Criticising The Canberra “Human Brochure”

I got a call a few days ago from a Canberra Times journo (Ben Westcott), wanting my thoughts on the “Human Brochure” promotion that ACT Tourism ran a year ago. I didn’t expect my comments to make it into the story – but apparently they did.

Canberra Human Brochure fail

I asked some questions about the promotion from a marketing perspective when it was first announced (and before we found out that we were going on it). It’s fair to say that I was skeptical about it from the beginning. After the trips (we actually went twice, in October and February), ACT Tourism asked for feedback and I took the time to write them a long, thoughtful note. I didn’t hear back from them, which was kind of surprising, but I’m assuming they sent the journo to talk to me because they knew I had some criticisms.

However, let me clarify a few things that didn’t make it into the Canberra Times story.

1. We had a good time. The ACT Tourism folks treated us like royalty. We had zero complaints about our treatment. The hotels were lovely, the food was wonderful and the ACT Tourism crew were friendly.

2. I’m sure most people had a good time. Who doesn’t enjoy a free holiday? That said, while we had a good enough time on the first trip, we seriously were apathetic about going on the second trip. We told ACT Tourism that we had been selected twice and expected them to politely pull us off the second trip. They didn’t. So we went, but if they’d pulled us off, we wouldn’t have minded in the slightest.

3. My main complaint was from a marketing perspective. As I said to Westcott, if I was in charge of marketing Canberra as a tourist destination, I’d be trying to work out what Canberra has that Australia’s other major destinations do not. In marketing speak – what’s your unique value proposition? Why should people spend their vacation in Canberra instead of, say, Melbourne? Yes – Canberra has some nice restaurants and hotels. BUT WHAT ELSE? And please – don’t tell me it has Parliament House. BORING. Or the Australian War Museum which, quite frankly, I found distasteful. I know, I know – they don’t glorify war – BULLSHIT. It’s ALL about glorification of war. If it wasn’t, the AWM would be full of overt messages saying “WAR IS STUPID AND LET’S NEVER DO IT AGAIN UNLESS WE ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO”. Instead the message it projects is “Weren’t those brave Aussies who sacrificed their lives wonderful and shouldn’t we admire their memory?” That’s glorification of war, people. Don’t try to bullshit a bullshitter.

I talked about it with @IanKath during the trip in February and he recorded our conversation.

4. Of course, I wasn’t the only person who wasn’t impressed. Chrissy wasn’t impressed either, but mostly because our agenda was set in stone – and we don’t travel like that. The ACT Tourism folks treated like a typical famil – set schedules to eat, drink, bus, see this, do that, etc. We HATE that. We would have much rather they give us a couple of airfares, cab vouchers, restaurant vouchers, and say “here’s a list of things we recommend you see, but if you’d like to do something else, let us know how we can help”. For example, we wanted to spend a lot of time sitting in front of BLUE POLES – and we did, but we had to sneak away from the group and pay our own money for taxis. Now maybe everyone else was happy with the set agenda – but the first rule of marketing is KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER. They didn’t even ASK us what kind of agenda we’d like. They just assumed. From our perspective, it was a failure.

Anyhoo… we’re not ungrateful. We enjoyed the trip and appreciated the experiences we had. The lesson here (if there is one) is that marketing anything, even a national capital, has to be thought about in terms of WHAT WILL MAKE CUSTOMER HAPPY and WHAT IS OUR UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION?