there from countless cases.

I was suggesting a connection between the billboards that would be part of a much larger story that would, by its nature be more likely to capture national media attention.

Some aspects of the ad campaign are quite good and I am sure your friends and family in the ex-pat community like them very much. Mine do as well.

If you don't follow the bit about ex-pats being the target audience for the ads, I'd suggest you read the post linked in this one about the tourism trends. Most of the growth in "tourism" lately has been from people in-province travelling around and that's where a significant chunk of the tourism advertising effort has gone.

It's not too much of a logical leap to think that the ad campaign on the mainland might actually be aimed at pulling home ex-pats than at getting someone born in Burlington to hop a flight to see Gros Morne.

Have you booked your tickets yet?