We tried to advertise Belfast ... then the troubles began

Great people, great pubs. But has the city anything else to offer tourists? We asked three agencies to sell the city ... they found it hard going

After 25 years of war there is peace. Now Northern Ireland, and Belfast in particular, is keen to attract commerce and tourism. Belfast is opening itself to the world in the way that Prague and Budapest did at the end of the Cold War. But while Northern Ireland is beautiful, Belfast is not. The north's capital is more Leeds than Prague; a hardworking (when there is any work), hard-bitten town, built on linen mills and shipyards, its bigotry and violence are leavened with the driest, blackest humour this side of Brooklyn.

The city council's brochure, Belfast and Proud, lists the many attractions: the theatres, museums, bars, conference facilities and shopping centres. It even reminds us that Belfast has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and probably the lowest of any European city.

Which is true, if you don't count the Troubles, which the brochure does not mention once in 22 pages. Perhaps the council felt there was no need, as that was all outsiders know about the place.

The political voyeurs have started arriving; there are bus tours of the murals and graffiti. But Belfast remains a hard town to sell.

We asked three leading advertising agencies to tackle the problem. The brief was simple: devise a poster and a slogan to form the core of a campaign to flog Belfast as a tourist destination.

The results are remarkably similar. All three have reverted to the bog standard of marketing Ireland: the crack. Great people, great pubs. And so they are - but for a city desperate to present itself as cultured, modern and European, which would prefer comparisons with Frankfurt rather than Dublin, this familiar portrayal of the joshing, boozing Irish must come as something of a disappointment. As a peace dividend, it seems a rather meagre return.

Chris Willingham

Account director

Saatchi & Saatchi

We did some research to find out what Belfast has to offer in terms of positive attributes such as historical landmarks, cultural attractions, a thriving night life and large expanses of greenery. What shone through overwhelmingly was not something you see but something you feel - the warmth and friendliness of the city.

This has been massively enhanced by the ceasefire and the new spirit of reconciliation. There's a fresh and infectious atmosphere of hope and optimism - history is being made. It's this unique feeling that we've captured in our advertising.

We've understood that the violence that afflicted the city up until August was supported only by a small minority. The majority of the population had no desire to get caught up in it, despite what the media may have wanted us to believe. It's the sentiments of these people that we have tried to represent.

We've deliberately adopted a highly provocative and realistic tone, using the sort of colloquialisms that in the past some members of each community would have abused each other with but, in the spirit of reconciliation, might now be backhanded compliments. What were terms of hatred are now perhaps becoming friendly terms of recognition.

The campaign sets out to dramatise just how friendly Belfast is these days. If such bitter enemies can make friends in Belfast, the visitor most certainly can.

We are inviting tourists to come and see that the people of Belfast do not avoid this issue but, ironically, use it as a means of healing the wound.

Steven Hess

Account Planner

Euro RSCG Wenek Gosper

Despite high levels of awareness of the city and its close historical associations, there seems to be no compelling reason for people to visit Belfast other than to see relatives. Dublin appears to be the number one choice for potential visitors to the island: "It's good fun." However, Belfast is also seen, to some degree, as standing for Irishness - having a good time and drinking.

We have chosen to concentrate on trying to develop Belfast as a short break (weekend destination), aiming particularly at younger adults, aged roughly between 20 and 35. This age group are the biggest users of short breaks. Only 44 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds have never been on a short break, compared with 74 per cent of people over 65.

Some of our previous work indicates that they are also the most adventurous in terms of destination and type of holiday considered.

However, dissatisfaction with short breaks abroad stems from excessive cost and length of stay being too short to be enjoyable. Indeed, some feel they would prefer to stay in this country.

We believe Belfast is ideally suited - it's close to mainland Britain. Among some people, the city is renowned for its friendliness and the liveliness and excitement of its pubs. But in marketing Belfast, we believe that it is impossible to separate the city from the troubles of the last 25 years.

What we have attempted to communicate is a recognition of the city's history portrayed in an honest and witty way. We've mentioned it, without mentioning it. We have built on the notion of Belfast celebrating its rebirth; the message is that you can take part in this piece of history. A good analogy is the fall of the Berlin wall.

Billy Mawhinney

Art director

S P Lintas

I was born in Portavogie on the County Down coast and worked in Belfast until the early Eighties.

I know that the people who live and work there and the people in the rest of the province deserve medals for what they have had to put up with over the years.

I feel it's wrong to attract people who just want to see old sites of ghoulish interest, especially now that everyone is talking about the peace we're trying to achieve.

The people of Belfast are as warm and wonderful hosts as you are likely to get anywhere. They have the capacity to turn the city into a tourist attraction, and I hope they're given a peaceful chance to do it.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news

Sport
footballThe latest scores and Twitter updates from tonight’s games, featuring Bayern Munich vs Man City and Chelsea vs Schalke
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Extras
10 best table lamps
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week