Highland cow, tartan, highland scenery and Tunnocks Teacakes

Scotland the Brand - the story behind the image

18 Nov 2015

3 min read

Here's the second post from our intern and tourism marketing graduate, Vanessa, on branding and marketing in the travel sector. Now she's looking at Scotland's brand development since the country's image was reinvented in the 18th century and what that means for the Scottish tourism industry today.

How do you see Scotland? Wild and rugged landscapes left over from the lawless territory of the Jacobite rebellion? Maybe you think of the ghosts that you can find in every castle around the country or the constant bagpipe music played by men in kilts. It's part of the country's tourism image, a major factor that shapes how Scotland is seen and sees itself. Our cultural peculiarities distinguish us, yet many of them are completely made up.

Scottish man in tartan - clan Buchanan

Lithograph of Clan Buchanan from The Complete Study of Scottish Highland Clans

Much of Scotland's imagery is based on the reinvention of Scottish and especially Highland culture during Romanticism. Roughly positioned between the end of the 18th century and 1865, Romanticism cultivated a sentimental form of sensibility. It nourished the longing for being immersed in nature and travel in order to be liberated from the everyday. Sound familiar? The concept is called the ‘tourist gaze’ - the learned act of gazing upon landscapes different from daily life. Bearing in mind the division of social classes at the time, the romantic gaze was an elitist experience. Intense emotions towards the scenery could only be experienced if the cultural foundation for it (art and books) existed.

Romantic Painting of Highland Cows, Loch and Castle

The influence of guidebooks in this situation is quite significant. Popular at the time, they were a mix of romantic fiction and facts. Tourism was about experiencing an imagined past that had been reinterpreted to fit current taste. With interest in history being encouraged by romantic novels, culture and heritage tourism grew in popularity. Many places were physically reconstructed to better match the ‘tourist gaze’, while actual facts were disregarded.

With tourism being a major force in shaping how we see and understand one another, it is important to examine this heritage. Knowing that Scottish history, traditions and culture are largely invented, reinterpreted and romanticised, how can any form of tourism be regarded as authentic, even today? Doesn't the action of reinterpreting history reduce complex happenings to banal, easily digestible bites? Not necessarily.

Painting of a highland shepherd with sheep

The Highland Shepherd - Rosa Bonheur

Romanticism in Scotland could be seen as an act of partially reclaiming lost cultural identities and traditions. Even if many Scottish traditions are invented, they have come to be an important part of national identity, reinforcing local pride and thus representing the country’s brand externally. Especially in tourism marketing, emotional connections are as important as they ever were. Just think of the tourists who come to Scotland to research their ancestry and how those who claim personal connections are distinct from other visitors.

The Macauley clans of Lewis, Wester Ross and Uist

Map of the Macauley Clans of Lewis

Still, with scenery remaining a major factor in deciding to travel to Scotland and especially the Highlands, it could be argued that tourism relies heavily on selling the Romantic image. With touring still the most popular way of travelling - Lochs & Glens and Rabbie's being two popular examples - some of these aspects become clearer. Looking at promotional images, it’s clear that we build on aspects of the Romantic Movement: pictures show supposedly typical Scottish scenery, often enhanced, feeding into the notion of an ideal landscape unlikely to be encountered. Descriptions of shimmering lochs, rugged mountain tops and forest-filled glens draw a mental picture of the scenery, interlaced with historical facts, putting emotions before the actual encounter.

Red stag in Scotland

Red Stags, Highlands

There’s also a storytelling aspect with tour guides constructing a narrative spanning countryside and attractions to outline national culture, identity and history. These stories set the scene for the emotional involvement of tourists, their emotional attachment to the destination and the people within it. It's local knowledge and pride that can offer the authenticity many people look for, with invented traditions making many appearances. There is no doubt that many tourists have a romanticised idea of Highlanders striding through the hills with kilt flapping and bagpipes skirling. Our industry caters to that and we hear tourists squealing in delight because their guide matches this ideal.

The Dalmore whisky packaging features a solid silver stag to represent the distillery’s heritage and links with the Mackenzie clanThe Dalmore whisky packaging features a solid silver stag to represent the distillery’s heritage and links with the Mackenzie clan

It seems the Romantic Movement still exerts great influence on tourism representation and shapes the image of Scotland. Many companies build their brand on it, though travellers and locals alike point out that the stories told and heard are not just historic anecdotes or personal gems but also truths about Scottish history, be it the reinterpretation of Braveheart or that of Rob Roy. Many Scots like to see themselves not as promoting the traditional Romantic shortbread tin image of Scotland but as shaping a wholesome, informed frame through which to view the country. So, even though invented traditions continue their success in the tourism industry, we have started to see that they can merge into local culture within time. As such, culture and heritage, invented or not, are not just contributors to development but are a foundation for it. We feel pride in the stories and the images they create, even though we know they're not true. We have become aware that culture remains a constantly emerging concept, defined by the people who live within it.

Walkers Shortbread tin with tartan and Scottish castle

In branding and marketing, the tourism industry still values tangible aspects and their representation over the intangible aspects but that's slowly changing. We are starting to see the importance of addressing the personal, emotional side of things and taking in the full picture of intangible culture. Maybe tourism developments in Scotland do show the prevailing importance of ideologies, fashion and opinion leaders in creating attractive brands and vice versa. However, it remains open to say if the continuing influence of Romanticism on them is positive or negative. After all, the objective is to offer deeply felt emotions and long-lasting experiences - and Scotland's pretty good at that.

#brandexperience #brands #rebranding #tourism

Written by

Vanessa Wegstein - 999 Design Marketing Intern

Vanessa Wegstein

Marketing Intern