Touching Ice: “Go Before It’s Too Late”
On Antarctica, Fragility, Tourism, and Melting Ice
Contradictions are rife in advertisements for Antarctica as a travel destination. Elements such as the wilderness and purity of the continent are often foregrounded, while any human impacts (including the carbon footprint of airline or cruise ship travel) are glossed over; advertisements are largely uncritical of the environmental effects of actually travelling to Antarctica. Such contradictions are highlighted in a sculptural April 2006 advertisement for student travel agency KILROY.
Advertisement for KILROY travel agency, by Saatchi & Saatchi (April 2006), Copenhagen
Advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi explain:
“To highlight the more off-beat destinations KILROY has to offer we placed an iceberg on the grounds of a University Campus in Copenhagen. This allowed our primary target (KILROY are the student travel experts) to witness the melting of “Antarctica” proving the tagline for KILROY Travels: “Go before it’s too late”
While the advertisement is unlikely to make the student audience rush to book a trip to Antarctica, the installation is eye catching and raises brand awareness for the travel agency. KILROY had previously used the tagline “go before it’s too late” across a range of advertisements with no link to the Antarctic. In this particular instance, Antarctica was employed because of its association with melting ice. The melting ice, in turn, acted as a good metaphor for the “too late” message – in this visual version, being too late means the ice is no more and there’s nothing to see. The advertisement itself is problematic – it carries an anthropocentric message, urging the audience not to miss out, rather than avoid going at all.
This KILROY example also highlights one of the prime issues with representing climate change in a visual medium. The original advertisement took the form of a sculpture, meaning that the temporal aspect of climate change could be accounted for – the ice melted over a period of time. Subsequent visual representations of the original installation – including the version below – include several panels, with images taken at intervals to mark the passing of time. This allows the advertisement to do what earlier static images – such as the photographs of glaciers that have been used to market fridges – could not; it represents change, and a dynamic environment. By using melting ice over a period of time to mimic processes underway in Antarctica, this Kilroy advertisement neatly illustrates the trope of fragility.
In an inadvertent turn that carries echoes of twenty-first century globalization, that trope is harnessed to market a range of unrelated travel destinations, placing Antarctica as central part of a global climate system. Symbolically, this is last chance tourism at its finest. For Antarctica itself, the puddle left in the final panel predicts bad news.
 In other examples, the tagline related to ideas of authenticity in places such as the African savannah and British industrial heritage. Cederholm, Erika Andersson and Johan Hultman. “tourists and global environmental change: A possible scenario in relation to nature and authenticity” Tourism and global environmental change: Ecological, social, economic and political interrelationships 293-303. Ed Stefan Gössling, Colin Michael Hall. 2006 298