Tour de France - smallFrance is the number one country in the world for international tourism, based on the number of foreign visitors.

About 80 million people from other countries visited it in 2011, with the runner up United States pretty far behind at about 62 million.  A real contributor to this tourism is the Tour de France, which is the ultimate content marketing event.

About 15 million people see the Tour live, but in a given year about a billion people worldwide will view the Tour on TV.

And what the TV viewers see, aside from a dwindling field of riders struggling against some of the most difficult terrain in the world, is a picture postcard view of France. The riders go through the stunning and terrifying Alps and Pyrenees, past fields of sunflowers that may have inspired Van Gogh, along the Mediterranean coast, past farms and through ancient villages, and finally into Paris for several laps along the Champs-Elyssees. The TV coverage makes the most of these photo ops with helicopter shots through the mountains and crane shots as the peloton passes ancient monasteries and wineries, and the announcers occasionally drop in a brief tidbit of information about the spot. It was nice before, but now for the vast majority of Americans, and people in many other countries, with HDTV, it’s stunning. About 100 hours of coverage is provided during the Tour’s three weeks in the U.S. alone.

And the viewers also see ads from many global and local companies, as well as their logos plastered on the uniforms of the riders. Although sponsorship is down because of doping scandals, sports marketing firm Repucom estimates that over those three weeks sponsors get about five times more exposure than they actually pay for. For companies like bSkyb, Rabobank, U.S. Postal Service, RadioShack, Sharp and Garmin, who have sponsored  competitive teams and riders, the exposure may be worth many times that. And, of course, stage winners have been getting a stuffed lion from Crédit Lyonnais on the podium for decades, even after the bank went bankrupt and was acquired by a rival.

But in my memory during the Tour’s coverage I’ve never see an ad from a French tourism bureau. Why waste the money – it would be utterly redundant.

This is what content marketing is all about: provide your customers and prospects with content that is valuable, compelling, and/or entertaining, and your brand will get the eyeballs and reflected glory. In some cases this is more direct, such as a valuable B2B tech white paper or webinar. In the case of consumer videos that go viral – such as popular Super Bowl ads that get millions of free views on social media, and even spoof Super Bowl ads — the association may be very direct to the product, too. In the case of the Tour, the companies are mostly building their brand equity.

And so is France. France is a great place to visit, and each broadcast of the Tour makes that point to one billion viewers many times over without ever once having to say it explicitly.

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