For almost 60 years, the Gold Coast brand has been about the sun and the surf and all that comes with it. Throw in meter maids, theme parks, high-rise apartments and resorts, and it’s a brand image that is easily recognised.

It has led to 13 million people a year visiting the region, injecting $5 billion into the local economy, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs and businesses.

The marketing of the Gold Coast has also played an important role in the promotion of the Queensland and Australian brands. The sun-drenched surf beaches of the Coast have been key to Queensland’s “Beautiful one day, perfect the next” and “Where else but Queensland” campaigns, as well as many of Tourism Australia’s marketing efforts.

Some will argue however, despite its success, that that is a very one-dimensional marketing strategy for the sixth-largest city in Australia, and that the over-reliance on tourism, and its related property and retail industries, is flawed as a long-term plan. That may particularly apply because those sectors make up a third of the economy on the Coast but only a fifth around the rest of the country.

Many argue, too, that the high-profile 2018 Commonwealth Games provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset what the Gold Coast stands for.

The Gold Coast is a city growing strongly beyond tourism and into a broader economic landscape – a landscape that includes education, health, information technology and the arts.

For example, the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct, a key legacy project of the Games, is expected to add $2.9 billion to the local economy, and open up 26,000 jobs. Its research and innovation ambitions in the health and technology space are already breeding global experts and world leading outcomes.

Similarly, the Coast’s investment in a fibre network for the Games that is 10 times faster than the NBN will provide a competitive advantage for the business and technology industries in the near future. As will the $13.5 billion in major infrastructure projects that are planned or under way.

‘The marketing purists will argue that the DNA and origin of a brand is critical.’

So the challenge for Gold Coast marketers is whether to communicate these exciting new health and technology capabilities, much as San Francisco has done with Silicon Valley, or decide that they are better off sticking to their proven sun and surf credentials.

The marketing purists will argue that the DNA and origin of a brand is critical, particularly if that DNA is still part of the product or service that you are selling.

Cadbury’s “glass and a half of full cream milk” has been its marketing DNA for more than 100 years, and still appears on the packaging of its dairy milk chocolate blocks. But the emphasis has changed over the years.
In the 1980s, Australian TV screens were filled with Professor Julius Sumner Miller delivering the famous “a glass and a half of full cream milk” line as the key message in the ad, and in the past 10 years there have been more subtle nods to it.

The company’s popular “Gorilla” ad saw the line appear in the first few seconds of the commercial like an opening film credit – “A glass and a half production” – with more marketing emphasis in recent times on Cadbury’s new innovative product lines such as Marvellous Creations and Flavour mix-ups.

The answer for the Gold Coast lies in similar territory. The challenge is to build on the clear long-term successful brand positioning of the sun and the surf and the fun holiday destination, by adding the more contemporary story that reflects the Coast’s new vision of “a multi-faceted, highly desirable and liveable city”, evidenced by their health and technology abilities. A unique lifestyle, with an exciting innovative future.

And this is a story that will still resonate with would-be tourists because people travel as they would like to live. People judge tourism destinations for their perceived liveability qualities. And the Coast has that balance of an authentic Australian way of life, augmented by its developing technology and health focus.

The critics of the one-dimensional sun and surf marketing strategy are right in saying that the Games will provide the perfect opportunity to promote today’s more multi-dimensional city. The eyes and ears of potential tourists from New Zealand, the UK, Singapore, Canada, South Africa, Malaysia and India will be open to the region’s marketing messages. But it’s not an either or option; the sun and the surf, or the new innovative health and technology platform. It’s both.

Marketers need to remind people of the DNA of the Gold Coast’s brand, as well as introduce them to the appeal of the more entrepreneurial culture that exists in the health and technology sectors. Silicon Beach if you like.

Andrew Baxter is CEO of Publicis Australia, this article was first published in The Australian.