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When I was in my final year of high school, I was hospitalized for a week with the sight in one eye threatened after an exercise band broke and impacted my eye, causing an internal bleed. I spent the entire time immobilized in bed with both eyes covered to limit movement while the doctors hoped the bleed would drain on its own and my sight would return. Fortunately it did, but the event also robbed me of attending the final prom night and celebrations – traumatic at the time, but a small price to pay in the long run for my sight.
It was during that time, having my sight suspended completely, that I learned to become more attune to other senses in understanding my surroundings. I had a sense of the room size and placement of items in it based on sound. Although I hadn’t seen my nurses, I had a visual in my mind of what they looked like based on their voice, what they talked about, their touch and their choice of perfume or cologne. I even had their height figured out based on the number of steps it took to enter the room. I could smell what food was being served without seeing it, and I became much more aware of the cadence of voice and good storytelling, a skill I use to this day, since I was relegated to listening to books and radio programs, rather then watching TV or reading for an entire week.
It was a life altering experience, that once my sight returned, I never forgot. To this day, when experiencing something of visual beauty, I will close my eyes and pause to truly take in and remember the other senses of that moment through sound, smell, touch and taste. And it’s this use of all senses, especially in experiencing travel or writing about it, that I think is so important to convey the true essence of a place. In my other life as a marketing strategist, writer and speaker over at fiveminutemarketing.com I wrote recently about two tourism campaigns that used the power of disruption to challenge the convention of how travel should be promoted.
I want to share them with you here, then reflect on what we might learn from this as we go about experiencing new places…
Tourism Quebec’s BLIND LOVE campaign
Traditionally tourism ads have used visuals as their key emotional trigger. But why should travel be limited to just once sense? That was the disruptive thinking behind the “Blind Love” Tourism Quebec campaign created by Montreal based Lg2. Highlighting Quebec’s unique to North America European inspired arts, music and culinary scene amidst natural beauty and endless adventure opportunities, the spot garnered over 13 million viral views within a month of launch in March 2016.
Link here to view the spot: https://vimeo.com/162445786
“My name is Danny Keen from Long Island, New York.
I’ve been blind since birth. I guess that’s why I was chosen to show the world what Quebec is like in the summer.”
Through a visually stunning tour with inspiring music we then see him experience Quebec through touch, feel, taste, smell and sound while water rafting, dining out, making cheese, hot air ballooning, zip lining, attending classic music and a rock concerts, fishing, kayaking, kite flying, and riding a roller coaster and helicopter.
The spot closes around a campfire with friends as Danny delivers this final line:
“You know there’s a reason why people close their eyes when they kiss, cry and pray. Because the most essential things in life must be felt with the heart.”
The “Reconsider South Africa” campaign
There was a 2014 South African Tourism campaign that drew on a similar premise. I actually find it creatively more effective, since it is only revealed at the end that the featured man is blind, causing you to reframe what you have just seen, and as the spots suggests, also challenge your existing assumptions about South Africa.
Watch the “Reconsider South Africa” spot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZztihHOB6g
A man asks,
“What is beauty?”
Throughout the spot we see him experience South Africa…
Accompanied by his wife, on a beach, in a boat, in a vineyard, learning to surf, at a market, in a museum, on safari, and dining
“Is it a view that has been waiting for you for centuries?
A setting that gives you goose bumps when you see it for the first time?
A scene so striking that it remains in your memory forever.
Is it a moment that stops you in your tracks that leaves you in awe?
Some people spend their whole lives looking for it.
When you open yourself to it, you’ll find yourself in a place where true beauty isn’t something you’ll ever see.
Because in this place beauty has a much bigger meaning.
Which is why when you meet South Africa, you’ll reconsider what you think you know.”
The man is then seen walking with a white tipped cane, revealing in the final scene that he is actually blind. What I love about both of these spots is the disruptive creative thinking that challenges the way other competitors in their industry are doing things. In both examples, they each had reasons to take ownership of the central concept being conveyed – experience travel through all the senses, and to challenge preconceived notions of a destination.
Disruption is a powerful concept, which can be applied far beyond just the travel industry. It can help cut through competitive clutter, create story around a brand, and ultimately fuel word of mouth, earned publicity and social media sharing.
But as travelers or writers, taking in new adventures, experiences and places, I think there is something far greater we can take from this. While we so often obsess about capturing through photos or video the visuals of a place, why not pause, close your eyes, and with purpose take in everything else at that moment? They say the power of smell is actually the strongest sense. Anchoring an experience in your mind with the smell at that particular moment could be very meaningful. Or simply listening for what you didn’t hear when your eyes were open can be magical. The power of one sense to amplify when another is shut down is incredible, as I learned so astutely back in high school. Touch and taste of course can fully round out the experience and make the memory even that more vivid.
While we should be extremely grateful for the gift of sight, practicing a little “blind love” through a heightened awareness of all senses while traveling can be magical.