How Not To Fall In Love With Warsaw

Warsaw uses a Salsa dancer to promote itself as a city full of Latin American charm. Is Warsaw derailing its brand image irreversibly?

If you owned an Italian restaurant, would you give out pamphlets saying that you make great Indian food? Imagine the following example: “Come to La Gondola: where you can enjoy the best Chicken Tikka Masala in town”. Seems somewhat… lunatic, does it not?

It doesn’t take much thought to understand why this is a bad bet. If you were looking for a place to eat, you’d go to an Italian restaurant if you were craving for some good pasta, or to an Indian restaurant if you were in the mood for something more spicy. But why on Earth would you go to an Italian restaurant to eat Indian food, when the real thing is just around the corner?

Obvious as this may seem, we’re baffled to find out that this isn’t plain to all. There’s people that seem to think that it’s much better to masquerade yourself as something else, rather than relying on your true strengths. Authenticity be damned, bring out the Carnival!

It’s this innovative view that produced this ad, where we meet Cris De La Pena, a Latin dance choreographer, that has danced “from Chile to New York” until finally arriving in Warsaw. Amid plenty of Salsa footage, Cris tells us that what he loves living in Warsaw, where he found “amazing opportunities, like, people”. In the end, a voice-over informs us that “Latin America and Poland have more in common than you think.”

The video closes with a Miró-like drawing (reminiscent of the one used in Spanish Tourism campaigns) with the tag “fall in love with Warsaw”. But how exactly could we “fall in love with Warsaw” if we’re being introduced not to the Polish city, but rather to a sort of Cuban resort in Eastern Europe? Even the logo points to Spain.

This video presents us not with reasons to travel to Eastern Europe, but rather to the Caribbean. From this ad, the only thing that would make us want to go to Warsaw rather than to Havana is that, from Europe – the campaign is aimed at the European market – it’s much closer, and cheaper. But is this really how Warsaw wants to position itself, as a sort of discount version of a Caribbean resort?

Las Vegas, for instance, relies on this positioning, offering Venetian canals and several mock European monuments to Americans unable or unwilling to go for the real thing. In Authenticity – What Consumers Really Want, the authors tell the story of an American woman who, upon the Grand Canal in Venice – that’s Venice, Italy -, found herself extremely disappointed, as she though the one in The Venetian hotel – in Las Vegas – was much better than the real thing.

But the thing is that Las Vegas is not so much a city, but rather a sort of livable amusement park for adults, at least since Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo 60 years ago. So it’s OK for Vegas to position itself in this sort of Fake-Real way.

Warsaw, by contrast, has been evolving for more than 700 years. Ever since Napoleon invaded Russia (and even before), every major European conflict for the past 200 years has left its mark here. It was the home of Chopin. And, more recently, it played a crucial part in Cold War era politics. Does it really need a Salsa dancer to talk about it’s “passion”?
The good news for Warsaw is that this unfortunate campaign just ended two days ago. The bad news is that the people behind it may very well think it has proven a success, and come back for more of this terribly misguided positioning.


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November 2008
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