HeadOnEast, Quality Croatian Tourism Branding Made in Slavonia

By 8 October 2019

October 8, 2019 - The story behind HeadOnEast, the best tourism branding project I have seen in years in Croatia. And like so much excellence in the country, a brand 100% made in Slavonia.  

Not so many people know that the reason I moved to Croatia was due to the promotional activities of the Croatian National Tourist Board. 

The year was 2002 and I was working as a civil society coordinator in Somaliland for an international aid agency when I saw a CNN advert which had me transfixed. Croatia, the Mediterranean as It Once Was. Having just sold my house in the UK, I decided there and then to buy my new home in Croatia, and less than two months later, I found myself the proud owner of a house in Jelsa on Hvar. 

Ah, Croatian tourism branding, one of the great conversation topics in these parts. Croatia is obsessed with how to brand itself, even having an annual conference, Branding Hrvatske, which is now in its fifth year. This in addition to other Croatian branding conferences we are served up each year. 

I will confess I am not a big fan of the current Croatia, Full of Life branding. While I can appreciate the flexibility of Croatia, Full of Wine, Heritage, Culture and the rest. it doesn't really say anything and is a vague generalisation which could be applied to almost anywhere. The Mediterranean as It Once Was, for me at least, brought Croatia immediately into focus. With the tourist industry struggling to recover from the devastation of war, in addition to the challenges of trying to explain to people where exactly this new independent state of Croatia was, it was a brilliant slogan and campaign and I am sure it attracted more than just this fat Brit that took an interest in Croatia as a result. 

There have been some questionable branding exercises over the years, with none standing out (in a positive way), which is why the recent project coming out fo eastern Croatia ahead of Days of Croatian Tourism in Slavonia made such an impression on me. Head on East - [email protected]. A fantastic play on words, inviting people to head on out to the east of Croatia to enjoy Slavonia's famed hedonist gourmet welcome. So many things packed into one slogan, and it was only when I tried to find out more about the origins of the slogan and who created it that I realised just how clever it was. 

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But before we start, a quick word about the word 'hedonism' as it has a slightly different - and important - perception in Croatian than in English, at least in my opinion. In Croatia, hedonism means good food, wine, lifestyle - the finest things in life with great hospitality, a little to excess. Andro Tomic, the legendary Hvar winemaker, would be a perfect example of this with his bon vivant lifestyle. And while it kind of also means that in English too, the term has been somewhat hijacked in recent years to reflect other types of excess, and when a globally famous swingers hotel in Jamaica brands itself as Hedonism, one can understand some international confusion if Croatian branding talks of hedonism without referring to gastronomy in its core message. It is why Hvar's choice of Genuine Hedonism as a slogan - at the same time it was becoming known as a top party destination - sent out completely the wrong message. 

But Head on East Hedonism to the Slavonian gourmet heartlands is an altogether different story. Pure genius. So who is the agency behind it? I was VERY surprised by the answer when I contacted the Slavonia Baranja Regional Tourist Board for more information... 

No agency at all. The slogan was made in Slavonia, inhouse by the team at the regional tourism board, with the design of the logos developed by Osijek designers Marko Jovanovac and Ante Vekic from Symbol

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The play on words of HeadOnEast and hedonist was one level of genius, but it also masked one of the biggest challenges in branding the region. Several years ago, I held initial talks with an idea to do a Total portal for the east of Croatia, but the size of the task ahead was obvious when we got stuck at what to call the portal. Total Slavonia was the most obvious one for me, but that brought objections from Baranja and Srijem, while Total Eastern Croatia was a little too long. In the end, the initiative came to nothing for other reasons. 

And while what to call the east was one issue, there was also the issue of brand recognition of Slavonia. Slavonia, Slovenia, Slovakia. Slovenia and Slovakia are frequently confused with each other, while Slavonia is only really well-known in the region, not so much further afield. This issue was highlighted once more to the regional tourist board at the ITB Berlin tourism fair, when a visitor asked why Slovenia was being promoted at the Croatian stand. 

How to brand a destination of 5 regional tourist boards where food, wine, and hospitality were key elements of the offer, but where regional and international recognition was different and where there was no agreement locally on what to call the region as a brand? Quite a challenge.  

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A region located east of almost all of the target markets, and located in the east of the country. 

Head on East!


The Symbol designers were tasked with created different mosaics for each destination and type of event, portraying the various things that the region or sector was famous for. See Baranja, land of wine and Kopacki Rit, and Djakovo, land of famous cathedral and Lipizzaner horses, above. 


And underneath the main HeadOnEast slogan, a hashtag to define which part of eastern Croatia we are looking at - HeadOnEast - [email protected].

Quite brilliant. 


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HeadOnEast branding really came into its own in the Osijek Tvdja festival from October 3-5. A beer festival. 

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And a great selection of street food.  

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A REALLY impressive festival of lights as the old town's historic buildings sported new, multi-coloured facades. 


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And individual parts of the festival, including the InDaSofa chill zone.  

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A superb logo, to match the organisation of the event itself. Made in Slavonia.  

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And, as I wrote yesterday, now that the lights have been turned off, the stalls dismantled and the visitors departed, what are the next steps? A campaign of education for the rest of Croatia on the joys of eastern Croatia and why it is a fantastic place to visit. And it really is, I am going back in a couple of weeks for the weekend with the family to explore a little more. 

And wouldn't HeadOnEast - Hedonist be a great slogan for a national campaign?

To learn more about the wonders for those who do head on east, here are 25 things to know