Iceland wants to be your friend. -Collin Hill

 This is Iceland.

Photo by Alex Nail
Photo by Alex Nail
Photo by David Clapp
Photo by David Clapp
Photo by Alban Henderyckx
Photo by Alban Henderyckx

This little island in the North-Atlantic is home to vast glaciers, massive volcanoes and mountains, and world-famous geysers. It’s also home to 329,100 people; and with an area of only 40,000 square miles, it is the least dense country (person/sq mi) in Europe. Even only 1% of the island is cultivated! Iceland has been viewed for generations as a place where magic lives and breathes. Settled by Scandinavian Vikings in 9th century, Iceland’s

Photo by Einar Runar Sigurdsson
Photo by Einar Runar Sigurdsson

culture is rich with this history and magical folklore that takes its place in the hearts of its citizens. In fact, about 62% of Icelanders strongly believe that the “Huldufolk”, or “elves” still live in Iceland’s vast landscapes. Some even host elf advocate groups to fight for elven environmental protection (Gottlieb, 2013), but that’s not quite where this is going.

In 2008, Iceland suffered a severe economic crisis after its main banks fell. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the island was struck with major geological disruptions. Following the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the very same that grounded plane traffic in Europe, Iceland’s tourism rates plummeted as the country was deemed by tourists as frightening place. Just look at how scary this volcano is:

Eruption at Eyjafjallajökull
Photo by Sigurdur H Stefnisson

This, combined with the already bankrupt economy, posed to be a rather troublesome issue. The nation’s government along with the Icelandic Tourist Board realized the problem and quickly jumped at a solution, so they asked Takk Takk to give them a hand. Takk Takk is an Icelandic promotional and communications agency that, as they put it, “help good people, groups, organizations, companies, and one country make friends and influence people” (“Iceland Wants to Be Your Social Media Campaign”).

So what did Takk Takk do?

Well, the Icelandic Tourist Board liked the idea of social media and wanted to use it as a way to persuade people to come back to Iceland as a tourist destination. Takk Takk concluded that “after looking briefly at what others were doing, [they] thought about it, and decided to do something completely different.” So rather than build a few social media feeds and blogs for the government that showed pictures Iceland’s landscapes and culture, like what every other country was doing, Takk Takk decided to “simply put Iceland itself on the Internet.” They called it Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend (“Iceland Wants to Be Your Social Media Campaign”).

And that’s exactly what that is. Takk Takk personified Iceland with a quirky and friendly humor that’s befitting of the island. The website has a very simplistic design that largely acts as a hub connecting visitors to the campaign’s multiple different social media pages. It also acts as Iceland’s little greeting to everyone:

more hallo

On the site, visitors are encouraged to become Iceland’s friend and sign up for the newsletter, which Iceland reassures you that “nothing bad will happen to you” (“Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend”). I did. Nothing bad happened.

Along with the newsletter sign-up, there exist multiple buttons connecting to Iceland’s various official social media feeds. Iceland’s official Twitter profile, @thisisiceland, does an excellent job when it comes to real-time marketing and engaging its followers all while providing quirky information of the country. In synchronicity with the eruption of Bárðarbunga (Aug 2014 – Feb 2015), Iceland was quick to let the world know how it was feeling:

Even going as far to show some tears and poke fun at the land down under:

Aside from geological news, the country’s Twitter profile is always quick to let the world know of its stances on worldly topics as well as what was going on on its surface:

Here’s that photo for you.

Takk Takk wasn’t the only group to respond to the government’s request for help. Among those that responded was Promote Island, who, with their Inspired by Iceland campaign, joined Takk Takk in the quest to rebuild Iceland’s economy. Promote Iceland describes itself as “a public-private partnership established to improve the competitiveness of Icelandic companies in foreign markets and to stimulate economic growth through increased export.” Naturally, Promote Iceland didn’t want to just showcase postcards of the pretty landscape; they wanted to display all of what Iceland had to offer. On their website, they write “the goals of Promote Iceland are promoting Iceland as a tourism destination, assisting in the promotion of Icelandic culture abroad, and introducing Iceland as an attractive option for foreign direct investment.” Their marketing campaign for this goal became the attractively titled Inspired by Iceland (“About”).

To touch more on the trade and investment side of their goal, Promote Iceland hosted workshops, tradeshows, and much more around the globe. They helped build Icelandic companies to be better competent in foreign markets. Here’s a short video they produced to showcase some achievements of theirs from last year, 2014:

In case you didn’t catch some of those statistics because of the enchanting song, here’s just a few noteworthy statistics that show their commitment to the Icelandic industries:

  • Organized 59 tradeshows, business delegation’s promotional events abroad.
  • 142 companies participated in the marketing initiative Iceland Responsible Fisheries and a joint marketing initiative for Icelandic salted good in Southern Europe.
  • 1,581 articles on Iceland and Icelandic goods and services were published in foreign media as a result of their PR work.
  • 26 foreign direct investments were actively pursued.

(Islandsstofa, 2015).

That’s some solid work! Promote Iceland and Inspired by Iceland’s website also list many resources on Iceland’s key industries: agriculture, energy, fisheries, information technologies, biotechnology, and creative industries (“Business Segments”). They even provide case studies regarding investment opportunities in mainly chemical manufacturing and green energy resources (“Sector Analysis”).

When tackling the tourism aspect of Promote Iceland’s goal, the Inspired by Iceland proved to be a value teammate alongside Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend. Their tourism goal was to “increase the number of tourists in the off-season,” which they accomplished by coming up with hilarious and heartwarming programs like Ask Guðmundur and Honorary Islander (“Case Study: Inspired by Iceland”).

Ask Guðmundur

Guðmundur, or Guðmunda, is a traditional Icelandic first name. In early 2015, Inspired by Iceland decided to use this name as part of their program Ask Guðmundur, what they called the world’s first human search engine. The idea was fairly simple, “more than 98% of the world’s Guðmundur population resides in Iceland” so naturally that “makes them uniquely qualified to help you discover all the wonderful little secrets that Iceland keeps.” Ask something only a Guðmundur could answer!

Nowadays Ask Guðmundur is known as Guðmundur Hangouts, an upgraded version of the first program. Inspired by Iceland describes Guðmundur Hangouts as “unique experiences in Iceland that can only be experienced through real human interaction,” (“Guðmundur Hangouts”). On their website one can sign up to participate in many different activities with equally as many Guðmundurs. All of which are in Iceland, of course. Equipped with real-time emojis and live chat, the different Guðmundurs will take you on unique and personal adventures across the entire island to make you feel like one of the natives.

Honorary Islander

For the Inspired by Iceland: Honorary Islander program, Iceland called upon its residents to open their doors and homes to foreign visitors in the winter of 2011. Natives of the country came together to show foreign visitors what a day of Icelandic life is all about. Even the president opened his own doors!

Just from this winter long campaign, Iceland generated an additional £34 million in additional tourist revenue. Along with that there was a 16% increase in visitors to the country that broke all of the previous winter’s tourism records (The Brooklyn Brothers, 2015).

How effective were these campaigns in the long run?

Simply put, very effective. How could you not want to eat pancakes with their president? Together, the two campaigns saw a substantial increase in foreign interest in Iceland. When measuring the success of the Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend and Inspired by Iceland campaigns one can simply start by comparing tourism statistics of Iceland before and after the campaign was launched.

We’ll start first by examining the change in tourism as a percentage of Iceland’s export revenue.

Tourism as percentage of Export Revenue:  EXREV

2008:   16.9%

2010:   18.8%

2011:   20.4%

2012:   23.5%

2013:   26.8%

2014:   27.9%

Immediately one can notice a steady rise of the percentage over the years. Next we’ll look at the number of international visitors to Iceland.

International Visitors to Iceland (excluding cruise ship passengers):VISITORS

2008:   502,300

2010:   495,000

2011:   565,000

2012:   672,900

2013:   807,300

2014:   998,600

(Icelandic Tourist Board, 2010). (Icelandic Tourist Board, 2015).

Tourism as a percentage of export revenue can be used as strong evidence to support growth in tourism as a result from the Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend and Inspired by Iceland campaigns. Starting before the campaigns in 2008, Iceland’s tourism as a percentage of export revenue was only at 16.9%. As the years progressed, tourism’s share of Iceland’s export revenue steadily grew to an astounding 27.9% in 2014.

When compared alongside the number of international visitors to Iceland, the campaigns are shown to be an outstanding success. In 2008, only about half a million international visitors traveled to Iceland (excluding cruise ship passengers). Five years later, well after the Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend and Inspired by Iceland campaigns were in full swing and having their effect, the number of international visitors doubled in quantity. The social media explosions that these campaigns produced created dramatic acceleration Iceland’s economy needed on the road towards recovery.  That’s not to say that Iceland’s geological explosions didn’t help bring the world’s eye to the little island as well, since it surely helped.

To get a good idea of how Iceland recovered from their economic slump, it helps to compare the island’s national gross domestic product over the years. We’ll start with the beginning of 2007, the year before their economy plummeted, to today.

Icelandic Gross Domestic Product (USD billion):

2007:   17.1

2008:   21.45

2009:   17.6

2010:   12.82

2011:   13.26

2012:   14.69

2013:   14.23

2014:   15.39

2015:   17.07

(“Iceland GDP | 1960-2015”).

Iceland’s GDP was steadily growing up until 2008 when in drastically plummeted immediately following a substantial rise. Bottoming out at 12.82 billion USD in 2010, the country has since made a steady recovery back to it’s previous economic strength largely with the help of Takk Takk’s Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend tourism campaign and Promote Iceland’s tourism, and business and investment efforts through Inspired by Iceland.

How were the campaigns received?

The beginning of the campaign showed an initial strong positive reaction from the public, as many thought it quite unique to give Iceland its own voice as an island. Takk Takk mentions that the their campaign had been “described by serious adults who know about these things, ‘an object lesson in how to social media well’ [and] ‘exemplary in terms of the simplicity and finesse of its approach’,” (“Iceland Wants to Be Your Social Media Campaign”) among many other positive remarks.

Niland Mortimer, the Chief Marketing Officer of Socialarc Inc., wrote about the campaign in a news report for CBS News, stating that she knew nearly nothing of Iceland before the campaign aside from its then bankrupt status and that booming volcano Eyjafjallajökull. But following the campaign she had much more to say about the country, specifically noting that Iceland’s social media expertise is quite the example to follow:

“Any business, large or small, could follow the logic behind Iceland’s approach with profit. [It] has captured an authentic voice, charming, direct, thankfully lacking in hyperbole (as so many other countries embrace), inviting and clear. Will it attract visitors and business? It’s certainly convinced me to book a flight for my next holiday.”

-Niland Mortimer

(Mortimer, 2010).

On the other side of the globe, Alex White, campaign strategist and secretary for Australia’s UnionsACT, wrote in his blog that he found Iceland’s social media campaign to be so engaging that he is convinced to buy a plane ticket there himself. He notes three aspects about the campaign that he finds to be befitting of a worthy example:

“It is fairly unique – I haven’t seen any other tourism campaigns like this one.

It engages across a range of platforms.

It has a friendly, conversational and consistent tone that welcomes engagement, while not taking itself too seriously.”

-Alex White

(White, 2011).

Iceland’s use of a friendly and simple persona has had people feeling more comfortable and engaged than before; and he’s not the only one to think that. Nicolas Reitz of Solemio thought that rather than taking a pushy tone like many other brands’ and institutions’ social media campaign did, “Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend is resolutely conversational, with a humble and humorous tone [which] positions Iceland as a rather upscale destination” (Iceland Wants to Be Your Social Media Campaign Quotes”).

Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend and Inspired by Iceland set premier examples in social media marketing. If there is anything to take away from Takk Takk and Promote Iceland’s campaigns, it’s that simplicity, honesty, and a little sprinkle of humor are the way to go. The two campaigns showed that it also doesn’t hurt to get the community involved, like how Australia practiced when they launched their Working Holiday Maker Program in June of 2013.  In this program, Australia took the idea to get the community involved by posting a job promotion contest that received over 330,000 entries from 196 countries (Myrtetus, 2015).

Australia hasn’t been the only country to follow Iceland’s footsteps since the campaigns.

“After the infamous volcano and the collapse of Icelandic economy this is the rebirth of Iceland as a brand that will attract mainly young tourists … We can only hope that [the Slovenian] Tourism Association can learn something from this.”

-Nina Tanner, Online Campaign Consultant, Article on

(“Iceland Wants to Be Your Social Media Campaign Quotes”)

Slovenian tourism eventually did follow suit. Croatia decided to follow the lessons learned from Iceland by using social media to construct attention. Last year in June, Croatia’s tourism board asked travelers with take selfies tagged with #lovecroatia or #sharecroatia for a chance to win a free trip to the country. They even added a 60-second video that was compiled with photos from these hashtags. Though not as friendly or involved as Iceland’s campaigns were, Croatia has still managed to gather more than 24,000 Instagram photos since the campaign’s beginning and it has done a decent job at attracting tourists (Shankman, 2014).

Five years ago when Takk Takk and Promote Iceland launched their campaigns together, it is unlikely that they thought about revolutionizing the methods by which social media could be used to market a country. By creating a singular persona for their island and gathering the people of the country together, Iceland managed to make a remarkable recovery from their economic slump. They nearly doubled their international visitor count, their tourism revenue, and managed to pull their national gross domestic product back to where it was before. Not even slowing down to take a breath, these campaigns are still going on in full swing and will continue to into the unforeseeable future. They have become the voice of Iceland itself. Quirky, friendly, and funny, Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend and Inspired by Iceland have managed to captivate the world and make us “smile and feel a happy, warm Icelandic glow inside,” (“Dear Iceland”, 2010).



About. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2015, from

Business Segments. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2015, from

Case Study: Inspired by Iceland. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2015, from

Dear Iceland, I Am Not Too Busy to Visit You. (2010, August 17). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from

Gottlieb, J. (2013, December 23). Could there be elves in Iceland? San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved September 27, 2015, from

Guðmundur Hangouts. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2015, from

Iceland GDP | 1960-2015 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast | News. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2015, from

Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2015, from

Iceland Wants to Be Your Social Media Campaign. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from

Iceland Wants to Be Your Social Media Campaign Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2015, from

Inspiredbyiceland. (2015, April 27). Ask Gudmundur – The Human Search Engine Inspired by

Iceland [Video File]. Retrieved from

Islandsstofa. (2015, May 27). Promote Iceland – Activities in Year 2014 [Video File]. Retrieved from

Mortimer, N. (2010, September 2). Sure It’s Bankrupt, but Iceland Has Killer Social Media Skills. Retrieved September 30, 2015.

Myrtetus, A. (2015, March 13). The Best Of… Tourism Marketing Campaigns. Retrieved October 2, 2015.

Sector Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2015, from

Shankman, S. (2014, June 11). Visit Croatia Taps Tourists’ Photos for New Social Media Campaign. Retrieved September 30, 2015.

The Brooklyn Brothers. (2015, January 8). Inspired By Iceland: Honorary Islander [Video File]. Retrieved from

White, A. (2011, January 13). Amazing social media campaign: “Iceland Wants to Be Your Friend” | Alex White. Retrieved September 30, 2015.

Iceland wants to be your friend. -Collin Hill

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