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Cartoon
Fall 2014

Silence as a national marketing slogan

When noise overwhelms, natural quiet and silence become expensive commodities, to be ever more exploited for commercial purposes. In the following article "This is your brain on silence", published in Nautilus Quarterly Fall 2014, Daniel A. Gross very eloquently tells the story.

One icy night in March 2010, 100 marketing experts piled into the Sea Horse Restaurant in Helsinki, with the modest goal of making a remote and medium­sized country a world­ famous tourist destination. The problem was that Finland was known as a rather quiet country, and since 2008, the Country Brand Dele­gation had been looking for a national brand that would make some noise.

Over drinks at the Sea Horse, the experts puzzled over the various strengths of their nation. Here was a country with exceptional teachers, an abundance of wild berries and mushrooms, and a vibrant cultural capital the size of Nashville, Tennessee. These things fell a bit short of a compelling national identity. Someone jokingly suggested that nudity could be named a national theme—it would emphasize the honesty of Finns. Someone else, less jokingly, proposed that perhaps quiet wasn’t such a bad thing. That got them thinking.

A few months later, the delegation issued a slick "Country Brand Report." It highlighted a host of marketable themes, including Finland’s renowned educational system and school of functional design. One key theme was brand new: silence. As the report explained, modern society often seems intolerably loud and busy. "Silence is a resource," it said. It could be marketed just like clean water or wild mushrooms. "In the future, people will be prepared to pay for the experience of silence." People already do. In a loud world, silence sells. Noise ­cancelling headphones retail for hundreds of dollars; the cost of some week­ long silent meditation courses can run into the thousands. Finland saw that it was possible to quite literally make something out of noth­ing.

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board released a series of photographs of lone figures in the wilderness, with the caption "Silence, Please." An international "country branding" consultant, Simon Anholt, proposed the playful tagline "No talking, but action." And a Finnish watch company, Rönkkö, launched its own new slogan: "Handmade in Finnish silence."­"We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing," explains Eva Kiviranta, who manages social media for VisitFinland.com.

Silence is a peculiar starting point for a marketing campaign. After all, you can’t weigh, record, or export it. You can’t eat it, collect it, or give it away. The Finland campaign raises the question of just what the tangible effects of silence really are. Sci­ence has begun to pipe up on the subject. In recent years researchers have highlighted the peculiar power of silence to calm..

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