The multi-year "Holland: The Original Cool" tourism campaign is a lesson in modern video storytelling, incorporating long- and short-form content pushing both national and local messaging. It also shows the value of taking risks to engage audiences with branded content.
Holland has raised the bar for tourism content marketing with a new 17-minute short film capping off the Holland: The Original Cool video series launched in 2013 to help increase U.S. visitation.
Aside from its length, “The Tale of Kat and Dog” is also unique in tourism promotion based on its storyline about a young American female named Kat. During a business trip in Amsterdam, she’s tormented by memories of her dead brother who had always dreamed of one day visiting Holland.
The short film and 16 Holland Cool marketing videos preceding it would typically have been overly expensive for the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) to produce on its own. To gather the necessary resources, the NBTC formed the Holland Marketing Alliance in partnership with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and Amsterdam Marketing — all of which are striving to boost U.S. traffic.
The creative direction behind the Holland Cool content focuses on American travelers who think hipster-friendly cities such as Portland and Brooklyn might be cool. The videos, however, point out that the Dutch have been celebrating artisanal food, craft beer, one-speed bikes, and authentic local culture since the 1700s. Hence, “The Original Cool.”
To bring that to life, the new short film revolves around Kat chasing a dog throughout all of Amsterdam after the dog grabbed a ball out of her purse. The ball had once belonged to Kat’s brother, symbolizing his presence in the city.
The film scenes, for the most part, shy away from Holland’s iconic attractions to deliver a more local narrative. Instead, they’re filled with imagery of dynamic street art, quiet cafes, contemporary and adaptive re-use architecture, and creative people living hipster-y lives in all of the different local communities.
Just like Brooklyn, except with stroopwafels.
“When we started this campaign back in 2013, we really wanted to produce a visual storytelling platform that took video to the next level and didn’t just rely on beautiful imagery like a lot of other brands,” said Rosina Shiliwala, director of NBTC North America. “We wanted to stand out in the U.S. market specifically by being fresh and different, and we did that right from the beginning with the first Holland Cool video that went viral with over a million hits.”
This year, the NBTC wanted to make a statement. The goal of Kat and Dog is to show off Amsterdam’s eclectic neighborhoods outside the canal zone with a sweeping love story to the city that captures the essence of all the previous video content.
“We wanted to create a deeper story and that’s something you can only do with longer form content,” Shiliwala said. “So we developed the main character Kat as a typical New Yorker who happens to be in Holland on business, and who Americans can relate to, but she’s really experiencing the destination in a not-so-typical way. That helps people get new ideas about how to explore Holland for themselves.”
Differentiating The Dutch Destination Brand
Shiliwala told Skift that she never expected the viral popularity of the original brand video worldwide. That early success inspired the Alliance to produce all of the subsequent videos that dived into niche travel experiences focusing on art, food, culture, and recreation.
Since the Holland Cool video series launched in 2013, inbound U.S. arrivals have jumped 7, 5, and 4 percent each year from 2013 to 2015 respectively, and 2016 U.S. traffic is up 15 percent to date.
“Of course we can’t tie the increase from the U.S. market just to this campaign because there are many factors, like the euro, but we do feel we’ve shifted Holland’s brand awareness and we think that has impacted the U.S. market,” Shiliwala said.
She added that all destinations are trying to drive repeat visitation and disperse the visitor experience by highlighting local neighborhoods and authentic experiences beyond the tourist hot spots. But what’s different here is the extended length of the multi-year campaign wrapped in a singular bold message with a series of episodic video storytelling targeting a specific source market.
That costs money.
“We were really lucky to have this marketing partnership because we were able to cover all the bases and continually build on everything that we covered the year prior,” Shiliwala said. “I don’t think that’s something we could have accomplished with a single-year campaign, so we’re fortunate that our partners invested in this over the long term.”
The challenge, in fact, wasn’t bringing the coalition and the funding together, but there were creative concerns about making sure the content integrated all of the partners’ interests into the storytelling. On top of that, the Brooklyn-based Mustache Agency was mandated to create a piece of branded content that people would actually consume and share, which is a big ask for a 17-minute promotional film.
That’s why the storyline incorporates Kat’s pained relationship with her lost brother so significantly. Once the viewer is hooked on understanding that dynamic, it’s pretty hard not to follow the story through to its conclusion. The only misgivings one might have about Kat and Dog is that it should be a few minutes longer. The ending feels a bit pat considering the deftly handled emotional arc throughout most of the film.
“We talked about so many different ideas before we came to the final idea of the dead brother,” Shiliwala said. “We needed for Kat to go on a journey rather than just walking around Holland, so this was a way to kind of humanize the story and show how people have different ways to connect with a destination. It was a lot of risk that we took, but there was also a lot of thinking that went around it. We think, based on everyone’s reaction so far, it worked well in the final film.”
Photo credit: Holland's new 17-minute short film promoting the destination to U.S. travelers was funded by four Dutch tourism companies. NBTC