Scotland, Disney/Pixar Partner for Global Ad Campaign

‘BRAVE’ NATIONALISM OR MISDIRECTED GLOBALISM?

VisitScotland has joined forces with Disney/Pixar to launch the biggest promotional campaign in the tourism agency’s history, spending GBP 7 million on television and cinema advertisements, a new website, and a series of promotional events across Europe, Asia, and North America.  The campaign coincides with the premiere of the animated feature Brave, and according to VisitScotland, it marks the first time Disney/Pixar has partnered on such a scale with a country’s tourism agency. 

As the movie rolls out across 72 territories, the campaign will reach more than 80 million people, and includes the first advertisement Scotland has aired in North America in a decade.

Yet, even more notable is the enthusiastic endorsement the campaign has received from the Scottish Government, especially First Minister Alex Salmond, who believes the public investment will inject GBP 140 million into the Scottish economy. Along with VisitScotland Chairman Dr. Michael Cantlay, Salmond attended the film’s world premiere in Los Angeles as part of a broader mission to talk up Scotland in front of potential US investors.

Braveheart Crazy FaceSuch excitement for film is not unfounded. More than 15 years ago, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart(1995) was credited for increasing annual visits to the National Wallace Monument from 40,000 to over 200,000 and annual revenues at the site from GBP 40,000 to GBP 1 million. That film’s lucrative legacy frames current ambitions for Brave.  

A more recent report says tourism is at the forefront of a slight economic improvement in Scotland, though the boost is confined to urban areas and limited to travelers from within the UK. Thus, Brave, which takes place in the Scottish Highlands, is considered an excellent vehicle to lure international visitors, particularly Americans, to the scenic countryside.

Disney/Pixar and VisitScotland have positioned the campaign as an unprecedented opportunity to spotlight the “majesty” and “mystery” of the rural landscape from which the film takes inspiration.  Yet, some writers have bristled at the wee, whimsical Scotland on display, suggesting Pixar has recycled the same tired tropes Hollywood historically has used to represent Scottish land and people.

VisitScotland’s own promotional efforts are vulnerable to similar criticisms. Last week, the agency invited film critics to Edinburgh for a five-day, expense-paid press junket. The event had “all the stereotypical trappings” of Scotland, and culminated when guests were “coaxed with promises of free whisky, a high tea, storytelling and bagpipes onto a chartered private train ride for the day to the southern Highlands, dubbed the Brave Express.” 

Likewise, Salmond’s support for the film has also drawn ire from political opponents who say he is missing out on other opportunities to promote Scotland, like the 2012 London Olympics and the 2014 Commonweath Games in Glasgow. These concerns mirror more general complaints about the Scottish National Party--namely, that its platform for a fully independent Scotland is more invested in media glitz and international investors than thinking strategically about the country’s future. Likewise, the criticism raises crucial questions about the government's support for local production firms and indegenous filmmaking. 

Disney's Brave Highlanders
Disney's Brave Highlanders

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