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These 10 Wacky Tourism Campaigns Actually Happened

PHOTO: image originally copyright Mellisa Brandts

You should know that these places are okay (I think).

You have to hand it to tourism boards—in today’s fast-paced, content-overloaded world, you must be bold and attention-grabbing if you want to get people to visit. I think it’s safe to say the following boards successfully grabbed attention (but maybe not always for the better).

real lithuania
PHOTO: A. Aleksandravicius/Shutterstock
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Lithuania: “Real Is Beautiful”

WHERE: Lithuania

In Fall 2016, Lithuania’s $193,000 social media campaign, “Real Is Beautiful,” was met with criticism shortly after debuting when it was discovered—by a rival advertising agency, no less—that the images used in the campaign weren’t Lithuania at all, but rather stock images of Norway, Finland, and Slovakia. The ad was pulled, but not before Twitter users had their fun posting photos of destinations across the globe along with copy that incorrectly identified them, followed by “#realisbeautiful.” Shortly thereafter, the tourism department’s director handed in his resignation.

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PHOTO: Screengrab: Graubunden
2 OF 10

Switzerland (Tschlin): Small Town, Loud Phone

WHERE: Switzerland

Tschlin, a small town in Graubünden, Switzerland, was home to an award-winning campaign in 2016 that encouraged people across the globe to call a single phone in the town’s square. With a population of just 166 people, the town is reportedly so small that the whole town could hear the phone ring. The idea was that callers would get a free trip to the town’s region (Graubunden), but only if no one picked up. In the six-day campaign—which was marketed on a variety of platforms including Facebook and YouTube—a reported 30,000 calls were made and a total of 4,000 conversations were recorded.

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PHOTO: VML
3 OF 10

WHERE: Panama

In an attempt to attract more North American tourists, Panama’s tourism board hired an advertising agency who went with a route intended to appeal to the “off-the-beaten-path” traveler. The agency’s creative director told Ad Week, “Panama is for those who don’t want the generic experience. All of the waterfalls and beauty of Costa Rica and Mexico are there, but it’s not handed to you.” So, if you want to be a tourist, but not be a tourist, you should be a tourist in Panama.

real vil
PHOTO: MNStudio/Shutterstock
4 OF 10

WHERE: Vilnius

Yep, Lithuania’s on here twice. This time around though, the campaign’s a little more…original. Last August, just before an official visit from Pope Francis, Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius, ran an advertisement that identified itself as the “G-Spot of Europe.” “Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it–it’s amazing,” read the campaign’s tagline. The advert features a close-eyed woman lying on her back on a map gripping the region.

half ore
PHOTO: Baker County Tourism/flickr
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WHERE: Oregon

Here’s something you don’t hear every day: A textbook rental company convinced a town of fewer than 300 residents to change its name to the name of the company. In 1999, the business, Half.com, struck an agreement with Halfway, Oregon, to rename the town for a year. As part of the partnership, the company agreed to give the town such perks as Wi-Fi, stock packages, and computers for the school. The company, of course, got attention; just a few months after the stunt, eBay acquired it for a cool $300 million.

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PHOTO: Australia.com
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WHERE: Australia

In 2006, Australia released a video campaign that simply asked, “Where the bloody hell are you?” Controversy emerged when many critics questioned the appropriateness of the word “bloody.” The spot was eventually banned in the UK because of the word, and there was even debate among Canadians who balked at using “hell” in a derogatory manner. On top of that, the advertisement reportedly cost $180 million to produce.

real egypt
PHOTO: Sun_Shine/Shutterstock
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WHERE: Egypt

“Is it though?” asked many people when the country’s tourism board launched a social media campaign in 2015. The promo showcased “fun” photos of tourists in the country accompanied by “#ThisIsEgypt” and encouraged people to post their own photos with the hashtag. Many Twitter users found the promotion insensitive and not truthful, considering the country was suffering from widespread terrorist attacks at the time. The campaign completely backfired when said Twitter users included the hashtag along with media and copy that reflected the country’s turmoil.

banff squirrel edited
PHOTO: image originally copyright Mellisa Brandts
8 OF 10

As it turns out, all it takes is one squirrel to make a travel campaign work. In 2009, Banff Lake Louise Tourism realized this after coming across a viral photo of a squirrel that made its way into a couple’s lakeside photo shoot at Banff National Park. The tourism board began to feature the squirrel in most of its marketing, and the little buddy quickly became the mascot of the region.

real rhode island
PHOTO: citizensco/Shutterstock
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WHERE: Rhode Island

Lithuania was not the only destination with a tourism board to promote itself using images of another destination in 2016. In the $5 million campaign, Rhode Island’s “We Are Rhode Island” video used footage of Iceland, and its website even showcased locations in neighboring state Massachusetts. Of course social media was not having it, and a fiasco ensued. The campaign’s tagline—”Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer”—also did not go over well. I mean, cooler and warmer? Huh?

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PHOTO: wikipedia
10 OF 10

WHERE: Philippines

In 2010, the Philippines Department of Tourism launched a campaign that didn’t get off to a great start. Or much of a start at all. Just one week after releasing their “Philippines What a Beauty” project, critics claimed its logo looked strikingly similar to the one Poland used in its campaign. Additionally, the site’s name was reportedly just one letter shy of a pornographic Pilipina website.