Next time you visit the seaside, make it Koksijde

One of the hardest parts of writing a blog about advertising creativity is the fact that you have to take the rough with the smooth. Or, to put it another way, you can’t always define creative excellence unless you’re prepared to look at some examples of work that’s fallen short of the mark.

Sometimes people have the very best of intentions, but still fail. One example I came across recently is a direct mail piece for Flanders-Brussels Tourism. This eight-sided, colourful mini-brochure is trying to persuade me that I should camp myself out on a beach just west of Zeebrugge. A difficult job at the best of times, as this bit of the Belgian coast isn’t currrently the number-one destination for eager holiday-makers from the UK.

Sponsored by the Flemish Government and the European Fund for Regional Development, the mailshot has high production values and some intriguing photogaphy. There’s just one drawback. It makes no sense whatsoever – presumably because of mistranslation. It’s not possible to convey the full sense of the thing without showing you the pictures, but the headline copy reads as follows:


or no action

but where?




or earth bound pleasures


makes you go free

I don’t want to embarrass anyone or to irritate the good people of Belgium. Although I’ve never sunbathed in Nieuwpoort or Wenduine, I certainly enjoyed Brussels very much on the couple of occasions I’ve visited the city. I’m also sure the people responsible for this brochure speak English a great deal better than I speak Flemish.

Nevertheless, there’s no getting away from the fact that the words I’ve transcribed above are absolute gibberish. And you shouldn’t assume they make a lot more sense with the photographs either. Youths in winter coats splash around the sea front, whilst a glamorous couple sips champagne and munches oysters from a table set up in a sand dune. Plastic dolls recline in deck chairs and a computer-animated mermaid swims towards us. None of the images is particularly well connected with the text and the overall effect is somewhat surreal.

It’s very hard to give any persuasive advertising message a real-world, colloquial flavour that is understood and appreciated by native speakers of a language. That’s why professional copywriters exist. It’s also why the whole business of international advertising is fraught with danger. Even when moving between American, Australian and UK English, it’s essential to tread very carefully.

A reconstructed screen grab from is included in the brochure and tells me that the best time to experience the Belgian coastline is the late summer. That’s when I can apparently enjoy it “intensively”. By my reckoning, that gives them seven or eight months to revisit the marketing campaign.

© Phil Woodford, 2004. All rights reserved.

Phil Woodford is a creative director at a London-based advertising agency and a lecturer in advertising theory.