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More global attention for Brand Jamaica

Media Corner

BY CLARE FORRESTER

Wednesday, February 13, 2013    

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I just loved that Volkswagen Superbowl television commercial that has had so many people, columnists included, talking and writing about it even ahead of the game. Count me among those who gave the advertisement a 'thumbs-up'. There is very little doubt in my mind that this was the best promotion of Brand Jamaica since the London Olympics, and one that continues to be aired on cable television. No matter how the commercial is deconstructed, any reasonably fair assessment ought to conclude that the country comes out ahead. The contention by some that the ad is racially biased or conveys a negative view of Jamaicans, would have to make the same case against the "Jamaica- no problem" or the "More than a beach" advertisements by our tourism marketers.

Viewed in the context of the massive Super Bowl audience, an average of 108.4 million, the third largest for a television event on record, according to CBS who aired the game, the discussion on talk-shows, including the hugely popular NBC 'Today' show, the advantages to Jamaica are many. One recognised US marketing analyst, Ace Metrix, has it respectably placed at number 17 among the top 50 listed. Besides, both the commercial and the Jamaican inspired parody are hot hits on YouTube and Facebook.

Everybody recognises the use of the Jamaican language and culture reflected in this commercial. There was no confusing our culture with any other Caribbean country. For sure the central actor didn't get the accent 100 per cent correct, but that simply supports the point that it was all in good humour and not used to mask any negative treatment of Jamaica's image. Then too, the marketers of Volkswagen were not hired as public relations agents or marketers for Jamaica, but that they achieved that result should be seen as a plus for the country. Besides when one considers that a 30-seconds TV spot during the game cost as much as US$4 million, then it is easy to conclude that the Jamaican brand and the Jamaica Tourist Board were given a strong helping hand by the VW marketers.

I recall Jamaica's High Commissioner to London, Aloun Assamba, observing during an address at a function during the Olympics, that given the immense success reaped by our athletes and musicians, everyone now wanted to be 'Jamaicanly' a term she coined explaining that it meant that people wanted increasingly to identify with Jamaica.

Currently, Usain Bolt is the most sought after athlete on the global athletic circuit. Also, our music is probably the most dominant one outside of the US. It certainly is the most imitated. This has partly resulted in many doing their version of the Jamaican dialect, dances and music all around the world in mediated and private performances. That to me is a tribute to Jamaica. A significant amount of the US generated 'hip-hop' sounds like dance hall music and the reason for that is that Jamaican producers produce a lot of the rhythms.

Then if the critics against the VW commercial were not enough, an early release following the 2013 Grammy tribute to the late reggae king Robert Nesta Marley, was less than effusive. According to this report: "Many argued that it was hardly a "tribute," with only a rendition of an abbreviated version of Marley's "Could You Be Loved".

I have no idea why the Grammy producers chose to honour Bob Marley this year. To the best of my recollections this is not a landmark year for the Marley industry. However, for whatever reason, the 2013 Grammy tribute showed the huge respect in which the late reggae icon is held globally. In fact, from my recollections the producers had previously presented his widow with a lifetime award in his memory. The USA, as a total market, was just about the last part of the developed world that recognized Marley's contribution to world music and many believe the reason for this was the threat that reggae and Marley was seen to pose to American music and especially American black music. That being said, I think the Grammy tribute provided another moment when Jamaica's name took centre-stage in a positive sense on the US circuit and that is an undeniable blessing. Bruno Mars and Sting led the way and then joined by Marley's sons, Ziggy and Damian, also Barbados superstar Rihanna and the event showed just how dramatic a change has taken place in Marley's legacy in the USA. He is now an icon for Black musicians in America.

The dynamic Bruno Mars left no doubt about his respect for Marley. This is an artist who has been strongly influenced by the late icon and reggae music in generally and he was definitely not reticent in saying as much. "None of this would be possible without Bob Marley." So too was Sting to an extent. Sting certainly came to prominence as a reggae artist and lead performer of "The Police", a crossover band that emerged to prominence in the early 80s at about same time that Marley exited the circuit. That group was also heavily influence by the reggae king's music.

From my perspective, there is no doubt that these artists genuinely respect and admire Marley's works and the fact that they were able to express this in their tribute which used some modern reggae influenced music should be hailed. There is no doubt that Marley's repertoire of music is fantastically large, but that certainly does not meant that a tribute to him cannot involve music outside of his repertoire to be effective and acceptable. If this was the 2000 show when the late reggae icon was being honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award, then one could reasonably argue that his music would be expected to dominate. I recall that shortly after his passing the American singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder paid tribute to him with 'Master Blaster (Jammin)', also reflective of crossover reggae music.' Several others have since also paid tribute with their own music and the Grammy producers are certainly entitled to pay tribute in their own way.

What may have bee misleading to viewers and perhaps even the live audience, was the introduction by LL Cool J, who promised a tribute "like we've never seen before". That may have built up expectations of a certain type of presentation. However, in one sense Cool J was accurate. It was a tribute with a difference. That aside, the backdrop was effective and the strong Caribbean stage presence was another plus.

Congratulations to another reggae icon Jimmy Cliff for winning the Award for The Best Reggae Album category. Well deserved. Cliff is another reason why Jamaica's name continues to be projected among the stars.

Dangerous Ambitions scores

I also wish to add my vote in favour of Basil Dawkins most recent production 'Dangerous Ambitions'. I gather that more than one newspaper critic has opined that it "failed to live up to its own ambitions." I make no pretence at being a theatre critic, however I thoroughly enjoyed this production and so too my overseas visitor who accompanied me to the Little Little Theatre to see the play. Interestingly, everyone to whom I have spoken so far, who has seen the play also gave it an 'A' for its entertaining quality. Volier Johnson was exceptional, but the casting is generally solid and most of the audience on the evening that I was at the theatre, was in stitches throughout.

Caught up with Simon Crosskill and congratulated him on his recent appointment as the executive producer and presenter for their nightly programme Live@7 as seen in a report published in the Jamaica Observer. He is still co-hosting a discussion programme on Sportsmax. Goes to show that a talented and skilled practitioner will always be in demand.

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