Time for Engagement: Eurovision and European ‘Brand’ Identity

Another Eurovision season is over! Sweden’s Loreen won the title, and is bringing Eurovision back to Sweden after over a decade (and unfortunately around a month after my fellowship in Stockholm ends!) I don’t think I ever hid my love and appreciation for the Eurovision Song Contest. It is more than a song contest, it is indeed a part of European identity and politics. After reading a great post on politics of Eurovision by Yelena Osipova, and an incredibly awful post written from an American exceptionalism point of view, I want to say a couple of words on European brand and Eurovision.

– From 7 to 51(-ish): In 1956, the first Eurovision contest welcomed participation from only seven countries. It was not until 1975, the contest reached a new level of awesomeness (yes, that’s the year Turkey first participated). Throughout the years, 51 countries showed up at least once. If I am not mistaken, most recent new comer was Azerbaijan in 2008. In other words, Eurovision has been with us for more than half a century, and still more and more countries want to be a part of it. It is indeed a sign of being a part of a larger Europe.

– From high-tech experiment to not-so-high tech experiment: Eurovision was created to bring the war-torn Europe together. This part, we all know. What we sometimes miss is the fact that Eurovision was also a technological experiment! (Another reason why Eurovision is still controlled by European Broadcasting Union). Currently, it is not a great challenge to broadcast/webcast a live event, yet 1956 was quite different. Eurovision shows that Europe can tackle down technological challenges.

– From “native” languages to “English”: Eurovision also changed its format, participants, and expectations from songs. Earlier entries were performing with orchestras, whereas we are moving towards a more ‘pop’ or ‘pop-rock’ performances. With the introduction of “tele-voting”, countries started to participate with English songs, thus losing some intercultural aspect of Eurovision… (Wouldn’t it be cool to hear 40 something songs in 40 something languages?)

– From “local” rhythms to Bieber-esque songs: With the strong influence of music industry, songs started to become more pop à la Justin Bieber. Below you can see the winners from 1956 and 2010.

In short
What do you do when an event that symbolizes the history, cultural diversity, and technological achievements is seen as “trashy Euro-pop”?

2012 marked my tenth year anniversary where I practically stopped doing anything else and watched Eurovision, and I know I am not alone. Yet Europe’s external audience does not understand the importance of the event. The FP post goes ahead and says that it is no surprise America is the king of cultural exports given the quality of Eurovision entries.

My recommendation is simple: “Engage”. Engage with your external audiences to explain why Eurovision is important, why millions of people keep watching it. Hear their concerns (and probably even update your contest accordingly).

If Eurovision is going to a branding opportunity, if Europe is going to communicate its brand identity through the contest, it is probably not a bad idea to follow the basic rules of communication and stop solely broadcasting messages.


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