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How I helped change the face of Australia's capital

How I helped change the face of Australia's capital

Canberra, ACT. The city is rarely, if ever, associated with tourism. Politics, public servants and pornography are usually what springs to mind when its name is mentioned.

But not for hundreds of guests last weekend, as Australian Capital Tourism hosted a second round of recruits who were shown the much-maligned city's hidden secrets in an attempt to overthrow its image problem. More than 30,000 everyday Australians applied for a free getaway to the nation's capital, with only 500 selected for the massive famil. The catch? We were all selected on the strength of our social media presences and had to share our experiences with friends and followers online.

All tweets, pictures and posts were aggregated Pinterest-style on the Human Brochure website though the #humanbrochure hashtag, with thousands of unedited, unsponsored and unfiltered content items reaching millions of eyeballs around the world, forming the ACT's most successful tourism campaigns ever.

Over the three days, my activity stream (food and wine - yippee!) was shown around Canberra's cool climate vineyards, dined at its top eateries and visited attractions including the Australian War Memorial and Old Parliament House (now the Museum of Australian Democracy). We stayed at the five-star Hotel Realm and enjoyed being treated like VIPS throughout the entire weekend, complete with our very own camera crews.

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In short, a great time was had by all. The weekend was summed up by an ACT tourism chief who shared a Chinese proverb: "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”

By immersing us in the complete Canberra experience, the campaign showed us that there was more to Canberra than fireworks and marijuana. In fact, the city that was neither country or coastal had plenty to offer, from adrenaline-pumping mountain bike activities to a myriad of cultural experiences at its galleries and museums. And the food - who could forget the food?!

Instead of dropping $1 million on a glossy, shiny TV ad campaign, Canberra's unique event used the money to show that social media was more than a one-hit wonder, harnessing the best people in the social media sphere to spread the word through their experiences and insights. Of course, running such a transparent campaign took courage and ultimate confidence in their product - if participants didn't enjoy themselves, everyone would know about it. The dollars spent will go a long way, with a wide span of user-generated content (most of it quite pretty, thanks to Instagram) and days of professional video footage which can be used in showreels or future advertisement.

In the end, #humanbrochure trended on Twitter across the entire weekend, hitting #1 for a period of time. More than 5000 pictures were posted on Instagram, documenting the city through stunning visuals and image-based storytelling.

Overall, the campaign's success was heavily weighted on the high levels of service and experiences offered to each participant - one wonders what the Canberra experience would be like if we weren't wearing fluoro wristbands advertising our presence to locals and service providers. By getting real people to share their positive views of the capital's hospitality, the campaign captured its target audience, which was more likely to trust the reviews offered by friends, bloggers and tweeters than the soulless "spin" peddled by advertisements.

Now that's the sort of publicity a $1 million ad campaign can't buy.

Eliza Sum is a marketing communications executive at Marketing Eye and was a guest of Australian Capital Tourism. To view her posts from the campaign, click here. Keep an eye out on the Marketing Eye Magazine website for Eliza's ACT tourism experience, which will be posted shortly.

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comments ( 8 )
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    04 Aug 2014

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  • Will Bowman
    Will Bowman
    12 Mar 2013

    What an interesting concept.

    I was recently reading an article about the clutter that can be associated with marketing and advertising and how the simple messages are often the best portrayed. In this instance, utilizing the full extent of a marketing budget on an engaging and unique campaign such as the #humanbrochure is a bold and courageous move. As mentioned, It would have been just as easy to spend millon(s) on a T.V advertising campaign that promotes the 'best' of the ACT, with the message most likely being lost on a fickle target market who'd have 'better' places to travel to.

    Sponsoring those with a strong social media footprint to promote the best of the ACT is smart and requires a steadfast confidence in the attractions that Canberra can offer to the rest of the world. Good on them (and good on you for getting involved!)

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  • Melinda
    25 Feb 2013

    "Pornography" and "Marijuana"- Debatable on whether this would be off-putting to some members of the general public. Considering the content many of our local TV "cop shows" boast, I should know. In all seriousness though, their timely and street-smart use of social media is greatly commendable. Australian Capital Tourism has harnessed the power available in authentic visual point of views and word-of-mouth to captivate the Australian public through the eyes of social media whizzes. The Bible tells us not to "covet" for what our "neighbour" has, but I think those finely tuned to the world of social media would beg to differ. If you saw a picture of your favourite socialite on social media gamely riding a mountain bike or coyly posing in a art gallery, I'm sure your heart would pang and long for the day you too can join the forces in Canberra. Good one, Australian Capital Tourism.

  • Arnaud
    19 Feb 2013


    I believe that "real people who share positive views", the positive word to mouth, is the best way to promote something with all social media people can use to express themselves nowadays.
    In getting people share their positive like that, a brand (or a city like Canberra) can get one of the most efficient and cheaper advertising.