Ferris Wheel

Fairground Attraction

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Almost every town or city on the planet seemingly either has or is planning to have a ferris wheel (or big wheel to you and me) somewhere in the centre of town, why?  This is something that really annoys me, so much so that I’m compelled to explain why now…

I came across this article on “This is Bristol”, it talks about audacious plans for Bristol to get its own 50ft version of the London Eye next summer to boost tourism.  The article should have been titled, “Bristol Council announce pathetically unambitious, copycat plans for an apologetically small (50 metre) version of the (135 metre) London Eye.”

The London Eye, which has been a deserved success, is to blame of course.  It’s typical of the narrow-minded thinking that is endemic in British local government.  As soon as anything is a remote success with the electorate (the criteria on deeming what ranks as a success is particularly malleable in the government’s terms by the way) it is rolled out around the country regardless of the actual need or requirements of the local environment.

In Bristol’s incidence the idea is riddled with idiocy.  A quick read of the article which announces the plan tells you all you need to know:

“At the top of the Bristol Eye, people will be able to look down on the top of Park Street, which is about 25 metres above College Green.”  The Wills Memorial Building which sits at the top of Park Street is 68 metres high.  So by my maths, that makes the view from its top 93 metres higher than if you were standing on College Green, that will be 43 metres higher than the view you’ll get from your rusty seat on the fairground attraction on the green.   The article does state that there is no public viewing platform from the top of the Wills building, so here’s an idea – open up access to it!  Incidentally the article makes no mention of the accompanying traveller’s site on the green which will be needed to run the wheel – “Come to Bristol, but watch your pockets”, that will make a nice new slogan…

The point is that “Me too” marketing deserves to fail.  It’s unimaginative and fails to recognise the inner strengths of a product – in this case Bristol.  This kind of copy-cat marketing is like saying “Kylie Minogue looks good in those hot pants, I think I’ll get myself a pair” when you are a middle-aged man.

The London Eye was a success because it was daring, innovative and created a landmark attraction.  Not only that, but its location on the River Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament with views over some of the best-known London landmarks makes it a very compelling proposition for visitors.  So, together these circumstances combine to make the London Eye a success.  I can understand how other councils might look at it and think “that’s a good idea”, but could they not also apply a little marketing know-how and actual ambition before they just copy someone else’s idea?

So what could Bristol do?

What the councillors at Bristol are missing here is the fact that Bristol is known for a great number of things, however none of those are as being a place to view from on high in a third-rate big wheel.

Bristol has always been an industrious place.  It’s Brunel’s masterpiece – SS Great Britain, Clifton Suspension Bridge, Floating Harbour and Temple Meads Train Station are all to be found within Bristol’s boundaries.  It is the home of BANKSY and has a thriving street art scene and is the home of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta – wouldn’t a tethered balloon in College Green offer even higher views of the city than the proposed mini-London Eye and wouldn’t that also be more in-keeping with the heritage of Bristol?  That said, I think we can be a little more ambitious that a tethered balloon, nice though that idea is.

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2009-20
Balloons and lots of them. Take that London!

Bristol was the home of the British effort to re-write the rules in supersonic air travel – Concorde.  It is known the world-over and is loved by many.  Tucked away in the outskirts of Bristol is the last-ever flying Concorde which according to the BBC is being closed as an attraction due to poor visitor numbers.  I’m not surprised either.  The attraction is miles from the centre of Bristol and is (surprise, surprise) really poorly promoted.

Call me radical, but here’s a thought – how’s about moving the Concorde into the centre of town?  We already have an industrial museum which is being refurbished at a cost of £millions – and having had a wee look at the website it seems someone forgot to put a star attraction in there.  What if you stick Concorde on the roof?   Now you’ve got yourself something.

Why not? Lack of ambition, an understanding of commerce etc etc

What you’d have is an attraction which makes sense, both in terms of encouraging visitors and also in terms of being a representation of what Bristol is about.  It’s ambitious and would create a landmark – all the things that made the London Eye a success.  Best of all, it would be unique to Bristol – we made the Concorde and now we’ve brought it home – this is something London, or anywhere else for that matter (save for Toulouse, but where’s their Brunel hey?) couldn’t do.

If you want to be successful in marketing sometimes it’s worth taking a risk and being brave.  It’s easy to copy, but in doing so you miss not only the point but also the larger opportunity.  Anyone fancy starting a petition to get Concorde in the city?

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  • Couldn’t agree more. Brilliant article and though I don’t live in Bristol, or the UK for that matter, I would definitely want to put my name to the petition.

    Windsor also has a mini wheel, but at least you could say that you again have a view over the Thames, to the castle and also Eton, but it is a poor substitute for the real thing. Marketing is supposed to be innovative, not copy-cat.

  • Get the petition going. Wouldn’t mind seeing Concorde on my walk to work, would sure beat seeing the burnt out car.

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