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Amsterdam’s Anti-Tourism Ad Campaign

When most people think of “negative SEO,” they think of black-hat techniques aimed at competitors, the specifics of which I won’t go into here. The city of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, started up a negative marketing campaign last month. Amsterdam’s “negative” campaign, as it turns out, is a paid campaign specifically orchestrated to turn people away not from visiting a neighboring country instead of Amsterdam… but from visiting Amsterdam itself:

But Amsterdam has a problem with too much tourism — and now it’s telling some visitors, namely British male tourists aged between 18 and 35, to “stay away” if they’re traveling to the city for drugs or parties.

The “Stay Away” campaign targets visitors who use online search terms like “stag party Amsterdam,” “pub crawl Amsterdam” or “cheap hotel Amsterdam” by showing them warning advertisements, authorities said.

The campaign wasn’t meant to be tongue-in-cheek, like, if I were to write a sarcastic ad for Florida saying “Don’t come here, the sand between your toes gets so annoying.” They sincerely don’t want these visitors.

However, the press around the campaign has meant that the campaign hasn’t worked out the way they wanted:

The Stag Company – one of many firms selling packages to groups of stags and hens – saw a 4,000% increase in online interest yesterday, with a 649% rise in quotes leading to a 356% increase in bookings.

Tom Bourlet, head of marketing at the company, said that the ad campaign had “worked out quite well for us”.

I attempted to replicate these search results by setting the VPN on my phone to London and running searches for “stag party Amsterdam” and “stag do Amsterdam,” among others, but couldn’t get the ads to come up. (Perhaps if I’d been able to set my location to Coventry, where they’d clearly like to send these searchers.)

Overall, it’s a creative campaign concept, but clearly flawed – first, it’s important to consider whether or not deterrent ads really work or whether they make the behavior look all the more intriguing; and second, when your campaign is TOO novel and gets this much blog and press coverage, is it guaranteed to backfire if its goal was to ensure you received a little less attention?