Friday, July 15, 2011

Rebranding Mexico

Malcolm Beith has a good article in FP about perceptions, realities and brands in Mexico:
And yet, Mexico's economy is growing, tourism is rebounding, security in some parts of the country has never been better, and the middle class is continuing to expand. So the key question going into 2012 is: Can anyone put back together Mexico's broken image, both on the world stage and at home?
And so what did Mexico do?  Ramp up the public diplomacy efforts to help change perceptions that Mexico isn't a failed state?  Engage in more robust cultural diplomacy to broaden horizons about what Mexico really entails?  Nope.  They went for the quick fix and hired nationbrand guru Simon Anholt:
In August 2010, the Calderón administration hired a hot-shot advisor from Britain, Simon Anholt, the inventor of the phrase "nation-branding," to try to solve this exact problem. When I contacted him about Mexico's image problem, Anholt admitted his hands were full.

"I've worked in more than 40 countries during the last 20 years and I have never come across such a gulf between reality and perception [as in Mexico]," he said. "It's a country of great and growing importance in the world order, yet it seems saddled with another country's image: one that's much poorer, smaller, weaker, more troubled and in every way, less dignified. Reputation always lags behind reality by years -- in some cases by generations -- and during the last few years, Mexico has to some extent become defined by its problems."
Now, don't get me wrong.  I like Anholt's work and think he is rather brilliant. And I like the concept of nationbranding and think can work in certain contexts (Spain, India, Taiwan). But I ultimately believe that, when not part of real august public diplomacy efforts, nationbranding is a quick-fix huckster gimmick that PR firms have jumped on to sell their services.  Even Anholt has likened himself to Dr. Frankenstein compared to the monster mutation that has arisen.

Ah, but this is Anholt the master involved.  Yes, and I am sure he is giving sound and reasonable advice on how to change Mexico's nationbrand:
Anholt, the branding expert, would like to see Mexico perceived for its successes -- a growing economy, tourism, leadership in the public health sector and on global climate change -- rather than its negatives. He is working with the administration to highlight those, hosting meetings, workshops and debates with people from the president right on down to students and young entrepreneurs, in order to devise policy approaches and communications strategies. He has written speeches for Calderón to deliver on the international stage, and recently persuaded Mexico to host a global forum on the communication of climate change in Cancun. He has also urged the administration to reach out to new trading partners, the public and elites in foreign nations, and work more closely with the country's vast diaspora.
But I don't believe nationbranding can work well with changing perceptions when the issues are related to ongoing questions of security, war & peace.  See under: all of Israel's attempts at rebranding.  When you are trying to change the perception that your country is not at war, or not a failed state, nationbranding is simply not enough unless the guns have really fallen silent for some time.

Colombia has been doing a better job of changing its nationbrand image as not being part of the drug war, but even that has come slowly and after are marked change that outstripped perception.  And they confronted that perception head-on and did so a little irreverently ("The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay").

So in short, I would say that Mexico needs to do more than just aim at rebranding, but really work at telling the story of the rest of the country that is not "under siege."  I have a few ideas for such biz, including some public/private initiatives and some ramped-up and irreverent cultural diplomacy but since no one is asking my opinion at the moment, I will keep those under my serape at the moment.


Laura McGinnis said...

Have you ever talked with Efe Sevin about Anholt's work? He's got some very definite opinions... As somebody who's done research on perceptions of Mexico, I think they've got a lot of work to do, and I'm not entirely persuaded that this is the best tactic, but I'm sort of intrigued by the entire thing.

Paul Rockower said...

Haven't spoken to Efe about it, will do so. I'm not persuaded either that "nationbranding" is what Mexico needs, but rather more holistic pd.