Two things you should know before you read this post: I love Iceland, to the point that if, say, a job opportunity arose (hint hint), I’d relocate there in an instance; and I’m a sucker for cute.
So of course I’ve been absolutely charmed by the Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend social media effort initiated by the Icelandic Tourist Board. There’s a blog; a Twitter feed; a Facebook page; Tumbler, Vimeo, and Flickr accounts—nothing too unusual there. What is unusual, at least to me, is that the content is presented in the first person, as if Iceland were a somewhat naïve, eager, friendly person.
This, for instance, is the confirmation email you receive upon opting in to receive its enewsletter:
Halló there --
and takk for being my new best friend.
I look forward to having you as a friend, and maybe sending you emails once in a while telling you about my places and my people, and the things that [are] happening on me.
(Don't worry, I am not the kind of clingy friend who is always sending you messages when you just want some peace and quiet. And if you ever want to stop being friends, I am very uncomplicated about it. You just click a link and poof.)…
Its Facebook posts are written in the same style. Following Saturday’s eruption of the Grímsvötn volcano, Iceland—yup, that’s the organization’s Facebook moniker, “Iceland”—posted messages such as “My people usually keep calm and carry on when I have volcanic eruptions. (They are used to them, and they know what to do)” and “Are you flying to me in a flying machine today? For updates, follow…” with links to several sources of information.
I can’t recall any other instance in which the product or service being marketed was anthropomorphized in this way. I’m not talking about the logos but the actual subject of the marketing itself. It’s as if instead of the Ty-D-Bol man exhorting the toilet cleaner’s virtues, the Ty-D-Bol container itself began talking.
While I think the initiative is absolutely delightful, I did wonder if it was perhaps a bit too twee for the mainstream. Then I noticed that it has more than 67,000 Facebook friends (compared with less than 52,000 for a similar venture, Inspired by Iceland) and nearly 7,500 Twitter followers (compared with 2,300 for Iceland Naturally, dedicated to promoting Icelandic companies and events).
What’s more, people who post on Iceland’s Facebook wall often respond as if it were, indeed, a person. “Hello Iceland, I think I'm in love with you. Even though I did not have the chance to see you in realtime yet. Let's call it something platonic maybe, if that's okay with you?” wrote a young woman from Belgium. A male university student from Scotland posted, “Hi Iceland, Myself and a friend are about to come and walk across you from the far south to the far north.”
The effectiveness of social marketing, according to the pundits, depends on how much of a personal connection people feel with the brand, product, or service being marketed. By portraying Iceland as an individual, one with a distinct and quirky personality, Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend has made that connection with followers. It’s as if the usual intermediary between consumer and product had been removed.
That perception of greater closeness between consumer and product, or between reader and writer, is why so many novelists used first person instead of third for particular books. Can you imagine Catcher in the Rye or Portnoy’s Complaint or Huckleberry Finn written in the more distancing third person?
Though, of course, not every book could or should be written in the first person. By its nature, first-person narration is limited and unreliable. Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend gets around the latter stumbling block by making the character of Iceland somewhat childlike. But a childlike tone wouldn’t work for most products and services. I know I wouldn’t want to buy, say, my dog’s heartworm medicine or an office desk from a company that positions itself as simple and inexperienced.
So yes, the approach of Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend is difficult, if not impossible, for most other marketers to pull off. But it does indicate that consumers do respond to appropriate whimsy and that injecting an unexpected voice or personality into a brand’s social marketing efforts can not only set the brand apart but also increase response. And it shows that I’m not the only person who responds to cute. Which is why, in a bald attempt to attract more readers, I opened this post with a photo of the cutest dog I know.