PRINT Summer 1988



ONE OF PALESTINE'S BIG PROBLEMS is that it really doesn’t have any tourist organization to speak of. Though it occupies the same territory, Palestine is not Israel, not by a long shot. Israel has a hell of a tourist organization and that makes all the difference in the world.

Last year Israel pitched the slogan “Come stay with friends.” This year Israel is celebrating its 40th year of existence with the campaign “Israel this year.” The word “this” is underlined rather urgently. In one of the spots a rabbi explains that in the Bible the number 40 symbolizes trial. He hopes that the trials are over. Meanwhile we meet Israelis who emigrated from the United States; the implications are that Israel is the vacation spot where you might just put down roots. Palestine just can’t compete with the Israeli tourist business. It doesn’t have a national travel agency. It’s short on guest rooms. It doesn’t have a spokesperson like Elliott Gould. Palestine is not Israel.

Palestine is not even Singapore. It doesn’t have a luxurious national airline that can show you a foxy flight attendant attentively proferring kebab as the chorus sings “Palestine girl, you’re a great way to fly.”

Palestine is troubled. It has no Club Med; it can’t advertise itself as “the antidote for civilization.” Palestine can’t do what the occasionally strife-marred yet touristically successful Jamaica does—it can’t urge you to come back to Palestine this year. For one thing, if you do go back you’ll find it’s not there anymore. And to say “Go back to Palestine” assumes that you’re old enough to have been there before, which means the over-60 crowd only. Those who remember it are basically senior citizens, probably on fixed incomes.

Palestine doesn’t have any great wine-making châteaux that accept Visa cards. It doesn’t have amazing hotels with top-flite entertainment. There’s no golf, no fishing, no shopping, no bargains. Palestine isn’t a place where you’re going to retire.

Nicaragua has a lot of the same problems. Unlike Japan, which only 40-odd years ago was our deadly enemy, it makes no clever self-parodying automobiles. Unlike the inconveniently located Australia it has no good-natured beers or surrealistic wine coolers. Americans will never come to the defense of a country they’re not doing business with or vacationing in.

But Nicaragua has one thing that Palestine doesn’t. It has real estate. It also offers excellent surfing opportunities and terrific nightlife, and if the Sandinistas get smart and hire somebody like those Italians who do the Absolut vodka ads, Nicaragua could become the next big tourist attraction for Americans (if the Democrats get in in November, that is.) Palestine’s special marketing problems arise because it has no actual territory to call its own. This makes it a very high-concept country.

Perhaps the Palestinians could capitalize on this angle. If they could get a license, for example, they could create theme-park reconstructions of Palestine as it was back when Christ was a Palestinian. Sure the Palestinians are living in miserable, hellish conditions, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use them to their advantage. It’s not so long ago that South Korea had a bad image problem because of its alleged dictatorship, but thanks to the ice-breaking influence of Korean Airlines and Hyundai (that’s Korean for “modern”), we now see the country as not all that different from our own. Palestine could copy Korea’s example.

Do you realize that neither the PLO nor any other major organization representing the Palestinian people employs a major advertising agency? It’s shocking but true. And what a waste it is, with spokespersons of the caliber of Vanessa Redgrave waiting in the wings. The countries that are having problems today are the countries with ineffective advertising. Could even the U.S.A. run an effective army, navy, air force, and marine corps without advertising? Could we develop the wide range of consumer needs required to keep our economy stimulated?

Palestine needs a hot agency and it needs one now. The exact products and services can be decided upon later. Saatchi & Saatchi is one agency that has done a lot in one way and another for Britain and other troubled countries; maybe they could take on Palestine and help solve the problems of this shattered, almost hopeless region. Actually, Saatchi & Saatchi just lost a $70 million R. J. Reynolds account in tobacco and other stuff for doing a no-smoking ad, so maybe they could use the business. But whether or no, this is an opportunity to raise advertising to a new level and to avoid genocidal war through improved customer relations.

Glenn O’Brien, a writer who lives in Brooklyn, contributes a monthly column to Interview magazine, “Glenn O’Brien’s Beat.” His column on advertising appears monthly in Artforum.