How not to sell your nation to tourists

And you thought John Key's bit on Letterman was a sad attempt at scaring up tourists. In Denmark the state tourism organisation filmed a fake YouTube appeal in which a hot Dane woman admitted her fling with a foreign visitor produced a child

So, have American tourists started calling up, expressing interest in the Cinnabon at Auckland Airport yet?

John Key's recent, odd appearance on Letterman was really designed to shape his profile back home with supporters, right? Duncan Garner's suggestion of a "tourism bonanza" was surely just generated by the excitement of being in New York. (Even Obama's election failed to achieve much of a tourism boom for his  birthplace.)

Key awkwardly showed that he is not afraid to make an utter fool of himself for a good cause, and... well... apparently many New Zealanders find that a good thing.

For those who cringed watching the stand-up attempt, rest assured: it wasn't the strangest recent attempt at national self-promotion.

Denmark, where I live, could easily have taken the obvious road and used a late-night TV show gimmicky top-ten-list to offer Americans a free-ride from the airport in Princess Mary's chariot, or to highlight the 20% of Danish electricity generated through wind. ("Hey, They Don't All Have To Be Funny. Ergh").

But Denmark (which is about the same size and population as NZ) already has the American TV circuit covered: last week, Oprah came here for the Olympics 2012 decision and shot a show about how lovely life is for Danish people. And Danes believe that all eyes will be on Copenhagen and its wind-power this December, when leaders gather here to negotiate a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol.

So, after great contemplation, they cheerfully decided to highlight the desire of hot, blonde, Danish women to have unprotected sex with tourists.

I'll explain this from the beginning.

Recently, a video shot on a webcam popped up on YouTube.

A woman—calling herself Karen26—introduces the viewer to her cute baby son, August. Karen26 reveals she is hoping to find a man who had visited Denmark eighteen months earlier. She asks him to contact her. August, she explains sweetly (and with a touch of embarrassment), is the result of a one-night stand she had with the tourist:

"We met and then decided to have a drink and, yeah, it's really embarrassing but it's more or less what I remember. I don't remember where you're from or even your name. I do remember though that we were talking about Denmark and that thing we have here with hygge that foreign people always ask about ... so I guess I decided to show you what hygge is all about, because we went back to my house and yeah, we ended up having sex.

"The next morning when I woke up, you were gone. I just want to let you know that August is here and he exists. I feel I owe that to both you and him."

She ends by promising that she is "not a bimbo": the tourist is the only possible father.

Hygge is a fundamental part of Danish culture which conveys coziness, fellowship, security, reassurance and well-being. VisitDenmark has a whole page trying to explain the concept, which it obviously hopes will make bleak, dark, cold winter sound more attractive to foreign tourists at this time of the year.

Although the media believed her tale at first, it took about five minutes for Twitterers to call fake, and another 12 hours for Karen26 to be outed as a (childless) actress, and for (taxpayer-funded) VisitDenmark to be revealed as the video's makers.

Sadly for the creative souls commissioned by VisitDenmark at great expense to create the viral campaign, the media dubbed the stunt "grotesque". Not so much because the video might promote unsafe sex, but because Danish women are already sick of tourists harassing them, and portraying the nation as a sex tourism destination went just a little too far, even for liberal Danes.

VisitDenmark was defiant, declaring it "modern story telling on YouTube in [Danish fairytale writer] HC Andersen's spirit". They argued that "the film is good exposure for Danish self sufficient and dignified women" and that it was "a nice and sweet story about a modern responsible woman that lives in a free society and takes responsibility for her choices".

But, about 24 hours later, the VisitDenmark chief executive resigned, and the video was deleted from YouTube. It has popped up in dozens of other places ever since, of course.

Instead of attracting more tourists to Denmark, it seems it just ended up scaring male tourists who'd been here 18 months ago.

But was it really such a failure? Sure, it got dubbed "the worst tourist advertisement ever produced" by Foreign Policy magazine. But it created a buzz. It even got that much sought-after late-night American TV attention (Bill O'Reilly hated it) without needing to embarrass the prime minister.