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How Visit Finland Harnessed the Country’s Happiness to Make Meaningful Country Branding



Grey's SEK on rebooting the Nordic narrative by changing the way Finns are seen... and see themselves

How Visit Finland Harnessed the Country’s Happiness to Make Meaningful Country Branding

Finland was little known as a travel destination in the past. At the same time, travel is a key industry to the national economy and global recognition for the country of 5.5 million.

The national travel and tourism authority Visit Finland took the power of happiness to create long-lasting impact and meaning around Finnishness.

Finland has long been less known in the wider world than its Nordic neighbours. Heavily outspending Finland in marketing and national branding, countries like Sweden and Norway have often set the agenda on how Nordic life is seen: fjords, mountains, hygge. Very few globally knew of Finland until the consistent and successful branding of recent years.

Creating a more meaningful travel experience

To get travellers to choose your country as their next travel destination, you must stand out in a highly competitive market. Finland has no Eiffel Tower or other global landmark visitors could flock to see – but the UN World Happiness Report tells Finland is the happiest country in the world, now four years in a row. Visit Finland adopted this as their approach and started helping visitors across the world learn a secret that they could implement in their life back home: the happiness and spirit of the Finns.

Together with the creative agency SEK, Visit Finland successfully changed Finland’s communication strategy from push to pull by transforming the country’s tourism appeal with visible marketing, prime example being the Rent a Finn campaign.

Rent a Finn’s idea was simple but effective: rent yourself a Happiness Guide, a member of the world’s happiest people to tell you more about how to be happy like a Finn. This message resonated in a hectic world: the global media picked up and spread Finland’s story eagerly.

Finnish happiness created not just headlines, but also a real impact and change in people’s travel plans. Rate of growth in overnight stays to Finland grew sixfold, going from 0.83% before the campaign to 5.32% after. Finland’s tourism revenue grew an astonishing €220m year-on-year and the country improved its position from 17th to 16th in the National Brand Index, a target Finland had been chasing for a decade.

“We succeeded in creating a phenomenon”, says Heli Jimenez, senior director of International Marketing at Visit Finland. “The narrative moved from entertainment coverage and quirky country facts to business and general news, leading to increased travel revenue and positive impact on GDP. We are proud that at the same time the message was a responsible one. Finland’s a place that stands out from the more typical tourist destinations: it was important for us that the discussion was about meaningful travel, about stopping to find happiness.”

Changing the way Finns are seen – and see themselves

Visit Finland’s marketing calendar has included a range of Happiness activities, such as a major BBC interview and virtual sales events with the Happiness Guides in Metsä Pavilion for the Tokyo Olympics. At its heart, the campaigns were always about much more than just tourism.

“Travel changes both the people travelling and the people welcoming visitors to their country. Visit Finland changed the narrative about Finland abroad and created discussion about the ultimate human goal: pursuit of happiness. Finding insights to a happy life can give you so much more than the ordinary city-break or a week on the beach: it can transform how you see the world,” says Mira Vierto, business director at SEK.

“At the same time, raising Finnish happiness to global awareness is meaningful for Finns themselves. We could think of ourselves as residents of a sparsely populated, remote land with long dark winters - or we can choose to see ourselves as the happiest people on earth, known everywhere for our way of life. Country branding isn’t just about boosting tourism figures – it's about changing the mindset of millions of people,” continues Suvi Lähde, executive creative director at SEK.

Finland has long been a happy country. Now, as a result of consistent work and campaigning, the world is also starting to understand this. The marketing success has opened doors to new visitors, investments, and a healthy and sustainable future for Finnish tourism. And more is yet to come. 

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