Creating a campaign to wow the world

From a viral karaoke song to a tongue-in-cheek take on the Metaverse, Iceland’s campaigns regularly catch the attention of the world. But what happens behind the scenes to create this success? Sveinn Birkir Björnsson, Director of Global Marketing Communications at Business Iceland, shares his expertise – and gives an insight into what he’d be looking for as a member of our 2022 City Nation Place Awards jury.


Thanks for joining us, Sveinn. Business Iceland spans tourism, meetings, investment, and more – what advantages does this deliver when you’re developing your marketing strategy?

That is correct. Serving as the DMO, the IPA, and the TPO, Business Iceland is uniquely positioned to form a comprehensive and integrated marketing strategy that spans different sectors but maintains a certain cohesion. It can be a little challenging at times, where we have to keep a lot of different interests in mind and work with stakeholders across many industries, but nonetheless, I believe this is a great strength for us, and our work is better for it.


Iceland has always wowed us with amazing campaigns. What’s the key to developing a campaign with a really unique hook that captures your audience’s interest?

We are a small country, and we are not going to be able to compete on ad spend or campaign size, etc, in a very competitive market. We have to create a different kind of competitive advantage. All our strategic reasoning is done with this in mind. When you are playing a basketball game with only short players, you need to change up the game, rely on speed rather than size, for instance. We always go into a creative round with this mindset. This pushes us in a direction where we have to embrace bold ideas and take chances on things that may not always look very safe, in terms of marketing, that is.


Do you have a personal favourite? What was it about that campaign that stands out for you?

I would probably mention the Let it Out campaign first. It was such a bold and different idea, and it was met with such skepticism at every stage; until it proved to be really successful. It also set a tone for us throughout the COVID-era that carried us through that period in marketing, where empathy became a key insight for us.


One of the topics I know many cities and nations are grappling with at the moment is how to talk authentically about their sustainable strategies. Do you have advice on how places can embed sustainability in the heart of their approach?

This is a huge topic for us and something we have been working towards for a while. Since 2019, we have been working in accordance with a long-term strategy for Icelandic exports, which defines sustainability as a long-term objective. There is an ambitious climate action plan in place to reach Iceland‘s long-term climate goals and climate neutrality by 2040. The action plan more or less lays out the roadmap for us as a country. But, I think that very often when we talk about sustainability, we tend to focus overtly on the environmental side and forget that the concept has three dimensions.

Integrating a truly sustainable approach involves a lot of stakeholder involvement to ensure that the social and economical dimensions are given equal weight, and we don‘t really have a defined roadmap there like we have for climate actions. We have tried to reflect this through our KPIs, where we outline certain goals to reflect social and economical changes and make sure viable growth is possible in these areas. The UN‘s Sustainable Development Goals are also an invaluable asset toward building a truly sustainable approach to development for both cities and nations.


I imagine that Iceland, like much of the world, is facing a challenge with talent attraction at the moment. How can cities and nations re-position themselves to be more attractive to prospective talent?

I think we are still finding out. I think COVID made a lot of old truths obsolete in this area. There is a lot that suggests people place more value on smaller communities, access to the natural environment and less commute, for example. Remote work and hybrid workplaces are changing this conversation quite a bit. Luckily for us, these are all areas of strength for Iceland. This is what we have to offer. It is much more difficult for us to compete with the cosmopolitans of the world in terms of cosmopolitancy, so to speak.


Visit Iceland won our Best Communication Strategy for Tourism award last year with your ‘Looks Like You Need to Let It Out’ campaign that you mentioned earlier. As one of our 2021 winners, what would be your top tip for someone planning their entry this year?

A good communication strategy needs to be true to character, in my mind. Much like you can tell when a person is speaking a language or lingo that they are not fluent in, it is very easy for brands to create a chasm between what they really stand for and how they communicate. Make sure your communications really reflect the character of your place.


And as a judge, are there particular things you’d be looking for in a winning entry?

I always love a great bold idea, but like I mentioned before, the idea and how it is communicated must authentically reflect the place it speaks for.

Amazing. Thanks for sharing, and we look forward to having your expertise in our judging panel!

The City Nation Place Awards are now open for entry! Find out more here.

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.