Thailand’s highway patrolmen spent the first week of this year wearing scary clown smiles on their anti-pollution facemasks, all in support of the country’s branding slogan, "The Land of Smiles."
The reality of life in the country hasn’t done much else to live up to its desired reputation: government turmoil, roving mobs, even a takeover of the Bangkok airport that left protesters dead and tourists scared. So the new prime minister thought that rendering robo-smiles on his traffic cops would help improve Thailand’s mood and image.
That is, if you think the movie "Halloween" was a comedy.
I wonder who’s giving him consulting on the Thailand brand. I credit the guru with avoiding the usual image advertising campaign, or the typical social media self-referential blather of equating talk about the branding as brand itself. There’s no famous celebrity who is supposed to smile in lieu of smiles anywhere else in the country. No renaming of the airport as Smile International.
No, he embraced an utterly insane idea: he mandated that his cops would smile. The painted masks ensured 100% compliance.
At least he did something. The best branding ideas this year are probably going to be the nuttiest, but to succeed they’ll have to share a basis in experiential reality. For al we know, maybe the highway patrolmen will remember the personal-issue signage, and keep smiling weeks 2 through 52. Maybe some folks on the street will smile back.
There were likely far better ways to operationalize that goal. But it still evidences a truism that I suspect will be a hallmark of 2009:
Doing is the new thinking.
Hey, that’s something to smile about!