Peer Review: Grinning Formula

Maybe I really need a vacation. Or maybe it’s the weeks of subfreezing temperatures most of us who don’t live in Orlando, Fla., have been suffering through. Who knows why, but I was really looking forward to downloading and tearing open the new campaign for the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau.

I was like a kid going to Disney World for the first time; excited to get my first look at work that had to be great. I couldn’t wait to see how they would capture the excitement of seeing Mickey with the kids, playing golf on the country’s most verdant courses, lounging by the hotel pool while the rest of America freezes-and doing it all in the company of ones you love. Sigh.

And the first ad (the creative comes from Orlando-based agency Push) looked like they might be on to something. A big shot of two parents cheek-kissing a giddy toddler seemed to capture pure childhood joy and the parental bliss that goes along with making your kid that freakin’ happy.

Admittedly, I thought that the headline “Orlando Makes Me Smile” was a bit generic, but, hey, maybe the next one would be better. I didn’t much notice or need the diagram-style pointers on either side of the baby’s grin, labeling one dimple “mom” and the other “dad.” Instead, I simply opened the rest of the campaign.

And it was all downhill from there. I’m really bummed about it, too, because the last thing I set out to be here is the guy who has a problem with a campaign about going on the vacation of a lifetime.

But here goes…

First, about that headline? It wasn’t one. It was a tagline. “Orlando Makes Me Smile” was attached to every shot-every generic shot of everyone wearing that smile. Or, in some cases, they were frowning and then smiling. The smile appeared on the outdoor ads, on the banner ads and in the print ads. (Admittedly, one of the Web pieces featured Shamu, who didn’t appear to be smiling, but the woman in the pool with him was.) The close-up baby shot was magic; not so the rest of them.

Then a series of questions occurred to me, and I will repeat them here for you. First, I asked myself: Have my wife, the kids and I ever vacationed anywhere that didn’t make us smile? (Answer: No.) Question two: Did any of said vacations fail to bring us closer together as a family? (Again, no. Anyone who’s been crammed together en famille in a tent, motor home or budget hotel room will tell you as much.) Onto the third question I asked myself: Is there any vacation spot I could think of that wouldn’t, at some point, make me smile? (Answer: Possibly-if Baghdad’s on the list.)

Are you following? The problem is that this campaign for Orlando could be for pretty much any destination spot in the world. In fact, forget destinations; it could be for any happy thing in the world. “Lollipops make me smile.” “Red rubber balls make me smile.” “Pinwheels make me smile.” You get the idea.

Lest I seem too rough on the hardworking agency folks, I should add that, in my experience, a common strategic trap in our business is boiling down a brand to its essence-but stopping short of uncovering or focusing on the essence of its difference, of what sets it apart. The danger here is settling on a positioning that may be unique to the category, but not to the brand.

One of the creators quoted in the campaign press release says, “We looked to the smile, the key symbol of happiness, as the representation of enjoying Orlando attractions and experiences with your loved ones.” I think that might be where they got into trouble. The key symbol has the problem of being a generic one, and in looking for that one broad, visual icon on which to hang the campaign, they lost what makes a trip to Orlando so unique.

Creatively, and perhaps maybe most importantly, the ads themselves just didn’t make me smile. Than again, like I said, maybe I really need a vacation.