Friday, October 07, 2011

Strike up the Brand!

A great article in Smithsonian Magazine by Richard Coniff on nationbranding and its hucksterism:
You know the sense of decorum and probity that marketing consultants have brought to our political campaigns? Now they’re doing the same thing for whole countries. It’s called “nation branding,” a new, improved way to jostle for attention in the global marketplace. A key part of the mission is to sum up a nation in a single dazzling phrase. “Malaysia, Truly Asia,” for instance, or “Chile, All Ways Surprising.” South Korea briefly touted itself as “Dynamic Korea.” Officials later switched to “Korea, Sparkling,” but had second thoughts when someone pointed out that it sounded like a fizzy drink. “Miraculous Korea” was briefly contemplated as a replacement, but finally everyone settled on “Korea, Be Inspired.” (“Korea, So Good We Made Two” was never a serious contender.)...
With some countries, as with some political candidates, the best strategy may be to manage expectations—for instance, “China: Now 55 Percent Less Communist!” Or “Amazingly Asian Myanmar: Not Just for Jailed Dissidents!” Sweden has such a reputation for fabulously beautiful people that underselling might take some of the pressure off average-looking Swedes. What about “Eat Stinky Fish, Watch Disturbing Movies”?
The consultants themselves often seem a little vague about what they’re selling. Even brands they consider genius can look remarkably interchangeable. If it’s Tuesday, this must be “Amazing Thailand.” Or is it South Africa “Alive With Possibility”? Did we just touch down in “Positively Transforming” Estonia? Or is it “Iceland Naturally”?
Feeling confused? Ultimately, a wishful traveler might yearn for Bolivia—or anyplace, really—where “The authentic still exists.”
Even more hilarious are all the comments on the piece online of Latvians complaining that the flag in the graphic is Austrian not Latvian, and the guy looks like a Germanic knight.  Obviously Latvia has already failed at nationbranding or this mistake might not have transpired.  This contrarian likes it even more that Coniff's last article in Smithsonian was on Luddites.  Thanks for the heads-up, Ima.

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