Featured Article 23 Aug 2013

John Fanning
The Irish Times
August 21st 2013

A country’s most effective sustainable competitive advantage is one that provides it with a long-term advantage not easily imitated by other countries

The recent shenanigans about our 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate, unseemly aggressive “tax planning” by powerful and profitable global businesses, and the resulting allegations that we are some kind of tax haven on a par with dubious islands with warm climates have not done our nation’s brand image much good.

The standard response to these situations is to persuade the great and the good to write earnest opinion pieces for the relevant international newspapers and journals, marshalling the arguments which prove conclusively that we are not by any stretch of the imagination a “tax haven”; perish the thought!

But this is tantamount to telling the man already in a hole to keep digging. There are two ways to persuade people to come over to your point of view: marshal the facts and engage in an intellectual argument, or write compelling stories based on relevant ideas and engage people’s emotions. In this case the latter strategy is likely to much more effective and that’s exactly what IDA Ireland has done in its new television commercial. It is designed to attract foreign direct investment to our shores and was created and produced by Publicis agency in Dublin.

Images of Ireland
It is a powerful and subtle piece of communication, densely packed with expected and unexpected images of the State. It opens with a traditional scene of a fisherman catching a salmon in a spectacular west of Ireland landscape, then builds up an energetic head of steam with a series of rapidly changing vibrant contemporary images, driven by an equally fast-paced voiceover in appropriately rhythmic copy:

What makes Ireland great? Is it the rugged sound of ancient isle,

or the fizz and hum of computer file,

our legend of genius writers, or new geniuses who have never even lifted pen?

There’s the gab with the gift, the eyes with the glint, the talk and the wit,

great to do business with.

People, talent, people, talent, passion, rebellion, innovation, education.

This land’s famous welcome by the hundred thousand.

An emerald isle. So European. So Green.

Hub. Hive. Source. Thrive.

What makes Ireland great makes Ireland great for business.

There are a few concessions to the rational: high-tech gadgetry and a map of the country superimposed with markers depicting the names of the global brands already located here. But they are only a sideshow. The ad is dominated by an emotional depiction of Irish people – “the eyes with the glint, the talk and the wit”. They are depicted with charm, personality and a counter-intuitive intelligence bolstered by a tradition of literary greatness. The visual and verbal elements of the commercial communicate on many levels, from the opening salmon and “knowledge” – “knowledge economy” – to the timely slipping in of the word “rebellion”.

More realistic strategy
A few months ago in The Irish Times Fintan O’Toole made the point that it was dangerous to put all our eggs into a flimsy 12.5 per cent basket and that a policy from the 1950s would not be enough to carry us through a 21st-century crisis. This commercial represents a more realistic strategy. The problem with tax rates is not that they can be easily manipulated, but that they can be all too easily imitated.

The point has been made that a country’s most effective sustainable competitive advantage is one that provides it with a long-term advantage not easily duplicated or imitated by other countries. People and literary traditions are not so easily imitated or duplicated by other countries, and countless surveys in overseas countries confirm that they represent two of Ireland’s most distinctive and attractive characteristics.

It is interesting to note that two State bodies in the past year have introduced powerful marketing communications based on distinctive, difficult-to-duplicate Irish attributes: the IDA with people, and Bord Bia with our weather in its Origin Green initiative. So maybe Plan B is beginning to emerge: warm people; wet weather.

John Fanning is an adjunct faculty member at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and a former chairman and chief executive of McConnells Advertising

Video - Link to IDA Ireland Ad

Content supplied with the permission of The Irish Times Ltd.
For more see www.irishtimes.com

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