“The Trump effect”, how the former president of the USA triggered online searches towards Finland's forests

In this case study, we will take a look at how a strong digital identity of a destination can help to maintain a good country brand, even when it is undermined by false information. In 2018 Finns started raking their forests on Twitter in order to make fun of what Trump submitted while he viewed damage from wildfires in California. US President Donald Trump has told BBC News reporters Finland does not have a problem with wildfires – because it “rakes” its forests. How does one Trump’s comment affect Finland’s digital identity? What people searched for and what they found?

Key findings.

  • Online search volume towards forests in Finland grew by 61% after Trump’s comment.
  • Articles on Trump’s comments about Finns raking were only on the 2nd page (top 20) of Google search results.
  • Trump’s comment didn’t have an impact on general touristic searches towards Finland.
  • Finland’s digital identity and content was “on-brand”.

Taking care of Finland country brand

Each country, region, and city is responsible for building their brand and maintaining its appeal. Unfortunately, there are situations where destinations become vulnerable and depend on their skills to use situations in their good. If some celebrities or politicians address some specific destinations for good or bad in the age of Google, people start their own investigation. That’s the moment when countries, regions, or cities should maintain a strong digital identity. Let’s look at one of these cases “The Trump effect”, how the former president of the USA triggered online searches towards Finland’s forests.

Visit Finland has been our customer since 2015. They analyse Finland’s touristic demand every year in order to understand top trends in online searches. For example, to see how well their tourism products rank and to see from which countries highest demand comes. Visit Finland works to develop and market Finland’s travel image as well as helps to facilitate investments to the Finnish travel sector and promotes Finland as an international business events destination. Visit Finland is a part of Business Finland. You can find the latest information on Finland’s touristic demand on their website “What’s up with Travel Trends & Recovery”.

In this case, it was really challenging for Finland to understand how the country’s brand is affected by this one comment by Donald Trump. It triggered so many Finns to take action and actually laugh about such a bizarre assumption of how the Finns manage their forests. This one comment could build negative brand perception, if not managed properly.

It was really important to understand:

  1. Did the search volume towards Finland grow after this Trump comment?
  2. What exactly people were searching for?
  3. From which countries did the searches come from?
  4. It was clear that people were searching for “Northern Light”, “Saunas”, “Igloos Ice Hotels”, “Santa” or “Lakes”, but did they start to search more for “Forests in Finland”?

D2 - Analytics news and stories article:

What people find when searching for “forests in Finland”?

There were plenty of publications about Trump’s comment from main media outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times among many others. Followed by the publications on Finns trolling Trump by The Guardian, Vox and more. But what did people really find when searching for “forests in Finland”? Was Finland’s digital identity destroyed by one false comment?

If you type now in a search engine “forests in Finland”, most likely you will not find any of the above-mentioned articles on the first or even a fifth search result page. But what was the situation in 2018?

How Trump's comment affected Finland's country brand.

In the long term for Finland, it was important to understand:

  1. If this buzzing activity somehow affected the country’s brand?
  2. If there were any risks of changing people’s perceptions towards Finland?
  3. Can Finland, as a country brand, equally benefit from this situation?

“Forests in Finland” among other top searched brandtags for Finland.

In order to understand the volume of searches of specific brandtags D2 – Digital Demand © software was used. As you can see in the image below, data between 2017 and 2018 were analysed in order to assess the growth of searches towards the forests in Finland. It is obvious that, as searches grew, you can see small spikes. Similar to the previous year during the wildfires in Lapland. But there are four times more searches after the Trump comment. Compared to 2017 searches towards forests in 2018 grew by 61%.

It is important to add that only these thematic searches grew, people didn’t search more for generic information about Finland. So we can clearly say that it was Trump’s comment, which caused the growth of online search volume.

D2 - Digital Demand © data: online search volume towards
D2 - Digital Demand © data: online search volume towards "forests in Finland".

Searching for “Forests in Finland” Trump is not on the first result pages on Google.

Alongside other Finland country brand builders, the president of Finland made several announcements on his and Trump meeting earlier that year. But he didn’t recall mentioning raking of forests in their conversation discussing forest management. While Finland’s leader was bemused, Finns themselves were amused. Particularly with the hashtag “#haravointi”, Finnish word for “raking.” There was a huge digital presence of newly created content. But in fact, the Trump effect didn’t manage to break through the firewall of Visit Finland already created content.

In the screenshot below you can see what people found on Google searching for forest-related brandtags* at that time. If Visit Finland would have started to create content about forests in Finland only after Trump’s comment, as the answer to the situation, they wouldn’t have managed to keep first positions on Google search results and move fresh/ scandalous content to the least prominent positions.

By using D2 – Digital Supply © software we were able to see all the articles displayed on the first search engine result pages, with the publication date, contributor, and specific link, so it would be easy to check the sentiment of the specific article. Data was retrieved from different locations around the globe, letting us understand who and in which languages created the content.

Google: what people found when searched for “forests in Finland” in 2018.
Google: what people found when searched for “forests in Finland” in 2018.

Did this comment generate a proactive interest towards Finland?

The answer to this question lies in the image below, where you can see data from D2 – Digital Demand © software compared between 2017 and 2018. There is no significant difference/growth of search volume between 2017 and 2018 because of Trump’s comment. It can be concluded that Trump’s statement led only to a temporary interest in the specific topic, this case “forests in Finland”.


D2 – Digital Demand © data: search volume dynamics towards “touristic information” in Finland.
D2 – Digital Demand © data: search volume dynamics towards “touristic information” in Finland.

How Visit Finland benefits from using D2 - Analytics data?

With the help of the D2 – Digital Demand © software, Visit Finland was able to present detailed insights and information regarding the online touristic behaviour from potential visitors to Finland. This information included results for Finland’s competitors. So that the Country was able to analyze their strategy in relation to their competitors’ strategy. The D2 – Digital Demand © software also helped identify the most important target markets for Finland. Furthermore, the software enabled the measurement of the effectiveness of Digital campaigns and of new Finnish tourism offerings within the market, and showed their impact on Finland’s selected target markets.

Using these insights, Finland created a clear Country Branding strategy, which enabled the Nation to attract tourists from its most important target markets. The results of these efforts show an increase in tourist interest in Finland, which helped Finland to close the gap with its Nordic competitors. Finland’s increased appeal is expected to continue growing into the future following the series of successful campaigns and projects.

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*Cluster of keywords related to a specific topic, D2 – Digital Demand © software gives access to all possible brandtags related to a specific Country, Region or City