Nation branding are marketing campaigns meant to improve the image of a nation state in the eyes of their own citizens or outsiders. These are marketing campaigns meant to change the image of a nation state without necessarily changing anything in the substance.
Beginning in the 1990s, the image or brand of corporations was seen as key to the "value" of a company. At the beginning of the economic trends that became known as globalization, companies shed their manufacturing operations, and subcontracted them to third parties in the Far East. All in house functions, e.g., security, maintenance, etc., were similarly spun off to contractors. Corporations reduced their hiring of permanent employees and increased their "temps". Corporate buildings and other assets were sold and leased back. Finally, even the intellectual capital of the company (patents, copyrights) was opened up for licensing. In the jargon: All assets were "set to work" or to generate a cashflow. After shedding or transferring most of the "real" functions of its operations only a core of corporate managers remained. The "value", i.e., the stock value, of the company remained although there were no tangible assets any more. Marketing theoreticians then claimed that the key element driving this "value" was the company's brand, its image. Many corporations in the United States reconfigured themselves, shed all manufacturing or operations functions, and "invested" heavily in marketing campaigns. The epitome of this process was Nike, the sports shoe manufacturer. As Naomi Klein described in her No Logo, the company consisted of a leased office building, and the rest of its operations were subcontracted. In the 1990s, the company reconfigured itself from a manufacturing into a marketing company. The key to its "value" was seen as its brand.
Having witnessed this transformation in the corporate world, governments adopted the same type of restructuring. This was particularly evident in the United States where key government functions were spun off to third parties; ideologues insisted that the state could best deliver its services using contractors and the key slogan was "the best government is the least government". Most of the provision of social services in the United States were spun off to corporations. What is even more astonishing is that provision of military support services or even the delivery of military might was also spun off to corporate contractors. In 2007, it was revealed that most (80%) of the intelligence gathering operations were also conducted by corporations. Similarly, most of the tax collection functions also will be spun off to corporations. Together with this reduction in the direct delivery of services or responsibility for the key functions, there was an emphasis in viewing the value of a state as residing in its brand. The same logic that had driven corporations to reconfigure themselves was now applied to nation states.
Nation branding examples
In 1994, Tony Blair and New Labour rode a well orchestrated propaganda campaign to ouster the Conservatives from government. Propaganda was seen as key to achieving its aims, and it became a permanent feature of the new government; the "spin doctors" played a key role in all aspects of government. Riding the "euphoria" of the change over of government was a marketing campaign to reformulate the nation brand which was seen as outdated. A major European survey was commissioned where people were asked what came to their mind when the name of a given country was mentioned, e.g., Switzerland elicited watches, banks; Germany elicited cars; France elicited great food, shows, perfume... when it came to Britain, the survey found that people couldn’t come up with an associated product, or simply suggested "tea". Marketing gurus urged the government to engage in a campaign to change this image. Several corporations were recruited to simultaneously launch this campaign. As part of this initiative, British Airways repainted all it airplanes and eliminated the Union Jack flag.
The major bovine (food and mouth) epidemic in the UK quickly saw that most markets shunned British beef products. The British government faced the public embarrassment when some of its shipments of food aid for poor residents in both Russia and Malawi were returned because of the flag; even the hungry wouldn’t touch British beef. This episode did much to tarnish the image of Britain around the world and it coincided with the termination of the nation branding campaigns. The campaign was viewed as a major flop: it didn’t change perceptions abroad and the corporations who played along with this viewed it as a major disaster. British Airways quietly repainted its airplanes to their original patterns; it also claimed the scalp of the company's CEO (Bob Ayling) who resigned shortly afterwards.
- BBC, BA turns tail on colours, BBC Online, 11 May 2001. (Accessed 24 September 2007).
- Rebranding Britain
Throughout its history Israel has tried to improve the image of the country without addressing the underlying injustice that it had perpetrated. Its problems at home were to be addressed using military or police means, and abroad it was an issue of propaganda to create a different image; the latter is known as hasbara. There is a long history of marketing campaigns conducted to improve Israel's image, and Luntz generates an on-going series of surveys to determine Israel's image in the United States and it also generates regular analysis of events and how propagandists should respond to them.
In 2006, an international consumer survey found that Israel has the worst "brand name" of any country in the world. Israeli government ministers initiated contacts with several public relations countries to launch a rebranding campaign. Berkowitz writes:
- Although the new public relations effort is still in its formative stages, and a budget for it has yet to be developed, a staff person with the London-based global advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi acknowledged that it is already working with the Israelis free of charge on the re-branding effort.
References and Resources
- Bill Berkowitz, Looking for an Extreme Makeover, Electronic Intifada, 12 January 2007.
- Anshel Pfeffer, Foreign Ministry, PR firm rebrand Israel as land of achievements, Haaretz, 6 October 2008