Skift Take

WIthout official ties to the government, the grassroots campaign could fizzle out as quickly as it exploded; or the spontaneity of the organic movement could be exactly what keeps it alive to accomplish its goal.

Colombia is the name of a country. Columbia is the name of a university, sportswear brand, and city in South Carolina.

That’s the seeming simple message behind a social media campaign that’s received 7,354 Facebook “Likes,” garnered celebrity endorsements, and engaged more than one million people in over 50 countries in just two weeks.

It’s Colombia, Not Columbia was a last minute campaign cooked up when Colombia-based digital service company Zemoga and public relations firm Compass Porter Novelli were asked to present at Social Media Week New York.

The Facebook page asked people who felt an affinity with the South American country, felt frustrated with the mispronunciation and misspelling of its name, or were just sick of Pablo Escobar references to take a picture with the above t-shirt.

“We created the campaign to prove that social media is the most important tool to change the perception of a country,” says Carlos Pardo, a Vice President of Zemoga.

The campaign hit a cord with Colombians and non-Colombians around the world who are taking the opportunity to use a fun slogan to address a very real misperception of the country.

“It’s been a success because of a patriotic sentiment, because of celebrities that have helped us push the message and by the creativity and humor we have put into our print ads on Facebook,” says Rodrigo Salazar, who runs the campaign’s Facebook account.

Two actors Manolo Cardona and Juan Pablo Raba are just two of the Colombian journalist, fashion designers, and artists to join the movement:

The team was sponsored by Colombia’s official brand Marca Pais to come to New York, but will move forward as an independent grassroots campaign with no ties to Proexport and the Ministry of Tourism, the organizations responsible for promoting tourism to Colombia.

The government’s latest rebranding initiative “La respuesta es Colombia” launched in 2012 with a similar goal on updating the world on the current state of Colombia.

Colombia’s fledgling tourism industry

Tourism to Colombia could use boost from better country branding. Although Medellin has evolved from one of the most dangerous cities in the world in 1987 to one of the top three most innovative cities in 2012, travel accounts for just 5.3 percent of Colombia’s GDP.

Based on Bloom Consulting’s annual country branding report, the economic performance of Colombia’s tourism industry and strength of its brand remains far below that of regional competitors Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Guatemala.

Another report on tourism in Colombia published by the UPenn Wharton School’s online business journal said in early January 2013:

If this resource-rich, well-located, mountain-Pacific-Caribbean paradise wants to draw the international capital influx of which it is capable, it must communicate the fact that it is one of the safest and most diverse destinations in 2012 and make potential travelers positively perceive that fact.

Could a creative social branding campaign started and shared by the country’s citizens, not a top-down government initiative, be the thing to do that?

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Tags: branding, colombia, facebook, social media

Photo credit: Brightly colored t-shirts reading "It's Colombia, not Columbia," are the core of the campaign.

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