We can’t af­ford to say hard cheese to tourism mar­ket­ing

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

BACK in the 1960s, the Milk Mar­ket­ing Board (MBB) in the UK had a prob­lem it needed to solve. De­spite in­creased lev­els of milk pro­duc­tion by Bri­tish farm­ers, sales of ched­dar cheese — one of the main out­puts of milk pro­duc­tion — were flat-lin­ing. The MBB needed to do some­thing to stim­u­late sales by get­ting Brits to eat more cheese ev­ery day. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with its ad­ver­tis­ing agency, J Wal­ter Thomp­son, it came up with the novel idea to sell cheese to pubs.

Long be­fore sand­wich bars ap­peared on the scene and cafe cul­ture en­gulfed so­ci­ety, many work­ing Brits headed to the pub at lunchtime. The idea was to sell these lunch-time drinkers a plate of cheese and bread, often ac­com­pa­nied by some pick­les. Ad­ven­tur­ous land­lords threw in some cel­ery or a tomato. The clever mar­keters called this new gourmet cre­ation the Plough­man’s Lunch and it was deemed to be the per­fect com­pan­ion to a pint of beer.

Within a mat­ter of years, prac­ti­cally ev­ery pub in Eng­land had its own ver­sion of the Plough­man’s lunch and sales of English ched­dar took off. Very soon, peo­ple thought that the Plough­man’s Lunch was a gen­uine clas­sic culi­nary throw­back to more pas­toral times when merry farm labour­ers dined on cheese, bread and beer ev­ery day. The Plough­man’s Lunch was even im­mor­talised in a movie of the same name that was writ­ten by Ian Mce­wan.

It en­cap­su­lated a ru­ral idyll that could have been plucked from a Thomas Hardy novel, but what is in­ter­est­ing is that it was some­thing that pun­ters wanted to be­lieve in. And in con­vinc­ing them of this, the mar­keters had ef­fec­tively reimag­ined their own ver­sion of his­tory.

In other words, it was a tri­umph of mar­ket­ing over re­al­ity.

Most mar­keters will agree this is a dif­fi­cult thing to achieve and even harder to sus­tain as it re­quires a sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment. But I was re­minded of it on a flight from New York to Dublin last week when the el­derly pas­sen­ger sit­ting be­side me ex­plained how ex­cited he was to be vis­it­ing the Wild At­lantic Way and once that was out of the way, he in­tended to head on to Ire­land’s An­cient East.

While I hadn’t the heart to ex­plain to him that he was just vis­it­ing two parts of Ire­land that have al­ways been there but had been care­fully di­vided by a team of clever mar­keters and con­sul­tants, he clearly be­lieved that he was vis­it­ing two coun­try-sized theme parks that were around for years.

And, of course he was right, but thanks to some mar­ket­ing wiz­ardry, mid­land coun­ties that may never have found their way on to a list of ‘Top 10 Fun Places in Ire­land’ were now part a much more ex­cit­ing and mar­ketable propo­si­tion called Ire­land’s An­cient East.

While it’s easy to be cyn­i­cal about this spa­tial sor­cery, it has worked won­ders for the Ir­ish tourism in­dus­try and it un­der­lines the hugely im­por­tant role that mar­ket­ing plays in bring­ing tourists to these shores. Lest we for­get, ap­prox­i­mately 10.5 mil­lion over­seas vis­i­tors chose to come to Ire­land last year, de­liv­er­ing rev­enues to econ­omy of about €5.4bn.

To the credit of agen­cies like Tourism Ire­land and its in­dige­nous coun­ter­part, Failte Ire­land, the tourism in­dus­try has had its game face on for the past few years. Only last month, the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s Global Travel & Tourism Com­pet­i­tive­ness In­dex ranked Ire­land as num­ber three in the world, out of 136 coun­tries, for ef­fec­tive­ness in mar­ket­ing and brand­ing when it came to at­tract­ing tourists. Not bad for a small weather-chal­lenged coun­try oper­at­ing in a very highly com­pet­i­tive and cut-throat mar­ket­place.

But there is no room for com­pla­cency. While it is nice to pat our­selves on the back oc­ca­sion­ally, the same WEF re­port pointed out that Ire­land ranked a poor 49th when it came to the per­cent­age of gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­ture al­lo­cated to tourism and travel. For a sec­tor that em­ploys 220,000 work­ers — but has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate many more jobs — this is wor­ry­ing.

Tourism Ire­land alone has seen its over­seas mar­ket­ing bud­get slashed from slashed from €62m in 2008 to €36m in 2015, al­though it had a lit­tle bit more to in­vest in 2016.

De­spite this mas­sive bud­getary cull, Tourism Ire­land has still man­aged to de­liver record num­ber of tourists. But there will come a point in time where it will not be able to com­pete ef­fec­tively with coun­tries that have bet­ter re­sourced mar­ket­ing cof­fers and vis­i­tor num­bers could be im­pacted sig­nif­i­cantly. A re­duced mar­ket­ing spend in the UK dur­ing 2016, for ex­am­ple, trans­lated into a de­crease in the num­ber of Bri­tish vis­i­tors com­ing here in the first quar­ter of 2017. This is not good news for the sec­tor, par­tic­u­larly with Brexit looming large on the hori­zon.

But as the Bri­tish Milk Mar­ket­ing Board found back in the 1960s, a sus­tain­able mar­ket­ing cam­paign that de­liv­ers re­sults re­quires more than just a com­mit­ment and an act of mar­ket­ing sor­cery: it re­quires a sub­stan­tial and on­go­ing mar­ket­ing in­vest­ment if it is to de­liver the goods, or in our case, much needed tourists, jobs and rev­enues to the ex­che­quer. Contact John Mcgee at john@ad­world.ie

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