The Art of Viral Campaigns for Destinations

Visit Finland identified a unique opportunity to leverage Finland's distinct identity. Drawing on the country's renowned reputation for happiness.

Finland, known for its sparse population and stunning natural beauty, set an ambitious goal: to become the leading Nordic tourist destination by 2025. In response, Visit Finland identified a unique opportunity to leverage Finland's distinct identity. Drawing on the country's renowned reputation for happiness, consistently ranked as the highest in the world, Visit Finland launched the Masterclass of Happiness.

Finland, known for its sparse population and stunning natural beauty, set an ambitious goal: to become the leading Nordic tourist destination by 2025. In response, Visit Finland identified a unique opportunity to leverage Finland's distinct identity. Drawing on the country's renowned reputation for happiness, consistently ranked as the highest in the world, Visit Finland launched the Masterclass of Happiness.

Facing stiff competition from other Nordic countries in the global tourism market, Finland, known for its sparse population and stunning natural beauty, set an ambitious goal: to become the leading Nordic tourist destination by 2025. In response, Visit Finland identified a unique opportunity to leverage Finland's distinct identity. Drawing on the country's renowned reputation for happiness, consistently ranked as the highest in the world, Visit Finland launched the Masterclass of Happiness. This innovative programme aimed to share the Finnish perspective on wellbeing with a global audience. As recognition for this creative campaign, the Masterclass of Happiness was a deserved finalist in the Purposeful Brand Award and Digital Impact Award categories at the 2023 X. Awards.

The Pandemic as a Catalyst for Change


The COVID-19 pandemic brought the tourism industry to a standstill, forcing Visit Finland to rethink its approach. They identified a global yearning for a deeper understanding of happiness, with 45% of the world struggling to recall its true essence. This disconnect became an opportunity. The Finnish way of life wasn't a mystical secret; it was a learnable skill. Thus, the Masterclass of Happiness was born. Through research, Visit Finland identified the most relevant coaches and curated the lessons with them, focusing on four key themes that seamlessly align with Finland's unique selling points:

  1. Nature and Lifestyle
  2. Health and Balance
  3. Design and Everyday
  4. Food and Wellbeing

Finland's challenge wasn't just about attracting tourists; it was about carving out a unique identity in a crowded market. They knew they couldn't compete with iconic landmarks, instead, they embraced their national associations with tranquil nature and the emphasis on wellbeing, helping to leverage their unique and internationally respected strengths.


The Masterclass of Happiness wasn't just a marketing campaign; it was a cultural experience. It leaned into the Finnish stereotype of "sisu", a grit and resilience born from harsh winters and long nights. It highlighted the "metsä", the omnipresent forest that defines the Finnish soul. It celebrated the "sauna", a sacred space for both physical and mental cleansing. DMOs can take a page from Visit Finland's playbook, moving beyond generic marketing campaigns and tapping into the soul of their destinations to help position themselves authentically and engage potential visitors.


The Power of Digital PR


The Masterclass of Happiness initially took place as a live event with 14 selected participants from Finland's key source markets. Recognising the limitations of traditional marketing budgets, Visit Finland leveraged digital PR to amplify their message, with potential visitors inspired to 'find their inner Finn'. Through compelling storytelling, interactive social media engagement and a unique application process over 150,000 submissions were garnered.


Beyond tourism, Finland fostered a global connection. The Masterclass wasn't just about Finnish happiness; it was about shared values. Lessons on mindfulness, nature immersion and community resonated across cultures, proving happiness' universality. Digital PR amplified this, sparking conversations about wellbeing. Online communities, forums and hashtags built a platform for connection, breaking down cultural barriers and creating a sense of belonging among travellers worldwide.



As a result of the soaring demand, the live experience was turned into an online learning tool, with five video lessons teaching viewers about the keys to Finnish happiness, complemented by practical tasks to help implement the learnings. This approach to extending the longevity of the campaign further cemented Finland's position as a leader in sustainable tourism.


The Masterclass of Happiness effectively demonstrates how bold marketing and PR campaigns can generate significant exposure and engagement for tourism destinations, with a 350% increase in website traffic on Visit Finland's website. The DMO successfully created significant global buzz, with the campaign seen in 190 countries and generating more than 2,500 media hits about Finnish happiness and the Masterclass of Happiness itself. With strong social media performance, including 7.5 million hashtag views on TikTok and an organic reach of 4.36 million people, additional free promotion opportunities were created from Kourtney Kardashian and ABC News, who produced a two-episode documentary about the Masterclass of Happiness.


Using the momentum from PR campaigns can be a great asset for DMOs to capture the attention of visitors and expand their platform. Here are some of the most unique examples of DMOs leveraging innovative PR campaigns:


  1. Vienna Tourist Board on Onlyfans: This campaign was bold and risky, successfully achieving its goal of gaining large media coverage. The unorthodox approach was a response to being required to censor some historic artwork and statues on their traditional social media platforms. As a result, it positioned Vienna as a hip, young and welcoming destination with a vibrant art scene.
  2. Faroe Islands Sheep View: Visit Faroe Islands used the unique opportunity of not being featured on Google Street View to create a PR campaign around using 360-degree cameras on sheep to map the archipelago. As a result, Visit Faroe Islands managed to spread awareness about the destination in a fun way and promote the rugged and natural beauty the destination is known for.
  3. #GetNZontheMap: Tourism New Zealand launched a two-part viral public diplomacy campaign featuring celebrities, such as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Sir Peter Jackson, amassing a staggering 1.3 billion organic reach and $10 million in earned media. The videos humorously highlight New Zealand's key unique selling points and why other countries are jealous of the country and deliberately leave it off maps.


Rent A Finn


The Masterclass of Happiness isn't the first marketing campaign Visit Finland produced around its renowned happiness of residents. In 2019, they launched a short-form video series called 'Rent a Finn', where eight visitors were paired with selected 'happiness guides' who shared their experiences and helped visitors reconnect with nature. After the original success of the campaign and as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was made into a virtual series in 2020, where instead of people being chosen to visit In real life, the same lessons were given by the tour guides, made easily accessible via YouTube.


Despite its limited budget, Visit Finland's Rent a Finn campaign achieved impressive results, exceeding expectations. It generated a remarkable €1,099 for every €1 invested, demonstrating a strong return on investment. The campaign not only ignited tourism growth but also helped bring to life the concept of Finnish happiness for global audiences. Reaching an audience of 34.4 million, the campaign sparked significant engagement online. This engagement translated into a 114% year-on-year increase in traffic to Visit Finland's website, indicating a surge in interest in Finland as a travel destination. Additionally, hundreds of enthusiastic Finns contacted Visit Finland, offering to be happiness guides as a testament to the campaign's positive impact on local communities.



Destinations Doing More for the Local Community


Unsurprisingly, Visit Finland showcases a strong determination to give back to the country, demonstrate goodwill and work with local communities. This idea is also prominent amongst other DMOs who have strived towards the same goal:


  1. Freedom to Wish: Launched by Cape Town Tourism, this campaign utilised a vetted application process to enable financially constrained residents to experience tourism locally. This campaign promoted responsible tourism and built a community of brand ambassadors for the city by showcasing everyday citizens who actively contribute to making their destination a better place.


  1. TED@Destination Canada: This campaign provided an opportunity for Canadians to conduct their own Ted Talk, with applicants submitting one-minute videos about their suggested topics. The event was a resounding success which gave Canadians from all backgrounds the chance to speak passionately about a chosen topic to an audience intrigued to learn more about the country's culture and traditions.

A central aspect of all of these campaigns is the commitment to responsible tourism and harnessing civic pride by emphasising community engagement, connecting visitors and locals and highlighting the potential for travel to be more meaningful than sightseeing but an opportunity for learning, personal reflection and contribution towards positive change. Many other DMOs can learn from this approach, as providing a sense of purpose to visitors not only enhances their experience but also facilitates a more positive environment for visitors and guests to coexist.

Key Takeaways

  • Use Personal Identity - A big feat of Visit Finland's success was not the amount of money spent on marketing, instead, it was being true to their roots and expanding on what they already have through their happiness. For DMOs seeking to emulate this strategy, the focus should shift towards uncovering and amplifying their own distinct identity. This includes identifying the elements that set them apart, be it their cultural fabric, natural beauty or historical significance.
  • Work with Locals - The best way to promote destinations is by working with local communities and being proud of your residents, this makes your destination feel authentic and more personal and brings a wealth of new diverse perspectives
  • Harness the Power of Digital PR - Creating campaigns which will turn heads or make the audience interact is the best way to create buzz around your destination, especially when linked to a specific call to action.
  • Subtly Communicate Sustainability - Highlight the value of reconnecting with nature and getting away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Sustainability messages don't need to be direct, they can be subtly integrated into more creative marketing campaigns that utilise the power of excellent storytelling.
Published on:
January 2024
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