Sea of Sameness – a Rising Tide

BY Piers Schmidt

Back in 2011, when embarking on the brand-led transformation of Naiade Resorts into LUX* Resorts and Hotels, I coined the ‘Sea of Sameness’ as a term to describe the more or less generic offering of so many resort companies at the time.

During the five years that followed, working closely with Paul Jones and his highly motivated Team Members at LUX*, we strived to develop a truly differentiated brand platform from which to set this bold little Mauritius hotel company apart.

Sadly, beyond what was achieved at LUX*, across the industry the term still applies widely today and nowhere is this more apparent than in the paid communications of so many brands.

The image shown above is a composite of two full pages of expensive colour advertising taken out by brands and independent properties in a single issue of Condé Nast Traveller.

Blue sky – Check. Fair weather clouds – Check. Azure blue waters – Check. Chalk white sand – Check. Maldivian thatched roof – Check. Wooden jetty – Check. Palm trees – Check. Water Villa – Check. 50-60% image coverage of page – Check. White background – Check. Two-word headline – Check. Mention ‘Marine Life’ in body copy – Check. Spot the difference. Checkmate!

I understand that the consumer aspires to the Maldivian dream and hence the temptation to display it so literally but is this really as creative as the clients and agencies responsible for this work can be? At rate card, each of these executions, which are placed only 12 pages apart in the magazine, costs £12,500 and yet all they are really achieving is to promote the generic attributes of the destination. The Maldives Tourism Board must be thrilled that Marriott and Milaidhoo are doing such a generous job for them. The government must be rubbing its hand with glee as they contemplate leasing another 100 islands or thereabouts to developers keen to peddle a piece of island paradise. But switch the logos and you’d be none the wiser which brand is which or what sets one experience apart from another. Or maybe the reality is that nothing much does set the experiences apart and there’s the rub.

Not that these hotels are the only culprits. Flick through the same magazine’s back issues and it is evident that the beguiling warm waters of the sea of sameness are rising in sync with those of the Indian Ocean itself to flood almost every operator in a tsunami of clichés both visual and verbal. We all know that a rising tide lifts all boats, so why do brands persist in playing a zero-sum game?

Incidentally, although the narrative of its campaign has evolved over time, the double page spread One&Only ad on pages 28-9 of the same magazine still cuts through with strategic precision and creative clarity. For all I know or can tell, this delightful lifestyle scene may have been shot in the Maldives or indeed in Dubai, Mauritius or Mexico but that’s not the point. It’s an ad about One&Only, not the destination; it’s a vivid and captivating portrait of life at One&Only and its monochrome art direction can only be that of one brand. The spread may have cost double that of St. Regis or Milaidhoo Island page but its value is priceless.

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