As a child, I only knew holidays in the UK.
The furthest we ever ventured was Guernsey, which to me seemed a world away. And I loved those times. I remember blubbing inconsolably in the car, all the way from a B&B in Herefordshire, to a seaside hotel in Pembrokeshire. Seven days later, I was just as upset about leaving the hotel.
You might think Visit England’s new campaign would re-kindle that nostalgia, and stir me into recreating the magic I enjoyed then, by taking my own family on a UK ‘Staycation’. Funnily enough, on the day it was launched, I was in the market for a week away.
I can’t blame the TV ad for the fact I didn’t even consider the UK, as I hadn’t seen it at the time. However, now back from a week’s all-inclusive at a five-star resort and spa in Turkey, and having viewed the ad a number of times, its message would not have changed my decision. In fact, it’s simply strengthened my resolve to avoid the UK in any shape or form this summer, and that includes holidaying here.
I don’t understand why Visit England want my patronage in 2012, over and above any other year. You’d have thought the fewer Brits clogging up London during the Games, the better. Perhaps they’re trying to clear the airports for the incoming tourists. Or maybe the country needs all the money it can get in these austere times.
If the strategy seems confused, the message, although slickly delivered, has an undertone of bitterness. The celebrity commentators are all on the defensive, each citing a commendable facet of the UK, then polishing it off with a sour ‘you won’t find that in the Algarve, on a beach in the Med, in Corfu, or Crete’ or wherever it is they’re maligning.
For me, though, the main problem with this campaign is it fails to be honest about Britain as a holiday destination. Although with £4 million behind it, it feels cheap, and each of its protestations can easily be countered:
- ‘Why on earth would anyone want to go abroad in 2012?’ Same reason as any year (maybe more so with all the summer’s impending upheavals). It’s fab!
- ‘No passports.’ Since when did passports cause deal-breaking hassle?
- ‘No jabs.’ Neither do you need jabs when visiting the Med, Algarve, Corfu, Crete (all places the ad sends up).
- ‘No visas.’ True, but the cost of my Turkish visa was well affordable at just £10, on top of an overall excellent value holiday.
- ‘No Euros.’ Right now, the pound’s doing well against the Euro, so it’s a worthwhile time to escape and take advantage.
- ‘And there’s 20.12% off.’ I took my family of five to Turkey for less than £1,500. Flights, transfers, accommodation, spa treatment, food and drink included. That’s more like 2012% off.
So let’s be honest about a holiday in the UK, because out of honesty comes simple truths, and simple truths are what the most persuasive advertising always contains.
If you holiday in the UK:
- You’re likely to get heavily rained upon.
- Even if you don’t get soaked, you’re probably going to feel cold.
- It’s going to be expensive in all but the drabbest accommodation, even with a trendy 20.12% off. A weekend in the UK can cost the same as a week abroad.
That said, there is magic to be had in a UK holiday. I know, because I’ve experienced it. And that’s what this commercial should have captured, in the same way that this 1908 poster by John Hassall does, and which is believed to have significantly increased Skeggers’s popularity as a holiday destination.
Remember, the target market is British. One of our traits is that we have a sense of humour. We are self-denigrating. We engage with the truth about our country, warts and all. I feel more empathy with the scenes of washout bank holiday breaks depicted in the inimitable Giles cartoons, than I do with this French polished version of Britain. I want to be in the Giles scene, getting soaked with the Giles family, then thawing out with fish and chips. I don’t want to be in handpicked, celebrity-endorsed film sets.
If this brief had come my way, forced to pursue the strategy of knocking holidays abroad to make UK holidays seem more attractive, I would have responded with Stephen Fry’s own lamenting words at the beginning of the ad.
‘It’s just not worth it, you know.’