Why it isn’t crazy to spend 1.2 million euros on bridge marketing

A couple of days ago, National Coalition Party of Finland city councilman and former member of the Finnish parliament Lasse Männistö took to Facebook to rant about the proposal to acquire communications services for the upcoming Kruunuvuori bridge. At first the 1.2 million euro communications budget for a bridge seemed rather funny to me, too. Even though the sum is divided over four years, it’s still one juicy budget for a single project.

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Lasse Männistö: “It is being proposed to the city council that Helsinki acquire 1.2 million euros’ worth of communication services for a bridge. A bridge! Based on the proposal, I really can’t fathom why it would be efficient and justifiable use of tax payer money to buy 20 person-years’ worth of communication services for a bridge project. I must meditate on this for a week and ask for the matter to be shelved.”

However, my own views on the matter changed after I read the reasoning behind Männistö’s bewilderment. It tells the classic tale of our engineering-obsessed homeland’s views on marketing communications.

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Lasse Männistö: “I really can’t fathom why a bridge needs to be advertised? If the point is that it won’t find its users without advertising, the whole project probably needs to be reassessed. But I myself believe that public infrastructures and communication regarding them should be taken care of by the city itself. At least it’s difficult to justify such a budget.”

In a nutshell: our product is so good it’ll sell itself. Or, in this case, if the product won’t sell itself, it’s the product’s fault. Sound familiar?

I won’t go further into the fact that Männistö is mixing up communications and advertising. But I would assume that the people who presented the idea don’t intend to just hand the 1.2 million to the media.

It has been said over and over again in the media that we Finns don’t understand marketing and branding because we only appreciate engineering. It is not a completely false accusation, since Männistö, who at least figuratively represents the young entrepreneurial generation, stands by the traditional line of thinking.

Another great recent example of this is Genelec, whose marketing and package design is in its infancy. Jani Parantainen’s fantastic piece on the subject is worth a read.

If we think about this from the perspective of branding and recognition for a moment, what comes to your mind from the word bridge? Perhaps Golden Gate, featured in the main picture, Tower Bridge or, if you’re a fan of the TV show, Øresund Bridge. It hardly comes as a surprise that the perhaps most famous bridges in the world don’t have the most traffic. The amount of traffic isn’t the only way to measure the success of a bridge.

Attitudes will never change if you don’t adopt a broader perspective. So I quickly drew up a model plan on how to use the 1.2 million and its benefits. Creating a denser city structure can’t be an engineering project alone.

Marketing communications plan for Kruunuvuori bridge

 

Strategy 15-20%

The project should get going by defining the goals of marketing communications and the ways to reach them. Männistö’s assumption was that the only possible goal is the largest amount of passengers on the bridge. However, this isn’t the case.

It may sound funny that you should reserve money for thinking about what the point of spending money is. But the budgeted sum can be used to reach a great variety of communicational goals, so you should consider which one is most important and returns the best profits for the invested capital.

The Kruunuvuori bridge is at the same time a great example of the growth and development of Helsinki. It connects a new, significant residential area with the downtown and even does it entirely with the help of public transportation and pedestrian traffic.

The argument over Kruunuvuori bridge (or more accurately over the ways of crossing Kruunuvuorenselkä, my favorite is the plan to build a funicular railway that still pops ups sometimes) has been going on for years and it’s still uncertain whether the bridge will actually be built.

Based on this I would recognize two additional important goals.

  • To win over the Helsinkians, so that their attitudes towards the city’s overall development become more positive, and to activate them into becoming open-minded friends of New Helsinki. Nimbying doesn’t take you far in a growing city.
  • To raise the public opinion about the bridge enough that it will even be built.

 

Obviously you must find ways to measure these goals. And of course you can attempt to reach other kinds of goals through bridge marketing communications, for example increase the appreciation of Finnish architecture and construction work. Or increase the amount of bridge tourists (yes, they exist) that visit Helsinki. The bridge isn’t contained in a vacuum, so the goals should be tied to the needs of the Kruunuvuorenranta residential area.

The selected goals determine the appropriate marketing and communications activities. Just for the heck of it, I’m going to get ahead of things and list some of the activities that came to my mind.

The opening ceremony 15–20%

Have you ever been to a bridge’s opening ceremony? Me neither. So with Donald Duck comics as my source material, I’ll assume that at the ceremony the mayor cuts a ribbon with giant scissors. And then we drink coffee. Well, an opening can be much more. Lux Helsinki recently proved that Helsinkians will come to a fun event if one is arranged. The Kruunuvuori bridge opening could also be an awesome event that brings the people together, with flashing lights, music and wine. Or something completely different, like a bungee jumping competition. Or Hornets flying under the bridge. As long as it’s memorable.

Continuous activities 50%

A lot can happen in four years. Documenting the 200-million-euro construction project actively is not only culturally significant, but also a great way to increase interest and good will towards the project.

The continuous activities would mostly be carried out through digital channels and the budget would also include creating the different parts of the digital ecosystem (e.g. a website). Of course, it would make sense to set up guided tours and events for e.g. school children and the press (Finnish and international) exhibiting the construction and the overall growth of Helsinki as well as the ideology behind it.

The continuous activities would also most likely include advertising of some kind, so that people could find the ecosystem. Not necessarily so that they’ll use the bridge, but that they would understand and accept why it’s being built.

Other fun stuff 10–20%

During the project, fun ideas that could be carried out during the four years, but don’t belong to the continuous baseline activities, are bound to pop up.

Let’s use merchandising as an example. Even though the 200-million-euro bridge project won’t be covered by selling coffee mugs and t-shirts alone, they do their part in connecting the bridge’s identity to Helsinki and to what it means to be a Helsinkian.

In part this is a budgeting trick, but not all funds should be tied to execution because opinions and environments can change along the way.

In conclusion

 

Does this plan make any sense? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of good can be accomplished with €1.2 million, for example by investing it in education or elderly care. But because mixing politics with business is more up Miltton’s alley than mine, I won’t evaluate the way the money will be used any further.

Marketing isn’t worth doing unless it has significant, measurable benefits. The city should carefully consider how it uses its limited resources. Because the Kruunuvuori bridge is such a historically significant construction project in Helsinki, I believe that we can achieve such great things with the right kind of marketing communications that even a surprisingly large investment could make sense – unlike you’d first think.