One of the things we do quite often at Newsweek Select is take Newsweek International content and then “localize” it. That is we supplement the article with a local angle and local people. In recent months, as I’ve been working on a lot of planning aspects for the magazine, we’ve been concentrating our efforts on this kind of work. It gives the reader the international angle they crave, but it also provides the reader with a connection to their own culture — a starting point. I don’t put all the work that I edit or write on this site, but since I haven’t been here for awhile, I’ll go ahead and throw up a couple articles where we’ve supplemented work that has already run.
For example, I reshaped this article, which originally ran in the international edition Oct. 2007 under the headline, “Visitors Wanted Now,” for our March Enterprise section and renamed to fit within the section. The original article didn’t mention China, but you’ll notice I inserted it.
Brand New Nations
Creating a brand identity is hard. Being honest is the first step.
With Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop In Singapore and Megan Shank in Shanghai
China may be an export powerhouse, but it has a serious problem when it comes to exporting the right message–even as it heavily promotes campaigns of peace and prosperity. Advancing into its Olympic year and already preparing for its 2010 World Expo, the country is looking for ways to entice guests with a solid image–especially after last year’s food and toy scandals and drug scares.
Creating an effective brand identity for a company is difficult. Doing the same for a country is an even more formidable challenge. Simon Anholt, founder of the Nation Brands Index, argues that a country’s “brand” is nothing less than the sum of its politics, culture, religious traditions, business practices, landscape features and natural resources. “The reality is that most governments never really have an opportunity to think in a strategic kind of way,” says Anholt, whose clients include Botswana, Iceland, Bhutan and Latvia.
The first step for governments is to understand how outsiders view their nation.
“Newcomers to China only like what they consider to be Chinese elements — for example Chairman Mao, pandas, Tiananmen, the Great Wall, jasmine blossoms, and the Three Gorges Dam,” says Gu Zhenqing, Editor-in-Chief of Visual Productions, a bi-lingual national art monthly, and formerly curator of the Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, “but these are only outside symbols of China.”
For a country like China with its long history and years of turbulence, there are so many different dimensions that, “there’s a danger of being stereotypical or clichÃ© and appealing to a common denominator instead of displaying diversity or richness of a culture,” says Kel Hook, the Shanghai General Manager of Wieden + Kennedy, an international advertising firm best known for its work with NIKE.
Countries from Australia to Israel have mounted image-makeover campaigns in recent years. Israel has been promoting bikini-clad beachgoers and Tel Aviv nightlife rather than its contested holy sites. Uganda prefers to advertise that it’s “gifted by nature” instead of plagued by a brutal past.
Although reframing seems effective, the best way for a country to generate a good image, Anholt says, is not by conducting clever ad campaigns alone but by implementing good policies. “The most important thing is to tell the truth.”.
Or get others to do it for you. Countries ranging from Costa Rica to Morocco have burnished their national brands with clever public-relations offensives that eschew the pictures of pristine beaches in favor of visitors telling their stories. Singapore’s “Uniquely Singapore” campaign, which officials cite as one of the reasons tourism has grown dramatically in the past few years, included TV spots that featured foreign visitors describing their trips to the country in their own words. The Singapore Tourism Board also created a $6.5 million program to subsidize international film and TV production in the city-state. “We believe that movies and TV are an excellent way of creating more awareness of Singapore and generating buzz in a competitive tourism market,” says Lim Neo Chian, deputy chairman and chief executive of the STB.
CCTV has likewise coupled television and foreigners for ad campaigns. For the past several years, the station has run a spot in which people of various nationalities say “Welcome” in their own accented Mandarin before a young Chinese girl finishes off the ad with her own crisp tones.
The quirkier the campaign, the better. Tim McColl Jones of M&C Saatchi in Sydney was one of the architects of the Australian national tourism bureau’s “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaign, which shows Australians extending a characteristically blunt but friendly invitation to tourists to check out the country’s natural wonders. His agency, says McColl Jones, conducted research suggesting that many outsiders’ picture of Australia was “stagnant,” and the campaign therefore aimed at “disrupting attitudes.” It certainly did that–government censors in Britain found the ad’s language offensive rather than cheeky, and threatened to ban it. Though unintended, McColl Jones says, the controversy did help to generate “tens of millions of dollars in free PR” and sparked debate within Australia, as well. “It’s certainly stirred up enormous interest and discussion, both locally and overseas,” he says.
That’s no accident. Experts say that no one should expect to shape a national brand without taking into account the people who live in the country. “In the end it’s the Italian people who brand Italy, and they do it so damn well,” says Anholt. “And the countries that haven’t quite succeeded are the countries that don’t quite love themselves.”
Gu agrees that any country must first respect and understand itself before it can sell itself. That means abandoning easy tactics of relating, such as copying or simply putting forth what others expect.
“The cartoon figures used in the Beijing Olympics and now for the Shanghai Expo, for example, seem to be more Japanese than Chinese,” says Gu. “Another thing is that a lot of designers working on campaigns like this are always thinking about the market and asking themselves questions like, â€˜what is American taste?’ What are you doing spending time thinking about that? What do you like as a Chinese? That’s what you should ask yourself.”
Gu’s challenge comes at an interesting time, as international sporting events provide an excellent opportunity to show off a nation’s message. In 2006, German government and industry used the World Cup to showcase their country with a branding campaign emphasizing Germans’ openness and friendliness. It all helped to make the Cup an undisputed success, but the main beneficiaries may have been the Germans themselves. “The Germans made a huge step forward after the World Cup,” says Anholt. “They suddenly felt what it was like to be Italian–to have a healthy love of your own country.”
As China develops its national pride, it concurrently increases confidence in presenting itself to the world. That confidence will certainly be palpable in Beijing this summer. Self-autonomy rather than reliance on others to define it will be the driving force to define China’s “brand” in the modern world, says Gu.
As part of that pride, in preparation for international events, Beijing and Shanghai have undertaken campaigns encouraging politeness, civic responsibility and environmental awareness. Perhaps, the best way to turn a country into an attractive destination for visitors is to make it a place you’d like to visit yourself.