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Spoof earthquake e-mail makes mockery of Swansea.

SWANSEA received one of its most devastating insults last week in the form of a spoof ``pass it on'' e-mail. The e-mail, disguised as a news report, spelt out the fictitious details of an earthquake in South West Wales, with Swansea as its epicentre.

According to the e-mail, the earthquake devastated Swansea. The e-mail goes on, ``Thousands are confused and bewildered, trying to come to terms with the fact that something interesting has happened in Swansea ... apparently though, looting, muggings and car crime did carry on as normal.''

The e-mail finishes off with an appeal for aid stating, ``pounds 2 buys chips, scraps and blue pop for a family of four. pounds 10 can take a family to Port Talbot for the day, where children can play on a radioactive beach in front of the national collection of steel works.''

In the world of business, millions can be spent trying to produce spoof e-mails that get passed around to promote a product or brand - in the trade this is called viral marketing. When Levi jeans were suffering a downturn in sales, as a result of the phenomenal rise in combat trousers, they devised the puppet character Flat Eric to re-launch their Sta-Prest brand of jeans. Levi's used Flat Eric in humorous video clips that lit-erally circled the globe in the form of e-mail clips. The result was that people felt they were in on an insider joke and were, effectively, blasted between the eyes with advertising without ever realising it.

It's this level and intensity of message that's now been harnessed and flipped around to do Swansea down through the spoof earthquake e-mail. The problem, however, is that there's an element of truth there which is why people apparently find it so funny. The damage is greatest when these jokes, if allowed to proliferate, end up actually cementing an image or perception.

Where Scousers and Essex boys and girls were once the butt of many a joke, Swansea now finds itself centre stage.

To me, the most poignant jibe of the e-mail was the line about people ``coming to terms with the fact that something interesting has happened in Swansea.''

This really is the problem; in Swansea we don't know what to shout about and we don't know how to promote ourselves. For many, our God-given gift of the Gower seems to be about the most positive aspect of the city.

People are trying to promote Swansea though; both the recently-formed City Centre Partner-ship and Swansea Marketing, which is in its infancy, are trying to find ways of promoting Swansea and are doing so with collaboration between business and the public sector.

The problem is what should we promote Swansea as - a destination for tourists? The silicon valley of Wales, in terms of emerging IT companies in the area? A centre of learning, promoting the University and Swansea Institute? Or a city on the move that wants to encourage business and commerce?

Swansea has to define its product. It has to show people what exactly the city has to offer, its opportunities, its focus and its vision.

It's not good enough just to say we're building an Olympic pool and a waterfront museum and, at some point, we might have the Morfa Stadium and the new Castle Quays shopping centre.

Swansea has to find its unique selling point or points. It needs to convince, firstly, the people of Swansea and subsequently tell the outside world the story through a positive and proactive marketing effort.

Only then can we create a positive perception of Swansea that really will, in the future, make e-mails of this sort a joke in them-selves.


A THING OF BEAUTY: The Gower landscape
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 17, 2003
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