Wanted: Ugly people for travel ads
Ads lie. Or they did.
The golf vacation commercials are the worst. All those beaming glad-I-came-here faces. After a shank off the first and a round of 118? Not counting 11 lost balls?
It’s impossible for any real golfer to look that happy.
Beach holiday ads are no better. Everyone perfectly formed, no cellulite or growths.
No one looking like they’ve been born in the normal, mammalian way, like you see on real beaches.
Unreally happy families having a wonderfully elated time at a great price with no sign of disharmony, dysfunction or diarrhea.
Couples staring dreamily through candlelight and walking hand in hand through the moonlit Caribbean surf, with no sign of her shenanigans the day before with the hotel’s beach raker.
And the cruises: photo after photo of laughing faces having a once-in-a-lifetime time over a very small portion of fish. Which looks bigger in a close-up.
No sign of anyone seasick or cabin-bound. No pictures taken at the exact moment the dinner table conversation stalled on the first night: “Why did you come on this cruise?”
“Because we have a high superlative threshold and are easily deceived by advertising copy.”
No hint of anyone being tortured by the crooner with the fire-retardant toupee; by the excessively talkative couple from Winnipeg; the extremely cheerful couple from Wales; the husband who memorizes Android reviews and the wife who collects digitalized photos of her master bedroom.
And pronounces Muscadet Muscadette.
No ad can communicate a real vacation and its petty but enervating frustrations.
And that’s to be expected.
But there are signs that as travelers get savvy to the tricks and illusions of marketers, marketers are now becoming savvy to our savvy.
Ugly, the new pretty
I’m an honorary member of the “Ugly Club of the World.” I received the accolade in the self-nominated ugliest place in the world.
The Club dei Brutti is based in Piobbico in the Marche region of mid-Italy. It has 30,000 members worldwide and hosts an ugly persons’ festival every September.
The town square even has an ugly statue.
Piobicco has put itself on the map. Being ugly is its Unique Selling Point. It bills itself as a place ugly people can feel at home.
And it’s effective. They come in their hideous hordes, ramping up the tourism income while battering down the beauty factor.
The Czech Republic has gone the same way.
It sells itself to bad skiers, offering “numerous ravishing sceneries” and flat, snowy places where “you can enjoy the nature while struggling to ski” and meet “not very capable skiers.”
Superbeings and posers are not targeted. So everyone else can have a good time. Hard or soft sell, it works. Because it’s different. And funny. And true.
Amsterdam’s acclaimed Hans Brinker Budget Hotel has been “proudly disappointing travelers for 40 years.”
Its unashamedly filthy rooms are sold out months in advance through sheer honesty, comic in its frankness and superb negative hyperbole.
Its marketing slogan is: “We can’t get any worse but we try our best.”
It waives liability for gastroenteritis, mental breakdown and even lost limbs.
It boasts a bar serving slightly watered down beer and facilities comparable to a prison. One ad proclaims: “Now even more dogsh*t in the main entrance.”
Another shows a figure collapsed on the ground with its head caught in the hostel’s doors, surrounded by an ever-widening puddle of vomit -- a new and successful style of gushing endorsement.
Is all this clever marketing? Or just simple truth that attracts backpackers on a budget and a bender?
What exactly are they advertising?
Being bombarded by perfect breasts and gorgeous men from every holiday brochure and mortgage maturity leaflet I ever picked up gets to me.
Cruise commercials don’t make me go out and book a cruise. They make me go out and get some dental fixative. The only thing that sticks in my head is the teeth.
Recent surveys suggest we no longer trust celebrity endorsement, especially of beauty products. Scarlett Johannsen before and after? Unlikely.
One poll also revealed that 78% of TV viewers believe the people in laxative ads are really actors faking being constipated. Method actors having it the hardest.
It’s time for ads to use normal people with realistic bodies and facial expressions. Someone not so happy. Someone not very photogenic.
Someone with shoulder hair rather than shoulder-length hair. Someone more like me.
It wouldn’t be a totally original concept.
One of the earliest examples of this kind of inverse marketing/reverse psychology came from an Irish realty agent who wrote straight-talking property descriptions along the refreshingly honest lines of, “The décor is revolting and the lack of insulation has attracted insects. Otherwise, there is nothing much wrong.’”
That was in the 1960s.
It proved a productive hook with people flocking up to see just how bad the houses were.
Copywriters need to bin the superlatives and “We’ve found paradise! Come join us!” approach.
They need to realize there’s no such thing as paradise, especially if other people are there and all the loungers have gone.
As my Ugly Club friends keep telling me: “Us uglies must unite to overcome. We are better and stronger than the beautiful people. And there are far more of us.”
It’s all summed up by the recent Southern Comfort commercial.
An astigmatic, middle-aged potbelly in sea waders and tight trunks that could double as an eye patch waddles contentedly down a beach, accompanied by Odetta’s “Gotta Be Me.”
Perhaps body shape losers may not be flocking to the Barcelona beach where the ad was shot, but its aspirational message is clear.
Don’t hype up. Hype down. To the naked truth. Democratize. Don’t idealize. Tell it like it is. And show it how it is.
Perhaps then we might not be so frequently disappointed when we get there.