‘Hello, Brussels? Tell me if it’s safe.’
In the wake of the terrorist attacks, the city sets out to prove it's safe to visit
January 22, 2016
You don’t see many landline phones out on the streets these days – most have been torn down or are being turned into Wi-Fi kiosks.
So it’s a real surprise to see a phone in the middle of a town square in Brussels, a beautiful and historic city in Belgium. What’s even more surprising is that the phone keeps ringing.
The phone is attached to a standalone billboard. At the top of the board appear the words, “Answer the phone.”
And so people do.
They get on the phone and explain how wonderful and safe their city is.
The callers are prospective visitors to the city.
Think of it as a very clever public relations campaign for Brussels in which the city’s residents talk up their city. And who could be better qualified?
Called #CallBrussels, the campaign launched earlier this month with the aim of undoing some of the damage done to the city’s image by the recent Paris terrorist attacks.
What’s being promoted
Tourism to Brussels.
Who’s behind the stunt
Visit Brussels, the national tourist board.
Why this stunt
By various media accounts, relying on police sources, some of the planning for the Paris attack took place in Brussels, and that’s made some tourists reluctant to visit the city, and in fact tourism has dropped sharply since November.
The stunt launched Jan. 8.
How it worked
The tourism board launched the campaign inviting people thinking of visiting the city to call in and talk to the locals, asking the question, is Brussels safe to visit?
The calls rang through to one of three bright yellow phones fastened to billboards and positioned around Brussels: one in Mont des Arts in central Brussels, the second on the square at Place Flagey, and the third in Molenbeek, where several alleged Paris attackers resided.
Whoever picked up the phone was free to say whatever they wanted. It wasn’t all complimentary to Brussels, either. The Financial Times reported one passerby who answered complained about phone service generally in Molenbook.
But for the most part residents gave good reports on Brussels and its safety.
Why it worked
Because it was bold. You can’t tiptoe around the issue of terrorism – it’s understandable that people have concerns about going to Brussels, and boldly addressing them by putting that question out in the open may be the best way to deal with the issue.
How it was received
Very well, both at home and internationally.
Midway through the first day of the campaign, more than 1,800 calls had been placed, and Belgian residents were standing in line for the chance to answer the phone.
The Financial Times, Newsweek and a number of smaller publications covered the campaign. And a video posted on YouTube has received more than 47,000 views.
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