Why advertising won't save tourism

Paradise?Do you remember back in 2007 when the Puerto Rico Tourism Company announced they were spending half a million dollars on creating a new brand for Puerto Rico? Besides it being a really stupid idea, did you know that they have yet to unveil that new brand?

Why is it a stupid idea? In Online Revealed Conference I had an interesting debate with an attendee about whether advertising worked. Now I admitted that an absolute position such as 'Advertising doesn't work' is unrealistic because it is a gross generalization and simplification of the issue. However, I still contend that the majority of advertising is completely useless.

Once again, Seth Godin put it much better than I could when he recently wrote about "What advertising can't fix." In my opinion, this sentiment describes nearly exactly the mentality behind the PRTC strategy for marketing Puerto Rico.

If you talk to a senior PRTC employee they will probably bring up the number of hotel rooms, the number of flights to Puerto Rico, the amount of advertising they are doing, but I doubt very seriously they will talk about what tourists experience when they visit Puerto Rico.

I know that it must be difficult for most marketing traditionalists to admit that advertising is not nearly as effective as they would like to believe, but it still baffles me how little credence most marketing directors, and especially the current one for PRTC, place in the importance of experience. If it isn't important, then please tell me why most people are insanely crazy about visiting Orlando and Walt Disney World. And plu-ease don't tell me that it's because of marketing. Unless you are willing to concede that the product is the marketing. From movies to DVDs to the amusement parks, everything works together to create an illusion. An illusion that is fulfilled when you check into their hotels or step foot into one of their parks.

Now imagine you are Joe Palooka from Ohio and you've decided to come to Puerto Rico to catch a cruise. You take a taxi ride to the Old San Juan Sheraton and you see buildings with bars on the windows, you see beggars at the stop lights, you see trash littering the streets. There is graffitti on most buldings that aren't covered with a thousand bills advertising everything from the latest politicians to strippers to fumigators. There are a bunch of people protesting and camping at the entrace to Old San Juan.

You arrive at the hotel, check-in, and get settled. You are determined to see Old San Juan and venture off into the streets. There you encounter abandoned buildings, abandoned cars, more beggars, more trash. You are bombarded by traffic with horns blaring from impatient drivers. Most of the citizens you encounter seem indifferent to your presence if not offended by your color and nationality.

Since you are close you decide to go to Escambron Beach, one of the "blue flag" beaches of Puerto Rico. You are let off in front of the beach and the trash cans are overflowing, the bathrooms are closed and port-a-potties dot the landscape. Again, there is trash everywhere; on the streets, in the parking lot, on the sand, and in the ocean.

Once back home your friends ask, "How was your trip?" They press for answers, "How was Old San Juan? It looks so beautiful in the ads." Now I ask you, what do you think Joe is going to say? When he relates his experience to his friends, his family, or his co-workers, what adjectives do you think he will use? Do you think he will use the adjectives that are highlighted in the advertisements or the ones from his personal experience? Ladies and gentlemen, I don't care what statistics you can provide, I'm going to have to go with Seth on this one: "But if it is broken, advertising isn't going to fix it."

Flickr Creative Commons Contributor: Experiencias de viagem de 1 Brasileiro


Luis Benitez

3 de octubre de 2008, 13:31
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100% in agreement sir... and you forgot to say: "when tourists can take a cab, if they are not on strike" :)!

Let's see what happens on Nov 4 and if the winner can do something about it.

MC Don Dees

3 de octubre de 2008, 14:21
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I really appreciate your comment and support. However, I wish I shared your optimism for a potential change in November (January).

In having a conversation similar to this one with a friend, he asked, "Have you ever considered that we like the island the way it is?" This individual now works for the government in economic development. (pregnant pause)

No sir, I'm afraid until the will of the people changes to see how critical it is for us to work together for a better Puerto Rico; no matter who gets into the Forteleza, the result will still be the same.

Don't get me wrong. On November 4th I'll cast my vote, because I believe in democracy. Unfortunately, my vote won't be for someone who I think can make a difference. Now if I could vote for POTUS, I'm quite clear. The country needs Obama!

sin machete

9 de octubre de 2008, 13:26
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Tourism in Puerto Rico? Too observe what? Traffic jams for miles, noise, pollution, a billion pot holes, mutilated trees...

Not a single landscaping worth watching and so on and on..
plain endemismotrasnochado.

Joseph Martínez

15 de octubre de 2008, 13:22
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I wholeheartedly agree with you about the need to improve Puerto Rico's offerings as a tourist destination. Nevertheless, of the tourist areas in the Metro Area, Old San Juan is perhaps the best maintained and the one that offers a unique experience. Now, Condado and Isla Verde are another story, both looking like third rate destionations. If we aspire to charge high prices for our tourism product, our offering should be up to par.


21 de octubre de 2008, 11:56
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It is funny they way you talk about tourism seeing that you also wrote against Figueroa's plans like the one about transportation. "Little" things like that can make a great overall improvement.

Puerto Rico has great potential and it is not being exploited. Why? It costs lots of money. Money that the PRTC does not have(probably wouldn't know how to use it) and the politicians won't designate any funds to this matter because we know that they are assholes.

What we can do is educate the people(puertorriqueños) to feel proud Puerto Rico and recognize it as their own and for those reasons they(we) have to do what we can to make the island better. That way Joe can go back home saying that people were nice, streets/beaches/Yunque clean and the graffiti had cultural meaning.