5 important advertising lessons from East Asian travel ads that went too far

Coming up with a genius travel ad that gets tourists flocking in takes lots of research and creativity. And sometimes, advertising agencies get a little crazy in the creativity department, and the whole thing eventually backfires.

Here are “the good, the bad, and the ugly” tourism and travel ads from Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, plus what you can learn from them.

1. Bad publicity is still publicity.

The Miyagi prefectural government finally took down a sexually-provocative promotional video. The commercial starred sexy star Dan Mitsu who rubbed turtle heads and played with words that have double meanings.

Miyagi governor Yoshihiro Murai initially said there is no plan to withdraw the promotional ad despite hundreds of complaints. The Miyagi prefectural government, the Sendai municipal government and East Japan Railway Co. spent ¥23 million for the 150-second ad.

“We need to be considerate toward those who are unhappy and have negative feelings about it. But I have no doubt the video played its role of attracting visitors to Miyagi prefecture,” Murai said.

2. Double check your brand of humor.

Funny is good, but sometimes, offending potential clients is not worth the publicity. In 2014, Nippon Airways altered its TV commercial after customers and foreigners in Japan deemed it racist.

The ad features a Japanese actor (playing a pilot role) suddenly donning a blond wig and a fake pointy nose after another pilot said they should change the image of Japanese people.

“Our intention was to show Japanese becoming more active and essential in the world,” said an ANA spokeswoman.

3. Highlight your unique selling point.

South Korea has repeatedly used the “Hallyu fever” to promote tourism and it still works like magic. A Korean Tourism spokesperson said 2011’s 10.6 percent increase in the UK to Korea arrivals is largely due to the K-pop industry. That was “Gangnam Style” singer Psy’s era.

The most recent invitation features highly-popular BTS in a 31-second video titled BTS’ Life in Seoul.

The promotional ad, which highlights some of Seoul’s most popular tourist attractions, will air on TV in 100 countries. It will also go live on Facebook, Youtube, and other online video platforms.

In a similar but rather bizarre move, Taiwan locals highlighted the nasty to lure tourists in a parody travel campaign. “Welcome to Taiwan, without Chinese!” Yes, please go back to lesson number 2.

Although Taiwan missed Chinese tourists and sparked angry remarks from the mainland, the country enjoyed a lot more visitors from other nations in 2016. Taiwan’s president even tweeted about the feat, thanking tourists in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malay, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Hindi.

4. Full disclosure is not an option. It’s a requirement.

75 complaints and HK$27 million damages after, the Hong Kong Consumer Council finally revealed the misleading tactics of time-share marketing company Great Time Universal (HK).

Since 2015, several persons have complained of being tricked into claiming their free vacation and travel coupons by simply listening to a 90-minute talk. In reality, membership payments ranging from HK$50,000 to HK$100,000 were required before the “freebie.”

What’s worse is that clients were also told to surrender identification cards, credit cards, and mobile phones while being held for two to five hours until they’ve signed up for expensive membership plans. Talk about hard-selling!

5. Keep it short.

North Korea’s promotional ad for its “luxurious” Masikryong resort is 11 minutes long. Catch the video here. Complete with text that’ll make your eyes squint and background music that’ll take you back several decades, the commercial is supposed to convince tourists that it is every skier’s dream come true.

But really, the brains behind the ad missed out on one of the most important tips when it comes to video advertising: keep it short.

According to Wistia’s video length analytics, viewer attention is yours for two minutes. After that, engagement will significantly drop every second!

In sum: think out of the box, but don’t forget your advertising basics.


Nippon Airways

East Japan Railway Co.