It is no easy feat for a man-made landmark to become a recognizable icon for any destination. We aren’t talking about the next Taj Mahal or Eiffel Tower. But Sydney’s Opera House and the Hollywood sign have become indelible symbols of their respective cities. In the social media age, though, a visual and distinctive civic landmark not only can light up Instagram, but also create an affirmative, positive marketing message for a destination.
While no easy feat, this was successfully accomplished in the Netherlands, where I amsterdam, large three-dimensional letters in front of the city’s gorgeous Rijksmuseum, is photographed over 8,000 times a day.
The bold red and white letters are each six and a half feet tall and the slogan measures 25 yards across. And unlike most landmarks that you passively pose in front of (and often dwarf you, such as the London Eye or the Trevi Fountain), I amsterdam keeps it playful and offers an interactive experience, allowing visitors to climb in and on top of the letters.
Social media has changed destination marketing’s one-way flow of information to a user-generated travel brochure and all tourists are now brand ambassadors.
I amsterdam is successful in this by providing three things:
Offers an attractive visual – something striking for the city that also adds meaning to people’s personal brand stories. Destinations must find ways to get visitors to talk about them in their private social networks. This is about story telling: when travelling, we use photography to tell stories about ourselves.
Enables the perfect photo. Every destination needs that one place-indicative photo. Think of the Arc de Triomphe or Brandenburger Gate. The reason why these structures are photographed and shared on social media time and again is because they contain that “information of place. “
Brings meaning to tourists’ experiences. The I amsterdam sculpture elegantly captures the information of place in a meaningful way. By being able to touch, climb and photograph the sculpture, tourists have a participatory experience with the destination, which is also the brand, instead of something that usually is very abstract and intangible. This brings the brand to life and makes the interaction fun.
The slogan and the sculpture (later followed by merchandise) were launched in 2005. There are now four of them across the city) which “express the diversity, cohesion and individualism of all the people of Amsterdam.” Originally planned to last for 10 years, it has now taken on a life of its own that has gone far beyond expectations.