Desperate times call for desperate measures in Wales, which has
seen its tourist industry go up in the smoke of the foot-and-mouth
No despondency, though, at the Wales Tourist Board, a body whose
reputation for thinking on its feet was recently illustrated by the coup
of putting Anne Robinson in a t-shirt declaring Wales 'open for
Now the WTB is gambling pounds 1 million on a week-long TV burst of the
nearest thing anybody has produced to 'live' commercials in Britain. So
who thought up that one, then? 'I'll tell you if it works,' Roger Pride,
the WTB's marketing director replies, only partly in jest.
Certainly, the situation is no joke. At its height, the epidemic was
losing the Welsh economy pounds 20 million a week. Bookings are still
down 70 per cent at some hotels and bed and breakfasts, with no sign of
a pick-up through the summer and into autumn. As a WTB spokesperson puts
it: 'We have to salvage what we can.'
Although newspapers are used to making fast turnaround TV ads and
Pedigree Petfoods has a tradition for getting its successes at Cruft's
on air in double-quick time, it's doubtful anybody has ever attempted to
produce five 60-second spots, each filmed, edited and screened in a
The idea took root in the depths of the foot-and-mouth crisis seven
weeks ago following a call from the Welsh Assembly. Do what you have to
to rescue the Welsh tourist industry, the WTB was told. But, above all,
The campaign strategy emerged from a brainstorming session. Pride and
his fellow executives knew action would have to be swift and
Assurances from politicians that Wales hadn't closed down were falling
on deaf ears and unless the WTB could win over people by the time they
were making their summer holiday plans in early May, the opportunity
would be lost.
Pride thought the best way to convince would-be visitors was to show
them other holidaymakers already enjoying themselves in Wales.
He approached four local shops. Could they produce a series of 'live'
commercials? Impossible, said two. Golley Slater, where Pride once
worked, foresaw a major problem in getting instant approvals from the
Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre. Its suggestion was a new 'Today
in Wales' format. It got the job.
The plan is a risky one, allowing little margin for error. Digital
betamax units are filming at 15 locations each morning this week. By
lunchtime, their partially edited results, with an introduction by TV's
Welsh-born weathergirl Sian Lloyd, go via satellite to studios in south
London for final tweaking.
The BACC, which is using the campaign to test a new system allowing it
to approve commercials sent via e-mail, is on standby to give the
go-ahead by 5.45 pm. The final version is then transmitted to TV
companies for screening between 9 and 10 pm.
As a safety precaution, a substitute film has been shot for use in the
event of a glitch. 'From a satellite link breakdown to the BACC not
approving a film, there's lots that could go wrong,' Andrew James, the
Golley Slater account director on the business, admits.
Assuming that the operation is problem-free, will it work? 'Given what
they're trying to do, I'm sure everybody will be bending over backwards
for them,' Nigel Foster, European head of TV at J. Walter Thompson,
Also, the WTB's track record for shrewd PR activity and innovative
promotion is impressive. 'It's never had a Procter & Gamble attitude to
advertising,' Shaun McIlrath, the former FCA! creative director
responsible for much of the WTB's previous work, points out. 'It has
always been willing to try something new.'
This week's campaign has the opportunity to build on a promising Bank
Holiday period which saw good visitor numbers at Welsh seaside resorts
and the opening of Snowdonia's footpaths.
The big question is whether screening the five ads only once will
produce a big enough hit to do the job. 'You sometimes need to see
commercials like these two or three times for them to make an impact,'
Tim Page, head of TV at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R declares.
But Sarah Bales, his WCRS counterpart, believes they will stand out
against more highly-crafted ads vying for attention. 'They don't have to
look fantastic, just bring home the reality of the situation,' she
For Pride, born in the Merthyr Valley and a WTB staffer for ten years,
the campaign is part of a labour of love. There are plenty of people who
think they know best about how Wales should be marketed, he says. 'But
not many people get the chance to promote a product they feel so
passionately about as I do.'