Romania and its Tourism Brand – Potholes in PR


The new tourism brand of Romania has recently been launched in Shanghai. A sort of a scandal burst out a little before the actual launch, when bloggers and journalists started assuming the leaf symbol in the logo had been stolen. It was not stolen, but more likely bought from Shutterstock or a similar service.

Yes, my friends, the Spanish THR company used a stock image to create the touristic logo of a country or were inspired by it, because the chances of designers having separate ideas and reaching the same outcome without seeing each other’s work are almost zero.  The design claims the resemblance was accidental, as a child accidentally resembles a neighbor when the official father is unable to procreate.

Analysing the new logo and tagline “explore the Carpathian garden”, I have my objections. Yes, the Romanian mountains are a great asset and quite the resource for touristic development. But I have to agree with others, we’re not talking about the Alps here… Do you have any idea how many people would think “oh, that’s the mountains, right?” when hearing “Carpathian garden”? Yes, the focus on something other than the Danube Delta and the Romanian seaside, which have been pushed with no results in the past, might be a good idea. A good tagline is one that people can relate to emotionally, and they cannot relate to something they do not understand.

Leaf symbols

The stock images thought to have inspired Romania’s Touristic Logo

Why did they choose the leaf (granted, also used by two other companies…)? The leaf is an extremely powerful symbol in Romanian culture and folklore. Yes, it says almost nothing to other nations which we strive to attract and get to visit our natural treasures. But, it actually does mean something: leafs and the shade of green in the logo say eco. Eco-tourism if you’d like. Regretfully most accommodation options in the Carpathians are not green. Say agro-tourism, that might work better. Other than that, the logo makes an environmentally friendly claim the products behind it cannot fulfill.

Another huge aspect of the scandal was the price – THR is supposedly getting 900 000 Euros to develop Romania’s tourism brand strategy. There were many voices saying paying that much for a copied logo and weak tagline is too much. Most of them overlook that a brand and a brand strategy mean more than a logo and its tagline. A brand strategy involves aspects such as how and where to use the logo, how to communicate the message, which channels to reach, etc.

Paying a little under 1 million Euros for an effective brand strategy is not that much! The visual part we have been introduced to is just the beginning, and I agree it is not a promising one. Let’s wait and see what the actual strategy developed by THR implies before we start throwing too many stones.

The truth of the matter is the logo, the tagline, the strategy, these are not Romania’s biggest problem. The problem is not how, but what they promote through this brand. I for one believe the one million Euros is wasted anyway. All that money was better invested in actual touristic development. Better hotels, better services, and most of all, a way better infrastructure.

Yes, these are European Union funds dedicated to tourism branding and can’t be used for any other purpose. But, did we need to spend it now when we have bigger problems to worry about? Our mountain vacation packages are sometimes more expensive than those offered in Austria, Bulgaria and other nearby countries. Our seaside is a bad joke compared to Greece, Croatia or Turkey. It takes longer to get from Bucharest to the Hungarian border than it takes to cross Hungary and make it to Vienna (the capital of Austria).

There are many hidden inns and bed-and-breakfasts that people would kill to spend time in, but no one knows about them. There are historic, architectural, cultural landmarks that don’t even have a proper English description thrown on some random regional touristic website. We do have some pretty good travel blogs though, most of them in Romanian.

Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, will finally have ONE tourist information center. Strategically located downtown, with no counterpart at the airport…

Whether  the new logo and brand strategy are good enough for what money Romania has paid does not matter in the end. The entire campaign is bound to fail because the products and services supporting it are still missing from the picture. It’s truly a shame because the beauty, the hot spots, the breathtaking views are there.

Romania could have such flourishing tourism it would make it a top European destination! But unless you have a private helicopter, getting there is hell: stressful, time-consuming, too much for most people. A logo and some PR twist is not going to garner return visits or word of mouth advertising – at least not without roads to get to Eden.

Roman Temkin is a NYC based Real Estate developer and entrepreneur. Temkin is also a huge sports fan; he enjoys baseball and football.

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  1. GM says

    Alina, to
    b. The funds come from the EU, yet are they not meant to get back to the EU? It would not be the first time. I recall the 1990s with buying know-how from the EU, for example, with EU money, and have a guess: where did the trainers come from? OK, three guesses ;) The sad thing here is that we also contribute to those funds as a Member State of the EU, so it is our money as well.
    c. It could be an invitation to a nice cup of tea — check “tea logo”.
    d. Yes, the THR CEO declared so, “live”, in an interview on the TV. That they had been working on “it” for three months and had been calling 11 000 people — it’s from the horse’s mouth ;)

    I am not a Euroskeptic, I am sure that Romania’s EU accession was necessary — two ways — and it already proves to be an asset — two ways again. Things are not working smoothly, but they will — no other chance.

  2. Alina Popescu says

    Winterboarder, I don’t know how you personally feel about yourself, but I certainly don’t think I am a selfish thief, nor an idiot. I am still in Romania simply because my life here is pretty good. If we all leave and no one calls the BS thrown at us and if we do not try to change anything, nothing will ever change.

    As for the smart people who left, well, a lot of coutries should be thankful for them coming there, don’t you think?

    EU’s interests are far from being selfless when it comes to Romania and other countries as well, not only from the Eastern block. Maybe you should research a bit what happened to Portugal’s vineyards after EU inclusion :)

    Some people are set to rip you off in Romania, just as it happens in other countries. There is no thief free country, unfortunately. As for traveling here being expensive, some parts are. Yet the true beauty of Romania is experienced in places that don’t actually cost that much. You just need to know about them and manage to get there :)

  3. says

    Romania is a country of selfish thieves and idiots. These people allowed the politicians to sell the Romanian resources, oil fields, natural gas, gold and mineral deposits. All the smart and educated left and all that remains is old people and idiots. Things like this don’t happen when people care about what they do. It’s a real shame. The eastern countries got into the EU for one purpose only, to become markets for the western countries. EU is destroying the industry, agriculture and military power to suck them dry of all the wealth. The campaign will never work because the prices are too high to travel there. It’s cheaper to travel to non EU countries and far much better than the eastern block. Traveling to Romania is like going to Columbia or Panama, everybody wants to rip you off.

  4. Alina Popescu says

    GM, you are right, it shows both lack of professionalism and consideration.
    b. I hope Western companies don’t generally pray on Eastern European governments. It would be silly as the funds come from the EU :D
    c. If you say mountains, garden end leafs, people would think clean air and water, etc, which means clean environments which for most would mean an eco experience. Sure, it does not only mean that, and if they come looking for St Patrick, they will definitelly get the strong liquor to party!
    d. Can you please give me more details on these details? Were the phonecalls for research?

  5. GM says

    a. Maybe whether the logo is illegal or not is not so much the matter, but it clearly shows either lack of professionalism or lack of consideration or…?
    b. Could this be a sign of how the West sees the East — of Europe? A bunch of stooges? Hopefully not. Still,check this this one: Was there a westerner behind? Or the Bulgarians just tried to copy Joan Miro: ? Poor guys. (Do I see the same set of greens?)
    c. A leaf is not always and only ecology-laden — this one’s good for nice cup of tea. Green, too, is not always and only ecology-laden — not for Ireland, not for the Muslims, and not for the Romanians.
    d. They (THR + TNS) did the job (branding and all, including 11 000 phone calls!) in 3 (three) months, now that really is fast money. “Roll over Speedy Gonzalez!”
    e. I take five.

  6. Alina Popescu says

    Ken, they definitely did nothing illegal. The problem is you don’t go using a bought symbol for a country brand…It’s poor business practice! And no one will ever believe them after seeing the images.

    Mig, that’s true, the brand is misleading and it better describes Transylvania alone than the entire country. Plus the eco touch which is far fetched…

    Tina, you are right we could! But I do believe people can make loads of money without cheating anyone!

  7. Tina says

    All in all I’m thinking I’m in the wrong business. Alina, just think: we could make so much money by surrendering original work… You do have internet, don’t you? :)

  8. says

    I don’t think THR/TNS did anything illegal for their leaf logo (although their eligibility to have bid at all has now been questioned). I do think the indignant reactions come from THR doggedly insisting that its leaf was completely original, even after it’s been proven to be such an obvious lie. I’m reminded of a child standing next to an empty cookie jar, whose mouth full of cookie crumbs is repeatedly shouting “I didn’t take them.” I’m also reminded of Lenin/Goebbels: “A lie repeated often enough will become the truth.” Whatever else may be in THR’s submitted brand strategy, the logo is usually its first point of contact with the target. The message that THR’s logo sends is “if you cheat and cut corners, but shout loudly enough that you didn’t, you can be paid a lot of money that you didn’t earn.” It’s simply offensive to people who really do put their heart and soul into this sort of thing for a living.

  9. Alina Popescu says

    Froggy, the brand was launched just as the press started to post articoles on the issue. The ministry halted the payment to the Spanish company, but apparently they took their word and accepted their explanations. Now, the problem is not if the leaf is copied or not. As long as they bought it, even if it was just to inspire them, there’s nothing illegal there. The question is if a. the logo will work b. the taglie will work c. there will be a good brand strategy to back the design and d. if the experience will satisfy the promise made to foreign tourists.

    • Mihaela Lica says

      Nope, it cannot work, Alina. Is far, far from the Romanian identity – they are basically trying to reinvent a country. It doesn’t matter how they sell that logo, in which strategy they try to incorporate it… etc. The brand is misleading.

      Damn, didn’t they have enough talented designers in Romania? But why do I ask?! I know how these things work.

  10. Froggy says

    Excuse me, please, but that leaf cannot be an accident. It’s an exact copy of the stock image. The Romanians were cheated, big time. What a shame! And they are silly enough to continue with this, after they have the proof in front of their eyes? My goodness, people! Wake up! If the branding doesn’t impose respect, nothing will.

  11. Alina Popescu says

    That puzzles me as well. Even if Romanian tourism companies manage to create cost effective services and to promote their locations, how exactly are tourists supposed to get there in a way that does not convince them to never, ever come back again and not to warn their friends against coming to Romania?

  12. Tina says

    “t takes longer to get from Bucharest to the Hungarian border than it take to cross Hungary and make it to Vienna (the capital of Austria).”

    Well said. It takes 3 hours for me to reach London (by plane) and 6 hours to get from Bucharest to my country house, 300 kms away, by car.

    How can we have tourism when we have no roads?

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