Anthony Bourdain and a Rock Star Approach To Place Branding

Anthony Bourdain Place Branding

For many marketers, place branding is about creating the most positive perception possible for their client’s city or region. What these marketers fail to recognize is that people travel to a city like New Orleans or Mumbai to experience the true identity of a distant place, both good and bad.

If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.
— Anthony Bourdain

Nothing exemplifies this kind of traveler’s attitude better than food writer Anthony Bourdain. The New York chef turned world traveler was the host of Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” and currently hosts CNN’s “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown.” The premise of each show is to send Bourdain to destinations both well-traveled and remote and explore the local culture and cuisine. At each stop, he usually skips the typical tourist haunts and instead spends his time with locals, joining them on an outing, dining at their restaurants or eating around a family table.

Whether it’s preparing a feast with a bunch of nomads in the dessert, dining on local meats in a remote cabin in Maine or sipping mysterious home-made liquor in the jungles of Asia, Bourdain’s visits were just as much about getting to know the people who lived there as it was learning about their cuisine.

Bourdain, like most adventure travelers, heads to a destination to discover the true identity of the place. Even for those who prefer resorts on their vacations, Bourdain’s show allows these viewers to travel vicariously through Bourdain and experience the “real” city or country, even for an hour. So often the lesson of Bourdain’s travels is that the outside perception of a place can be washed away simply by sharing a meal and getting to know the people who live there.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain 

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain 

This lesson is something that should be on the minds of everyone in the midst of creating a place branding strategy. White-washing the true identity of your location – or product – will not be enough to overcome the customer’s preconceived notions. You must highlight the good, but don’t ignore the bad.

A good example is Las Vegas, a city that built itself on vice. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which trademarked the phrase, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” understands that people go to gamble, see barely dressed performers and drink a little more than they normally would. The lasvegas.com website spends ample real estate highlighting the cleaner Vegas offerings, such as many impressive shows, concerts and tours of the surrounding dessert. But the tagline embraces the bad side of the city, making it a selling point for those looking to let loose.

When you sit down to create your place branding strategy, don’t shy away from the negative. Instead, think of ways embrace what makes your city, your company, your products unique. Plus, by using those attributes as part of your place branding and overall marketing strategy, you’re more likely to reach your target customers.