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The Forum > General Discussion > Lousy reputation = lousy country?

Lousy reputation = lousy country?

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Simon Anholt is a British government advisor specialising in the field of ‘nation branding’. He is a member of the British government’s Public Diplomacy Board and advises a number of other governments on their branding strategies. His advice turns on the coordination of policy with trade, cultural relations and tourism to manage the image and reputation of a country, region or city.

Anholt coined the term ‘Nation Branding’ in an academic article published in 1998, but he now laments its tendency to mislead rather than inform. There is, he points out, an important difference between a nation’s ‘brand’ and the exercise of ‘branding’ a nation. The former is an observation of the prestige, attractiveness, or value attached to a nation by people in other countries. The latter is a questionable attempt to use the tools of marketing to manipulate those perceptions. The government of Uganda, for example, funds advertisements on international television channels in which the Ugandan president declares his country to be ‘blessed by nature’. Given the preponderance of negative images of Africa in the Western media, such efforts are at best comically ineffectual and at worst disastrously counterproductive.

Anholt’s advice is simple: if a country wishes to be viewed in a positive light, it must act accordingly. He says that when a government leader calls him up to complain about a country’s ‘crap reputation’, his first reaction is to ask said leader whether his country might, indeed, be rather crap. Reputations are based on concrete acts, and as a rule countries get the reputations they deserve. We may choose not to spend our holidays in China, for example, in protest against that country’s human rights record.

In some respects, international relations today might be compared to a ‘gigantic global supermarket of national brands’, to use a phrase coined by one of Anholt’s detractors. At first blush, this may sound unappealing, but it is actually much fairer than the previous system. In the past, international influence was based on military strength alone. Might, by definition, was right. Today niche players can prosper, and morality is no longer irrelevant.
Posted by ICD Academy, Thursday, 15 July 2010 9:50:26 PM
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Just a short note before dashing off.

I would agree with most of your post other than you have not factored in the influence of the MEDIA on 'branding a nation' as opposed to a national brand. China's poor record on human rights is certainly deserved, just as South Africa during apartheid.

During the Hanson era Australia was seen as anti-Asian due to her strong public presence but it was hardly representative of 'Australia' brand-wise nor the government of the day.
Posted by pelican, Friday, 16 July 2010 12:28:18 PM
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Hi there. This is Matthew from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy...

Re: your comment:

But this is Anholt's point. Fairly or unfairly, Australia's reputation - its 'brand' - was negatively affected by Hanson's electoral success. And no amount of government-funded advertising could change that. Countries who wish to improve their brand must act accordingly. When America elected an African-American president, it became much more popular overnight.
Posted by sandviken, Friday, 16 July 2010 10:01:40 PM
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Hanson only won in her QLD electorate she would not have got up in an inner city seat for example. Her success in that seat does not represent anything other than her popularity in that demographic. If it gets taken as reflecting the nation's brand then that is just hype and spin. Those 'crap' reputations may not be the reality but the appearance. Australia would hardly rate on the barometer compared with other nations like China, the Middle East and Africa on human rights, religious division, poverty and race issues.

The US's brand certainly improved after the election of Obama but when you think about this is just the effects of change and the hope for something better. Ultimately it will be the successes of his presidency that will brand the US. The brand is only as good as the product lasts.

It is all very well to say countries must act accordingly to improve their national brand, but how do you stop the Hansons of the world from nominating? And why would you want to, we are living in a democracy where free speech is allowed. Would you want the alternative? The brand is meangingless if it comes at a price to those rights and freedoms.

The important thing is the actions of the government of the day on issues that affect international relations.

"Nation branding" just sounds like more media spin based on image makers rather than reality although chances are the reality and the spin may cross paths on occasion.
Posted by pelican, Saturday, 17 July 2010 10:37:19 AM
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The actions of a country does affect its
reputation on the international scene
whether we like to admit it or not.
The White Australia Policy of bygone days
affected the way the world viewed us.
The attacks on Indian students in recent times
gave us bad press overseas, as did the Cronulla
riots, and our treatment of asylum seekers.
The problems we have with our Indigenous people
is also recorded overseas.

Germaine Greer stated in a British tabloid:

"Australian racism dervies from the same
bottomless source as British racism - from
universal ignorance, working-class frustration,
reinforced by an unshakeable conviction of
British superiority over all other nations on
earth, especially the swarthy ones."

The perception that racism is a problem in
Australia exists whether we accept it or not.
If the perception matches the reality, then
we have a problem to deal with and the issue
needs to be explored and discussed, and not brushed
aside - that "it's only a small minority," that it
afeects. It affects us all!
Posted by Foxy, Saturday, 17 July 2010 4:55:14 PM
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All true Foxy, but I tend to be less concerned about reputation when it comes to other countries and usually think in terms of - compared with whom?

If our reputation is going to be 'branded' because of the acts of a few militants, while it highlights some problems, the perception is not always based on fact or reality.

I tend to shudder when I hear terms like nation branding because it is meaningless. It is something that can be easily manipulated, overstated or twisted for a variety of agendas.

The White Australia Policy is abhorrent to us now, but at the time it was considered the norm and that policy does not affect relations in the current day, given our immigration mix is not based on race.

It is all very well to tell countries to do X, Y or Z to improve their 'brand' but it is often not the countries perse but some of its inhabitants that might promote a particularly nasty view.

How do you deal with that on the world stage. The only way is for Governments to speak negatively about racist attitudes and to provide support to Indian students (just for example) which they have done.

I am probably not expressing myself that well, but IMO if the actions of a few individuals affects our brand then it is not worth the paper it is written on and it would naturally follow on that interpretation, that governments are then powerless in the main to influence brand, no matter what positive steps they might endeavour to take to appease the sensitivities of other nations.
Posted by pelican, Saturday, 17 July 2010 5:15:09 PM
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