You know what’s a bit weird? Countries that advertise themselves. And I don’t mean in a tourist-attracting, “Come spend your vacation dollars on our fair shores” way, but in a “Come spend your investment dollars in our possibly failing/desperate economy” way.
The BBC seems to have a particular fondness for screening such ads. While eating my breakfast porridge and watching the news before work, I’ve seen ads for Russia, Ukraine, Kenya, Kazakhstan and more, all suggesting in a pointedly upbeat tone that “Hey guys, not sure if you heard, but we’re doing some pretty neat things over here right now, and you might just want to seriously consider getting in on the action.”
Clearly, I’m not their target market. I don’t have piles of money to invest and I definitely wouldn’t go in that direction if I did. But, it’s a funny concept and it caught my attention, plus, more importantly, that’s how I heard about Wallonia.
Of course, it’s not its own country, but Wallonia is obviously a big-enough deal within Belgium to warrant a marketing campaign. Unfortunately, the campaign in question is … well … pretty terrible. At least the ad certainly is. With a style reference that appears to be strictly mid-90s, it does little to suggest the region’s as cutting-edge as they’d like us to think. I mean, a white-turtleneck-wearing dude pondering art in a gallery and a woman in an ill-fitting beige pantsuit at a rooftop business meeting quaffing champers all just feels a bit phoney, frankly. Combine that with oversized projected words such as ‘growth’, and ‘create’ sliding across the screen and I’m more interested in what’s so wrong with Wallonia than what’s right.
Naturally, you’ll want to check it out for yourself:
But that’s me being terribly unfair. I know nothing about the place — or, knew nothing. The fact is, maybe the marketing team behind the ad managed to do their job after all, because it made me curious enough to jump on the computer and do a little research. Here, in point form, (because who doesn’t love a good bullet list), is what I now know about Wallonia:
- The main language spoken in Wallonia is French (as opposed to Dutch and German, spoken in the rest of Belgium) but there’s also an indigenous language to the region called Walloon — which is, sadly, scarcely spoken and considered endangered. Let’s all do our bit and learn a word: Bondjoû — hello!
- Wallonia and Flanders (to the north) appear to have a bit of a rivalry going. Wallonia has the claim-to-fame of being the apparent birthplace of the industrial revolution in Europe, but in the early to mid 20th century things dwindled somewhat, and Flanders claimed a bigger piece of the pie. Now, it seems, with a high unemployment rate and low GDP per capita, Wallonia is a bit of a poor sibling to fancy Flanders.
- There’s plenty of greenery in Wallonia, boasting a solid 80% of Belgium’s forests. Even the old mining grounds (called slag heaps — such a delightful term!), remnants of the region’s former industrial glory, are now covered in vegetation.
- If you’re into castles, Wallonia will not disappoint, with an impressive one per 25 square kilometres.
- Wallonia produces its own cheese (Herve), Trappist beer, and wine, which are all pretty attractive features in my book.
And … I’m afraid that’s about it. The truth is, there’s just not a hell of a lot of info out there on Wallonia. It’s a shame, because aside from its obvious and slightly desperate attempts at boosting its economy (and who can really fault it for that), it seems to be a pretty lovely area on the whole. I, for one, am intrigued, and I think that after my rather brutal review of their video, I owe it to the place to discover more. I’m not sure when I’ll get there to do so, but I can safely say I won’t forget about Wallonia for a while.