Explore the “Carpathian Garden” brand

Has your Romanian friend been somewhat distant of late? Don’t worry, it’s got nothing to do with you. (S)He has just been preoccupied – engaged in a multi-headed monster debate that has been raging across the nation.

Apparently, in its infinite wisdom, the Romanian tourism ministry has attempted to rebrand the country.
(check out the launch event photos here and the pitch presentation here)

The people involved in the rebranding are braving fire from all directions. For instance, many people are incredulous at what €900k pricetag got them. There are contests parodying the new logo/tagline.

But the most ravaging fire is a controvercy surrounding the graphic used in the logo. Accusations of plagiarism have been hurled left, right and center, and while the responsible agency attributes similarities to any other logos to coincidence, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on here. Considering that the contract value was almost €1M, you’d think the least they could do was use original graphics, instead of $50 stock graphics.

In the interest of full disclosure, I never was a fan of TNS (the agency). Even when I knew the research company’s Indian office TNS-Mode, I thought their work was, to put it delicately, sloppy. Nothing has happened since then to change my mind. But this fiasco certainly takes the cake.

Let’s analyze the logo, shall we? I believe it is lame on several levels:

  • Starting with the “unlucky” leaf: What’s with the blue midrib? Right! It represents water. Curiously, the Danube delta and Black sea are not exactly in the vicinity of the Carpathians. And the tagline focuses exclusively on the Carpathians!
  • And that circumflex in â – okay, we get it, very clever, it’s a mountain peak, right? But why in the world did it need to be overshadowed by the Godforesaken leaf?
  • The punchline is truly hysterical: Explore the Carpathian garden. What does that even mean?

  • Okay, so Romania has the Carpathians. Does anybody care? So does half of the rest of “Eastern” Europe.
  • It’s a garden. Lush? Green? The whole nation?
  • Actually, I really struggle with the garden concept. “Garden” precludes natural or organic flavor – it has undertones of cultivation, and artificiality.
  • Exlore the garden? Who explores A GARDEN? The tamest of the tame, or to be more civil, the least ambitious of explorers. I bet you couldn’t lure Explorish with that tagline.
  • But why demonize a particular botched job? The truth is that I am not big on rebranding as a concept. Of all the rebranding that’s done in the world, my guess is that only 5-10% is actually justified.

    Most often when new management take reins, they want to “make their own mark”; rebranding is quicker, easier, cheaper, less painful and more visible than any meaningful changes.

    In India when politicians come to power and haven’t the faintest as to how to address issues or just “govern”, but want to be seen by the populace as doing something, they rechristen towns, roads, universities and whatever else they can lay their hands on. Rebranding is a purely political, or perhaps partly egotistical, venture.

    A nation’s brand, and its graphical representation, seldom need changing. Sure, if you are just coming out of the grips of communism, splitting from USSR, unifying with another country or eradicating disease and violence, there’s a lot you want to communicate and rebranding (or branding) may be needed. But typically it isn’t.

    I still love the 2004(?) video, which, by the way, doesn’t have or need a tagline! If it were upto me, I wouldn’t rebrand Romania. The old logo (the one in the video) is just fine.

    For me, the key is the message. Under the umbrella of a big brand, a variety of messages can be delivered, depending on the application and target audience. In other words, the question to ask is, “What’s the problem we are trying to solve?”

    I remember that a while ago, the Indian government decided that the problem they were trying to solve was that Western investors were conderned about the “dynamic” (euphmism for unstable) nature of Indian politics and government. So, in 2006 they spent a nice chunk of their budget on buying ad-space on a huge billboard outside Copenhagen(?) airport during a G20(?) conference. The moment some of the most powerful Western leaders got out of the airport, they read the inescapable message: “Incredible India – 15 years, 6 governments, 5 Prime Ministers, 1 Direction – 8% GDP growth” I consider this as the best ad that I have never seen!

    At the moment, Romania has its fair share of problems to solve. Not the least of these is the issue of the Roma people. Some Western countries, most notably France, are not only expelling many Roma, but are threatening to block Romania’s Schengen implementation.

    Sarkozy’s “lumping everyone together” is a shame. In fact, as Upsala Nya Tidning points out, it is a complete disgrace.

    Equally true, however, is the fact that Romania can no longer afford to brush the problem under the carpet. Laurentiu Mihu argues in România Liberă that politicians have so far focused on exporting the Roma instead of solving the issue and that now’s the time to tackle the problem head-on. When Slovakia and Hungary wanted to join the EU, they were directed to improve conditions for the Roma. It’s time Romania cleans up its act as well (and communicates it so as to placate any Western concerns).

    If the problem at hand is getting tourists, I’d take a very serious look at:

  • What preconceptions and stereotypes do people have?
  • Which positive stereotypes do I want to reinforce?
  • Which negative stereotypes do I want to undermine?
  • Why do people travel? Why do they come to Romania?
  • Why would I want people to come to Romania? What do I have to offer?
  • As for the last point, I have seen an ad for Seaside Romania, which I really liked. But does Romanian seaside compare favorably to the “beach economies”? I haven’t visited it, but I am disinclined to believe that considering all it consists of is a short strip by the Black sea (as opposed to the more exciting Mediterranian sea).

    And let’s face it – the Carpathians are no Alps.

    I would take a very focused approach to creating a message for promoting tourism:

  • I’d focus on the regions on Transylvania and Moldova
  • I’d focus on adventure, cultural and agro/idyll tourism
  • I would promote adventure activities such as off-road motorbike rallies, mountain biking, hiking etc. The walking trails, stalactite caves, etc shall be part of this message.

    Cultural tourism, I would take up in a major way – promoting cultural aspects such as German, Hungarian, Transylvanian and Moldovan hamlets, peculiarities such as the wooden churches, the painted churches, the black pottery village, the merry cemetery, etc. Forget “The forest of the hanged” for a minute and “sell” Transylvania to Hungarians and Germans. And I wouldn’t even think of leaving out the Cannes streak.

    Finally, I’d develop a somewhat quaint, but growing sub-sector of tourism and “own” it. During vacations, many (not all) people seek to go as far away from the hustle-bustle, pace and noise of modern life, as their budgets and vacation days would permit. For someone who can’t go all the way to Cuba or New Zealand, staying in a remote Romanian village, perhaps participating in agricultural activities, and taking some fresh produce home, may be the perfect getaway.

    As you may have noted, I am not outlining anything novel or revolutionary in my plan. The key is in the executuion and the groundwork. No amount of branding or communication would be enough without a great deal of backbreaking hard work in the background. At the moment, the tourist infrastructure is quite poor – I’ve been to Romania several times, and so far I haven’t seen a single Tourist Information Center.

    That needs to be fixed, without making it touristy – basic things like making trails safer, putting rescue teams on mountains, ensuring cleanliness and sustainability…

    By the way, if you are Romanian, and are worried about the Million Euros paid for plagiarism, seems like all hope may not be lost (yet) – The Economist reports in its alliteratively titled article that tourism minister Udrea has frozen payment till the issue is “resolved”.

    Besides, she appears to believe the old adage “no publicity is bad publicity” as you would be hard pressed not to distill from her remark, “It (the plagiarism controvercy) promoted the brand in a way we wouldn’t have been able to afford.”

    I, on the other hand, think that it could actually reinforce a negative stereotype. But that’s just me.

    What do you think?

    2 responses to “Explore the “Carpathian Garden” brand

    1. explorish August 7, 2010 at 11:43

      Nice 🙂 – thanks for sharing!
      I agree with you on most topics, notably starting with the video :). on the first part, I’m not sure, and would love to hear opinions from people who haven’t heard or seen nearly as much as you did.
      It doesn’t mean I particularly like the tag line or execution, it’s just that… from the way this pitch had started, I feared worse :).

      I’m thinking, communicating can’t be bad if you can afford it, and any message is better than most media exposure the country gets usually – PROVIDED it’s not some stupid headline to shoot yourself in the foot with. To be honest, I’m relieved the headline is not even more prone to parodies.

      I saw how those guys explained the tag line – Carpathians are the strongest positive association with the country, and “garden” is supposed to dampen prejudice of “not being safe”. I think it’s a bit thin, but makes some sense. They may have gotten lucky, if, as I assume, “Carpathian” sounds somewhat intriguing even to people who haven’t heard the word or know what it is – even if they may guess it’s a gardening style :), they still might want to check it out. “Exploring the garden” is indeed a bit of an odd thing to say, but they may also find it intriguing – fine by me.

      The tag may try to be “for the masses”, but I think it’s not, because “masses” won’t give a second thought to what Carpathian is, they’ll go to the Italian/Spanish/Greek/Turkish seaside, period. Which is also fine – we don’t have the infrastructure or the assets to give masses what they want – warm water all summer long, or mass-ive skiing in winter.

      We do have infrastructure to host the few(er) who will focus on the word “explore” and wonder what Carpathian means. You’re right, they’re not the Alps, but if you ask me, for an explorer they actually offer more. We should do that 2000m Carpathian ridge trek once.

      That “cheap logo” story is an annoyance indeed, fitting some of the negative stereotypes, and I agree that in this particular case, bad publicity is actually …bad. Ironically, in this case “the bad” wasn’t even done by Romanians, but by some well-remunerated outside “professionals”.

      I fully back your approach to what should be done, I think Romania is outstanding for the exploring / culturally interested niches, don’t even have to be adventurers, just people willing to step just a bit out of the comfort zone – not even much!. Narrowly targeted communication would do good, just enough to stir some word-of mouth. I thought back these days at how I reacted to “country” advertising – I used to think they don’t work on me, I’d visit countries for other reasons than the fake-looking images they show on TV, but on the other hand, I know now of “Malaysia truly Asia”, and recently an ad for Azerbaidjan attracted my attention, because it was so vastly different to what I expected. So it may work to some extent. (I find “!ncredible India” a very good slogan and spelling, but it was not the one who made me go – it came out after my return from Haridwar, Rishikesh & friends :))

      Curious too what other people think.

    2. the maVerick August 9, 2010 at 23:28

      So, how about:

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