From Ferguson to Erdogan: (De)Branding through Acts

Two news articles have been occupying my social media feeds: Ferguson jury decision and Erdogan’s comments on gender equality. A grand jury decided not to indict the police officer accused of fatally shooting an unarmed African American teenager, causing nation-wide protests. Erdogan decided to share his views on gender equality, once again, with the public in a Women and Justice summit. He said that “you cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different“. Both events got a large scale media coverage, causing domestic and international publics to question the ‘brand’ identities of the countries.

Ferguson, MO - August 11th (Image from Al Jazeera)

Ferguson, MO – August 11th (Image from Al Jazeera)

US is known to have an established democratic tradition and attempts to promote itself as a melting pot of different races and cultures. Following one particular event, this promotional aspect has lost its public appeal. Turkey has been presenting itself as a model country by arguing that it upholds democratic values in a predominantly Muslim region. Yet, Erdogan’s widely covered speech suggests another story.

I am not planning to reinvent the wheel here – we all know that actions speak louder than words. A nation’s brand is earned – not fabricated through communication campaigns. I want to solely highlight two points about perceived brand identity and brand performance – with the former term referring to what audiences think about a given country and the latter to what a country is actually doing.

The (de)branding events might be seen as the reality behind the branding messages. Audiences are already skeptical of advertising and political campaigns (and of nation branding campaigns which carry the characteristics of both). They are looking for evidences to support their presumption that the branding messages portray a distorted reality. One court decision or a speech is more than enough ‘evidence’.

From a more critical perspective, it is also possible to argue that branding campaigns might not be focusing on strong brand assets. Democratic identity of the US and democratic aspirations of Turkey seem to be – at least on the surface – appropriate places to start a branding campaign. However, if we are to see the aforementioned events as not one time insignificant occurrences but as representatives of larger issues (yes, I am talking about racial inequality in the States and the lack of democratic understanding in Turkey), branding campaigns might be better off if they choose to stay away from them.

Long story short, actions are important in branding. Once a (de)branding act is carried out, we should assess whether it was accidental or representative of larger problems. Then, it will be possible to create a crisis communication / branding strategy.



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