In 1998 Paulo Coelho wrote his 15th novel Veronika Decides to Die. It tells a story of a young, beautiful woman (Veronika) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, who appears to have the perfect life, but nevertheless decides to commit suicide by taking too many sleeping pills.

Just before Veronika passes out she sees an article in a foreign magazine which asks “Where is Slovenia?” Veronika then decides to write a letter to the press justifying her suicide, the idea being to make the press believe that she has killed herself because people don’t even know where Slovenia is. Her plan fails and she wakes up in Villete, a mental hospital in Slovenia, where she is told she has a week to live (source: Wikipedia).

The movie adaptation received its world premiere in August 2009 in Brazil. Last week it has finally arrived in Ljubljana, but in the USA the movie will be released in August – straight to DVD. Veronika Decides to Die is a relatively small production movie with the estimated budget at around 9 million USD. Unfortunately the movie is not set in Ljubljana, but in New York.

The scene from the movie Veronika Decides to Die (2009, First Look International, screen capture)

Why this long introduction? As you could see in my previous posts movies can be great tool for deeper engagement between brands and movie-goers. In case of Veronika Decides to Die the brand could’ve been the city of Ljubljana. But I’ll write more about that later. And yes, some cities can be classified as brands – just think of New York and the famous Milton Glaser’s logo.

Some cities have been used in the movies more often than other. For example the majority of Woody Allen’s movies have been set in New York; we had movies such as “Paris I Love You” or “New York I Love You”. We had TV series “The Streets of San Francisco” and so on and so on.

We have also examples of movies that promoted certain streets or city spots that subsequently became quite famous. Maybe you’d remember the famous blue door from the movie Notting Hill or a small Paris grocery store that had quite a role in the movie Amelie.

Au Marche de la Butte (at 56 rue des Trois Freres) – the grocery store from the Amelie movie (photo by Erik R.)

But there is another example of city branding with the help of movie industry. Two years ago the movie “In Bruges” premiered and it became a relative success. Its production budget was around 15 million USD and worldwide gross was more than 33 million USD. With the average score of 8,1 on IMDB it’s regarded as one of the best movies of 2008 (and 185th on an all-time list). Martin McDonagh was even nominated for an Oscar in the category Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

The most interesting marketing aspect of this movie is its influence on tourism.

The movie shows the city off perfectly. Even though Colin Farrell’s character can be quite rude about the city, Brendan Gleeson’s character had the guidebook prepared and was dragging Farrell around the city.

The Bruges tourist office has embraced the possibilities of having a movie set in the city. They put a small movie banner on the tourist website and also produced an “In Bruges movie map”, so fans of the film can follow the trail. The tourist office hopes that the movie will introduce Bruges to a younger audience.

They also put some testimonials on their website. Here are Ralph Fiennes’ thoughts on working in Bruges:

“My 4 weeks spent in Brugge were unforgettable – the city has a unique atmosphere, the sense of history is potent, the people are friendly and the past comes alive.”

Another fine example of using movie for city branding is hotel Jan Brito, which is offering an “In Bruges” package to tie in with the movie.

Added value

Cities, like the other brands, must have some added values in order to succeed.

  1. People’s experience of the city
  2. Perception – how is the population perceived?
  3. Belief in the city – does it stand for something?
  4. Appearance – what does the city look like?

Building brands is a long-term project that needs vision and strategy. City branding is not any different than “regular” branding – it requires creative thinking, boldness, understanding of strengths and opportunities, weaknesses and threats.

Movies can be very helpful in the process of city branding – they can enhance the above mentioned added values of the city. Do you know that there is The Third Man walking tour in Vienna and several movie tours in London? Would you like to explore those sights? If your answers is “yes” than the connection between the movie and the city is successful.

According to the Annals of Tourism Research, when a location is featured in a successful film, the number of visitors rises by more than half over four years. The tourists who make travel plans based on their favorite films are known as “set jetters” — and their numbers are growing.

In case of Veronika Decides to Die there was a glorious opportunity for the city of Ljubljana to remain a focal part of the movie. The movie certainly didn’t benefit from putting the characters in NY – they could’ve stayed in Slovenia. And with small adjustments to the script we could’ve had our own “In Bruges”.

Well, we missed the opportunity, but in a typical Slovenian manner I could only say: “Thank God the movie sucks.”


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