Archive for the ‘Nation Branding’ Category


Nation-Branding Lite? The GREAT Campaign

September 1, 2015

Since 2012 the UK has been running promotional campaigns in selected countries under the strap line Britain is GREAT. The GREAT campaign is primarily focused on attracting investment, tourists and students as well as pushing British exports. Between 2012 and 2015 £113.5m has been spent and in a newish report the National Audit Office estimates that it has so far provided a return on investment of £1.2Bn – which is pretty good going since the overall target for the campaign is £1.7-1.9Bn by 2019-20.   The NAO is an organization dedicated to demonstrating that public money could have been spent better so it’s quite surprising how happy they are with the view that this is good value for money.

It’s also interesting to see that the report cheerfully uses branding language to discuss the campaign but in a couple of ways the GREAT campaign is a retreat from high concept nation-branding to a more traditional promotional campaign. In its classical form nation-branding is supposed to grow out of a consensual view of a core identity or narrative. This core narrative also needs to be consistent with the way that the brand will be experienced. Branding projects are frequently tripped up by the fact that there isn’t consensus or consistency. Where countries have achieved that consensus it has been as the end result of a long period of discussion (eg Sweden or Finland) which is rarely achievable. The GREAT Campaign has got round this by simply identifying a set of themes that can be used to appeal to different publics – eg heritage AND innovation – no need to make difficult choices and from the point of view of the NAO it seems to be working.


Interpreting Nation Branding

April 3, 2014

Back from the International Studies Association Convention in Toronto and faced with too many things to blog about I’m going to start easily by posting something that I’d meant to post before I left.

I’ve been reading Melissa Aronczyk’s Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity and it has stimulated a few thoughts about how we should make sense of the phenomenon of nation-branding.

Aronczyk, like other Cultural Studies scholars (eg Jansen 2008, Kaneva 2012) sees the emergence of nation-branding as an expression of the transformation of capitalism through globalization and the embrace of theories of value rooted in immaterial concepts – ie the reputation of our business is worth something. The difficulty I have with this is that it makes out the phenomenon of nation-branding to be much more significant than it actually is.

Rather than seeing nation-branding as marking a structural change I would read it as something much more conjunctural. It’s another incarnation of the push for the projection of a national image that has been around in its modern version since the middle of the 19th century when committees were established to oversee exhibits at international expositions. Ideas of ‘national projection’ recur across the 20th century. Indeed, I would argue that ‘projection’ is the default mode for any public diplomacy/cultural relations organization; telling the world about your country is much easier than exporting democracy/communism etc.   You also see the emergence of arguments over just what the content of that projection should be- unless there’s a particularly hegemonic version of that culture – being a totalitarian country helps.

Nation-branding is a new version of national projection that benefited from the conjunction of brand approaches in business (with the consequence emergence of branding consultancies) and the end of the Cold War which meant new states looking for a quick fix and a the reorientation of the external communications programmes of existing states towards economics. It’s noticeable that some scholars (eg Ociepka 2013) point to a declining interest in branding as an approach to external communications, and my own observation is that the number of abandoned branding projects is much bigger than those that have really been seriously implemented. This doesn’t suggest structural change more a fashion in external communications. Putting nation-branding in the context of debates over national projection really does make it look a lot less novel.

Aronczyk M (2013) Branding the nation: the global business of national identity. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Jansen SC (2008) Designer nations: Neo-liberal nation branding – Brand Estonia, Social Identities, 14: 121–142.

Kaneva N (ed) Branding Post-Communist Nations: Marketizing National Identities in the New Europe, New York: Routledge, pp. 79–98.

Ociepka B (2013) New Members’ Public Diplomacy, in Davis Cross MK and Melissen J (eds) European Public Diplomacy: Soft Power at Work, New York: Palgrave, pp. 39–56.


Do You Really Want Another Report on British Soft Power?

March 12, 2014

Via James Pamment’s twitter feed I learn of yet another report on Britain’s Soft Power this time from the British Academy.

Given my antipathy to the concept (check the blog archives to the right)  I won’t bother to summarize it just share the recommendations.  If you want to read it, it’s here.

It recommends (comments in italics by yours truly)

On the basis of the data and analysis provided above, this report makes the following abbreviated recommendations. Governments would be well-advised:

  1. To refrain from direct interference in soft power assets.

 Ummm, so they just give money to fund them?….

2. To invest in and sustain soft power institutions such as the BBC, the British Council, and the education system over the long term, and at arm’s length.

Why?  How much, to do what?  Relative to which countries? I’m sorry if you want to use soft power as a justification for anything we need some kind of a strategy.

  1. To recognise that hard and soft power, like power and influence more generally, reside on a continuum rather than being an either-or choice.

Just junk the hard / soft thing and go back to  thinking about sources of influence.

  1. To understand that the power of example is far more effective than preaching.

Which examples for which publics?  How do you publicise them?

  1. To pay careful attention to the consequences of official foreign policy for Britain’s reputation, identity and domestic society, ensuring that geopolitical and socio-economic goals are not pursued in separate compartments.

The concern of the report seems to be that government damages soft power so don’t do anything that might upset anyone…

  1. To accept that the majority of ways in which civilised countries interact entail using the assets which make up ‘soft power’, whatever political vocabulary we choose.


  1. For their part, citizens and voters need to accept that some hard power assets, in the forms of the armed forces and security services, are necessary as an insurance policy against unforeseeable contingencies, and for use in non-conventional warfare against terrorists or criminals threatening British citizens at home and abroad, although not regardless of cost. Even diplomacy will sometimes need to be coercive (i.e. hard power) in relations with otherwise friendly states in order to insist on the UK’s ‘red lines’, however they may be defined at the time. Because soft power excludes arm-twisting, it will never be enough as a foreign policy resource.

Are there people at the British Academy who think that soft power is all you need?

  1. Lastly, those engaged in the private socio-cultural activities which contribute to soft power need to be aware that they are to some extent regarded as representative of their country’s interests. They need not and should not compromise on such principles as academic or artistic freedom, but it is excessively innocent to imagine that their work takes place in a vacuum, untouched by the manoeuvring of governments and the competing narratives of world politics – especially when they are beholden to the Treasury for funding. Whether they like it or not, the universities, the orchestras, the novelists, the sportsmen and women, the archaeologists – and indeed the British Academy – are all part of the ‘projection of Britain abroad’ (Beloff 1965).*

As James asked in his tweet

JP Tweet


The Beloff reference is fascinating because the report (like almost all discussions of soft power) is completely ahistorical and that reference opens up a whole history.  Beloff’s article was a response to the Plowden Report of 1964 on Representational Services Overseas, primarily concerned with opening the way to the merger of the Foreign Office with the Commonwealth Office it, in passing, advocated a relatively narrow instrumental view of the kind of ‘information work’ that should be undertaken by the ‘official information services’ the BBC and the British Council.  Beloff’s article can be seen as making a kind of proto-branding argument that the general image of a country affected how its political and commercial interests played out.   The title of his article alluded to a 1932 pamphlet by Sir Stephen Tallents, The Projection of England which was an even earlier iteration of the argument.  Projection was a word that cropped fairly frequently in mid-century British official discussions of national publicity and my suspicion is that it’s taken from the French notion of rayonnement, which my dictionary translates as radiation which takes us back to the Sun King himself.

So rather than progressing the British conversation on soft power seems to be regressing.


Personal Prestige and National Reputation: Louis XIV, Berlusconi and the Queen

November 9, 2011

The origins of contemporary public diplomacy lie in the at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in the expansion of national governments  and the rise of national sentiments.  Yet the concern with reputation and prestige as elements of  influence  were permanent aspects of international politics, see for instance Machiavelli’s The Prince, Hans Morgenthau’s discussion of the ‘policy of prestige’ in Politics Among Nation  or Peter Burke’s  The Fabrication of Louis XIV.  Burke documents in meticulous detail Louis’s efforts use spectacle, public art, support for artists and intellectuals, architecture to construct his own image and secure his power domestically and project it internationally.  He shows how the model of the court at Versailles was copied by other monarchs.

While today shaping the image of national leaders is normally thought of as an aspect of domestic politics for some countries the image of the leader is an important part of their international reputation. The rise in international opinion of the United States with the election of Barack Obama and this morning’s news that Far Eastern financial markets are rising on the news that Silvio Berlusconi is going to resign as Italy’s prime minister.  For many countries who leads them will have little significance while for others the reputation of the leader may significantly help or hinder the image of the nation.

What initially stimulated this line of thought was the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government at the end of October. The Commonwealth is the organization of former British colonies and today is committed to the promotion of good governance and development.  From a UK point of view it provides an additional set of opportunities to promote policies and build relationships.  Also a significant number of these countries have the British monarch as their head of state, for instance Canada and Australia.  The question that occurred to me is the extent to which these post-imperial relationships are actually tied to the person of Queen Elizabeth the Second rather than to the institutions of the British Monarchy or state. The vast majority of citizens of the Commonwealth have known no other Monarch (it’s not the Olympics that is the big event in the UK next year it’s the anniversary of Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne).  Prince Charles lacks the personal prestige of Elizabeth (of course this may be because he’s not the king) and there are recurrent stories that it is the personal respect for Elizabeth that maintains the position of the monarchy in Australia and Canada, it’s Elizabeth that actually reigned over the independence of most British colonies.

While the Royal Family is usually identified as an important component of how people outside the UK think about the country there are actually interesting questions to be asked around the role of the Royal Family and the Queen as a diplomatic resource.  Asking the question marks a continuity in the role of leadership in building the image of the state.


Where’s My PD Networks!

September 21, 2011

This blog would like to apologize for the lack of content. Apart from the disruption caused by moving we still don’t have an internet connection (or TV or telephone)  at home.

Anyway David Cameron appears to be embarking on a one man effort to rebrand Britain.  I haven’t seen any preparation for this so I expect that the impact will be negligible.  One of the basic ideas in nation-branding is that you have to get the domestic side of the operation on side and I can guarantee that he’s going to get nothing but sarcasm from the UK on this.  There’s a (doubtless inaccurate) story from The Telegraph here plus a conversation with Mark Leonard of Cool Britannia associations and advertising man Dave Trott here.  Keep in mind that Leonard is a Labour supporter. The interesting nugget in The Telegraph piece is that the idea for the campaign is believed to have come from Cameron’s Director of Strategy Steve Hilton who has a reputation for not quality controlling his ideas.


Evidence on Perceptions and Foreign Investment

June 20, 2011

Does nation branding have economic significance? Via Nation Branding we learn of a German study that claims that a one point rise in your score on the Anholt Nation Brands index leads to a 27% increase in foreign direct investment. This sounded a bit too good to be true so I’ve tracked down the published version of the research.

Kalamova and Konrad are interested in the impact of investor perceptions on FDI decisions relative to economic fundamentals. They look at FDI flows and statistically test the extent to which these patterns can be explained by standard economic models and by the impact of perceptions. They find that a one point rise in your NBI score is associated with a 27% greater FDI flow above what would be predicted by the standard economic model. I think that this is an important qualification – the article is not saying that a 1 point increase in perceptions will make your flow 27% regardless of everything else. This relationship is statistically significant at the 1% level which implies a very strong association.

I’m convinced that perceptions do matter but I’m a bit sceptical about the size of the effect. FDI flows tend to be quite volatile and for smaller countries single investment decisions can have a big impact on the overall figures. For this reason it would be really helpful to have the study extended to cover more than two years. It’s also worth emphasizing Anholt’s point that the NBI is measuring a whole set of factors including things like governance and economic conditions so an improvement in NBI is assumed to be based on more than nation-branding as advertising.

Kalamova, M.M., and K.A. Konrad (2010) ‘Nation Brands and Foreign Direct Investment’, Kyklos, 63: 400-31.


Air Travel and the National Brand: The Soviet Tyler Brule

June 14, 2011

Tyler Brule the editor of Monocle magazine and FT columnist travels around the world and then writes columns arguing that your airport is your opportunity to communicate your national brand to visitors as soon as they arrive. Of course what a lot of airports communicate is ‘we’re rubbish and we don’t care about you’

Here’s an example

You might think I’ve rocked up in some shambolic banana republic or poorly managed police state, but I’m actually at Washington DC’s Dulles Airport late on a Sunday afternoon. As I’m about to walk up to the booth for inspection, a voice booms over the public address system with an urgent bulletin – “Attention all officers, attention all officers, anyone who has not signed up for overtime today, I repeat, anyone who did not sign up for overtime can now leave their post”. In a flash a series of officers pack up their stamps and take their super-size slurpy cups and waddle off duty. The 1,000-plus people in line just stare in amazement.

As I approach the desk, I feel like giving the young gentleman a lecture about how bad this whole performance is for Brand USA – particularly on top of a whole week of television reports about the new fee that visitors will have to pay to get a visa and how these funds will be used to create a campaign to encourage more tourism to the US. I want to ask him if he (and his bosses not far away in the District of Columbia) think a 90-minute wait in a dumpy airport is any way to welcome the world and if his department is really that interested in having people visit the US.

In reading Rosa Magnusdottir’s chapter on Soviet cultural diplomacy towards the US I came across this discussion of the role of the state airline Aeroflot as a gateway to the USSR. Boris Polevoi was a Soviet journalist who led a delegation to the USA in 1955.

Polevoi described the flight delays as outrageous and the crew of flight attendants as completely incompetent: ‘They do not know languages, do not offer passengers newspapers or magazines, and do not pay any attention to the passengers…breakfast was served without napkins, straight from a box. The food was cold, two days old, had been prepared and brought in from Moscow and was dried up.’ It got worse; passengers who wanted an extra cup of tea were told by the ‘misses’ that they would have to pay for he extra sugar tea themselves because only ‘two pieces of sugar were allocated per passenger’ (emphasis in original) were allocated by headquarters.. This is odd but it is a fact’….Noting the increasing numbers of tourists visiting the Soviet Union, Polevoi warned that the lack of service had the potential to cause the Soviet image ‘serious even political damage’.

Of course Aeroflot didn’t get any better but it’s interesting to see the link between air travel and national brand being made in the Soviet Union.

Magnusdottir, R. (2010) ‘Mission Impossible?: Selling Soviet Socialism to Americans, 1955-1958’, pp. 50-72 in J. Gienow-Hecht and M.C. Donfried (eds) Searching for a Cultural Diplomacy, New York: Berghahn.