BY MARIA TITIZIAN
Having been on the receiving end of discrimination, I normally refrain from passing judgment on any other country or nation. Sometimes, however, inappropriate decisions and lack of taste leave the door wide open for commentary and scrutiny.
In January 2013, the UK was considering running a campaign in Romania and Bulgaria entitled, “You Won’t Like it Here” to discourage immigration from those countries. Many Romanians were incensed at the tactless initiative but one newspaper in Bucharest, Gândul decided to turn the scheme on its head. The paper launched its own campaign in response to the Brits, entitled, “We May Not Like Britain, But You’ll Love Romania – Why Don’t You Come Over?” Last week, the campaign won the Gold Award at AdStars, Asia’s biggest advertising awards festival.
As part of their campaign, Gândul placed ads on Facebook and invested in some outdoor media platforms in London drawing comparisons between the two countries. Here are some examples:
“Our draft beer is less expensive than your bottled water.”
“Here we celebrate Valentine’s Day twice. Yours and ours.”
“Our air traffic controllers have seen snow before. They were not impressed.”
“Half our women look like Kate (Middleton). The other half like her sister.”
“We speak better English than anywhere you’ve been in France.”
“We serve more food groups than pie, sausage and fish and chips.”
Hundreds of media outlets around the world covered the response campaign by the Romanians and almost overnight instigated the biggest image promotion for Romania, worth close to 2 million euros in free advertising for the country. The newspaper’s readership increased by 30 percent, their Facebook engagement rate hit a record 37 percent, Facebook’s “talking about this” grew by 137 percent and impressions on Facebook hit 2.1 million in Romania alone.
The moral of the story? Use intelligent humor as a tool to hit back when you’ve been collectively slighted. This may not always be the antidote but it sure can make things happen.
The other lesson to draw from this media campaign is the importance of how you brand and market a product, in this case, a country.
While we complain and gripe, myself included, we overlook the potential of branding our country to encourage a different kind of tourist and a new level of tourism, in turn creating jobs and opportunities which can be so vital to the economic development of Armenia.
I am sure that within and beyond the borders of the republic, we have experts in marketing, advertising and promotion. What a novel idea it would be to pool our collective resources and networking capabilities to place Armenia on the map. We always talk about our huge global capability and network, now would be the time to put our collective money where our mouth is.
Armenia has many hidden treasures, ones that even those of us living here overlook because we’ve become cynical or because we simply haven’t been there yet.
This past summer I traveled to the city of Berd in the Tavush marz for the first time ever. We had gone there with a team of reporters to cover the 2nd annual Honey and Berry Festival for Civilnet. I had been as far as Goshavank before but had never been to Ijevan, the administrative capital of Tavush and certainly not to the surrounding villages, some a few hundred meters from the Azerbaijani border.
As we drove into Ijevan, I was struck not only by the landscape but by the difference and variation in the foliage from other parts of the country. As we made our way to Berd I was taken by the beauty and bounty of a region that was a mere three hour drive from Yerevan.
On our way back home from Berd, we were advised to take an alternate route through Chambarak. We were told the road wasn’t too bad, but the scenery was glorious. The road was very bad and as for the scenery, I don’t think there is an appropriate word, adjective or phrase in the English language to describe the utter beauty of the alpine meadows and rolling hills. As we drove through isolated valleys and mountain ranges, there was not a single village in sight. The meadows appeared to be draped in a thick green carpet while the bumpy and unpaved roads seemed to crawl along peaks of mountains that collided with misty clouds. We would occasionally see shepherds herding their flocks of sheep or herds of cows. Idyllic, tranquil and simply spectacular… a small piece of heaven on earth.
The marz of Tavush has some spectacular offerings for tourists, including the churches and monasteries of Nor Varagavank, Khoranashat, Shkhmuradi, Srveghi, Kaptavank and Voskepar, Goshavank and Haghartsin to name a few. The city of Berd is located near the 10th century Tavush fortress with spectacular vistas that can take your breath away. The region has an abundance of rivers, mountain springs, mineral water springs and small lakes. Almost half the marz is covered in thick woods and lush forests making you feel as though you have been transported back to a time of pristine beauty when ugly Soviet architecture was not yet envisaged by some anonymous uninspired architect.
What the region lacks in development is made up by its natural splendor. But beauty without substance, i.e. proper infrastructure, facilities, developed eco-tourism and well-defined comprehensive policies does not translate into progress. One of the main objectives of the Honey and Berry Festival this past summer was to encourage development and tourism in the region. While some cities like Dilijan have several hotels and bed and breakfasts, the rest of the marz is sorely lacking in those amenities and services. Coined as the Little Switzerland of Armenia, it is a shame that it continues to remain outside of development processes. If there was an initiative to create the facilities, with the proper branding and marketing, Tavush should and can become one of the real gems of Armenian tourism.