Istanbul 2010 – An Opportunity for Branding

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me what Istanbul 2010 was. She saw Istanbul 2010 ads at Heathrow Airport in London, but didn’t have much idea about what exactly the ads tried to say. Istanbul has been selected as the European Capital of Culture 2010. Hosting international events, and being recognized by international organizations are good opportunities for promoting a place. Given the variety of events and images you can promote under ‘culture’, it is also a good branding opportunity. So how well did Turkey use it?

Okay, first of all, I have to admit one thing. I really didn’t have a clear understanding of European Capital of Culture. I know there were three cities in 2010, and one was Pesc. What was the other one? (I just checked, it was Essen). Although some might be my ignorance, some might be because currently I am not in Europe but still, I am not sure how well the idea of ECOC is promoted.

Istanbul will be hosting several events throughout the year (If you plan to visit Istanbul, 2010 might be the best year to do so). You can find additional information about the event on Istanbul 2010 website. They also had interesting videos (some of which did not even show the subway system!) Although I have no idea why they chose the background music, the video below is quite good – especially the last 45-50 seconds (even the music makes sense). We see Turkish ‘people’ and scenes from daily life as well as important places (i.e. touristic attractions historical places). We have business people, small business owners, people walking, kids, even traffic jam on the video. The scenes pretty much describes both the modern and the historical, the Western and conservative, the serious and fun-having sides of Istanbul.

Though I do have one main question. Recently I started reading, writing, and thinking about authority and legitimacy in branding. When I look at Istanbul 2010 from that point of view, I cannot stop questioning whether they have the authority to claim brand ownership and legitimacy to brand the city. The names on the executive, advisory, and coordination boards (yes, there are three boards, maybe there is a fourth board on boards) are quite well-known people, high-level bureaucrats, and professionals. But where are the people? It seems to be an adequate project with a few shortcomings.

What Went Right
– Although public doesn’t seem to be on any of the boards, everyone had the opportunity to submit a project to Istanbul 2010. In other words, if one wants to be a part of the event, it is possible.
– The domestic and (as far as I can see from my friend’s anecdote) international media presence of the event was great. Everyone knows that there is something called Istanbul 2010 (we are just not so sure what it is).

What Went Wrong
– There doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme. I don’t like “a place where you can do everything” as a brand message and Istanbul 2010 subtly gives this message. Unfortunately can-do-everything messages never give a sense of inclusiveness. Even worse, you end up with a ‘generic’ place which is lost in messages. The website pretty much symbolizes this chaos.
– Project members seem to be very involved with Istanbul 2010 and be living with the idea. This is why the website fails to explain what Istanbul 2010 is. If you look at benefits for Istanbul part, you will see that Istanbul 2010 will make Istanbul the greatest place in Europe, maybe in the world. But there are no substantive explanation about why or how. (A trivia question: Which city was the ECOC 2009? What about ECOC 2011?)
– The communication methods don’t go down to foreign publics. In other words, Istanbul 2010 uses mass media, and tourism fairs to promote. I couldn’t find any people-to-people, Web 2.0, social media communication understanding. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much direct interaction between Istanbul 2010 and target audience.

In short, ECOC is a good regional promotion opportunity. Istanbul 2010 is a successful campaign. It might have been better if more communication/public diplomacy and less advertising techniques were used.

For those who are curious, ECOC 2009 were Vilnius and Linz, ECOC 2011 will be Turku and Tallinn.
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Turkey and Public Diplomacy

As I am supposed to be focusing solely on my thesis nowadays, I am wasting quite some time surfing. I decided to google “public diplomacy turkey” and to read the recent developments. I believe, after Turkish MFA’s two conferences inviting all the ambassadors to meet in Ankara, Turkey decided to introduce new foreign policy strategies. I felt obliged to put my two “kuruş” in.

On Jan 30th, 2010, Turkish PM issued a circular order, underlining the importance of public diplomacy and announcing the new official Public Diplomacy initiative. Institute of Public Diplomacy, was founded by a Turkish think-tank founded (where I was an intern six years ago). Suat Kinikoglu, a member of the Turkish Parliament, has mentioned the importance of communication and public diplomacy several times. He is also the director of Center for Strategic Communication – “a non-governmental organization in order to facilitate strategic communication for Turkey both at home and abroad.” (though I have to say, I am not really comfortable with calling an institution an NGO when the director is an MP and is affiliated with the ruling party).

MFA announced that Turkish public diplomacy efforts will be seen on the internet. Although Turkey didn’t catch the first wave of ‘governments going online’, Deputy Undersecretary’s statements prove that Turkey has understood the importance of public diplomacy and two-way communication in foreign policy.

Last January, the minister and several ambassadors visited Mardin, where they talked with local residents and journalists. The following news article explains how “prominent Turkish ambassadors briefly abandoned the formal world of diplomacy to interact with people at a local coffehouse”. It is good to see that our ambassadors can act in non-traditional environments. Our diplomatic corps are infamous for being elitist, these actions surely will help them to break this bad reputation. Turkey has been also engaged in several student exchange, economic cooperation, and cultural diplomacy activities.

Now it is time for action. We are already a latecomer to the race, but at least, we are explicitly demonstrating our interest for being present in the public diplomacy sphere. I see four important problems: exploitation of the term, lack of strategy, unclear message, and targeting audiences.

Even though we recently learned the term, we love calling everything ‘public diplomacy’, for instance the visit in Mardin. Apart from the fact that Mardin is a city in Turkey, I really cannot justify calling an informal event as public diplomacy. The minister and some ambassadors decided to walk around the town with some journalists during a conference in Mardin. I tried to find similar news articles in foreign media, but I couldn’t find any. Mardin is a fascinating city, is the home of several historical sites (and the world tallest men). But if there is no intention to create any communication bridges between Turkey and target audiences, this kind of public diplomacy attempts, one-way communication strategies are likely to fail. If we keep calling everything public diplomacy, the value of real PD projects will be neglected.

I cannot see a clear strategy in the existing student exchanges and other cultural/economic activities. All projects seem to have short term interest, such as constructing a building, hosting a student, and promoting an artist. If we want to justify the budgets for PD projects – and it is better if we do -, we should have clear quasi-measurable strategy objectives.

G. Bush in Istanbul for NATO Conference in 2004Modern Istanbul

Turkey’s biggest challenge (and opportunity) is that there are several messages we can communicate due to our historical and cultural roots.One of our favorite messages is being “the bridge between the East and the West”. Visualized by Bush’s speech during the NATO Conference in 2004, we love to claim that we have roots in the Eastern and Western cultures. Although this claim represents the reality to an extent, it sometimes reflects an inconsistent position instead of a unifying/unbiased position. Especially when our government sometimes tries to use our eastern roots as an alternative in EU negotiations, our inclusive approach becomes less persuasive. Another message is presenting the modern side of Turkey. Although it is more appealing to some audiences, it doesn’t reflect the Turkish reality entirely. When you consider the various cultures of Anatolia (some of which have lived in the region years ago, and some of which are still living), we can come up with several different messages. Yet, still the important thing is to come up with consistent messages that reflect the reality instead of highly crafted propagandist messages.

Last but not the least, we should define and prioritize our audiences. Our current foreign policy strategy, Strategic Depth, aims to create a multi-dimensional approach in which Turkey tries to build up strong relations with anyone and everyone. From a communication point of view, it is neither desirable nor feasible.

In short, Turkey has the potential to become a well-known brand and a globally respected actor in international politics. It is time to stop calling everything public diplomacy, to leave our political differences aside, and to come up with PD strategies.

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Branding for EU Membership

Recently I read an article about the perception of Turkey and Turks in the European public opinion in regard to Turkey’s long awaited EU membership. Shortly speaking the article talks about the negative public opinion and opposition against Turkey’s membership bid. The author asks whether Turkish image has been suffering from the “wrong sort of immigrants” – a question that I have tried to answer in an earlier post.


The article has a substantive summary of Turkey’s weaknesses and strengths on the way to become a full-fledged EU member. The negative aspects about such an acquisition are “immediate and personal”: “the loss of jobs, the threat of terrorism, the weakening of national culture”, where the positive aspects are “strategic, long-term and rather abstract: future economic growth, a stronger EU foreign policy, energy security”. I am not going to go into a discussion over whether or not Turkey should become a member of the Union. Rather, I will focus on how branding can/should be utilized to create a more pro-Turkey public opinion.

Thus far, when Turkey wanted to strengthen its hand in the negotiation process; it either tried to blame EU (for being unfair to Turkey) or underlined two issues: “young population” and “Muslim secular identity”.


When we consider the aging population of Europe, and how the welfare systems works; yes, young population is an important advantage. But public opinion is based on perception, not scientific explanations or technical realities. Young population means more people looking for jobs! So, in fact, in perception, Turkey’s young population argument is heard by the public as “Hey, we know you are already unemployed, but we are bringing young and qualified people into the job market… It sucks to be you”..

The article cites Paul Taylor with regard to Muslim-secular identity.

“On television, Turkey means minarets, headscarves and the Bosphorus bridge”, says Paul Taylor, Reuters’ European affairs editor. “In the newspapers, a ‘secular state with a predominantly Muslim population’ gets edited down to ‘a Muslim country'”.

I will not further elaborate this comment in order not to strengthen the muslim stereotypes, but, being a Muslim country does not have positive connotations.

turkey-flag-europe I highly appreciate the findings of this article and appreciate the fact that it has associated the concept of nation branding with EU membership. Now, a brand has to offer a solution to the problems you have in your hand. This is why, while branding Turkey, the most important thing to consider is the perception of European public opinion – what do Europeans see as a problem? Unlike what Turkey thinks, possibility of a collapsed welfare system or negative reactions from Muslim countries do not constitute major problems for them. Consequently, the brand promises of Turkey do not appeal to them. Conversely, these promises repel the public as Turkey clearly distinguishes itself in demographic terms. Although the message trying to be created on Turkish side is “We are different and ready to create a synergy with EU”, the message understood on the European side is “They are not one of us”.

One sentence summary: A new brand (a more accurate image of what is going on in the country) is necessary for Turkey – let it be through events (as Simon Anholt suggests) or through communication (although Simon Anholt thinks it is not possible).

PS: Apparently, I used to be a better blogger earlier this year. I promise I will try to post more often.

Too Late, Too Little: Turks in Germany for Public Diplomacy

I saw this article yesterday. As far as I can understand the advisor to the advisor to the Prime Minister said: “Turkey should start to invigorate Turkish immigrants in Europe as an effective diplomatic tool for EU membership. They have been in Europe for 50 years, but Turkey has not managed to mobilize them.” (Please click here for the full article)

The idea is great. We are talking about 5 million people from Turkish ethnic origin in Europe, over 2 million people in Germany! It is not possible to disagree with what the advisor to the advisor to the Prime Minister tells us: Turkey has neglected its nationals living abroad for decades. I highly appreciate this belated attempt to mobilize these people. At the end of the day, these people are in interaction with foreign publics on a daily basis. In marketing terms, they are walking bill boards.

But, as far as I can see there are three important problems due to the fact that the action came too late and too little. (Although I highly appreciate the attempt, the statements of the advisor to the advisor to the Prime Minister – which were published only in one English language Turkish newspaper – are not enough to claim that public diplomacy is at the top of government’s agenda).

  • Least integrated minority
  • A recent study showed that Turks are the least integrated minority in Germany!

    Also, this video-report shows how Turks try to keep themselves away from the German community in general. There are individual exceptions to this generalization, naturally, however, the majority of Turkish community is not integrated with the local community

    In fact, Turkish government never wanted these people to integrate with their host societies. Let’s look at the following article in 1982 Turkish Constitution:

    Constitution Article 62. The state shall take the necessary measures to ensure family unity, the education of the children, the cultural needs, and the social security of Turkish nationals working abroad, and shall take the necessary measures to safeguard their ties with the home country and to help them on their return home.

    The main aim of the government was to keep Turkish nationals working abroad as connected to the home country as possible and to support their return home. In other words, who didn’t see this lack of integration coming?

    I had the opportunity to spend a week in Germany in 2005. I went to Frankfurt and Essen with a friend, where we experienced this lack of integration first hand. I stayed with a Turkish family. The father was a first generation migrant, with a bachelor’s degree and a fluent German. The mother was second generation, in English, Turkish and German. The children were all enrolled in German schools and were successful. Although this situation describes a level of “integration”, during our stay, we never had to speak a word of German or English and never shopped at a non-Turkish store. And, well, our opinions about getting married and moving to Germany were asked a few times.

  • The image of Turks

    And Turks are not German’s most favorite minority mostly due to the fact that Turks are living in their closed chambers which are located somewhere in between 1960s’ Turkey and contemporary Germany.

  • Lack of strategy
  • Let’s assume that Turks are well integrated to the German society and have the potential to influence the German public opinion. How are we supposed to create a diaspora power from the masses of people? In fact, the very same news article quotes Cenk Alican saying “There are dozens of Turkish foundations in Germany’s big cities, but due to ideological differences and problems between the heads of NGOs, they cannot unite around common goals.” So, who will create a strategy? How will these organizations and individuals act in coordination?

    Thus, we have (in metaphorical sense) broken billboards in the unseen parts of the cities with different messages written on each and every one of them… We have miles to go before we can start implementing public diplomacy projects through the migrants in Europe.

    But even discussions about Public Diplomacy in Turkey make me happy! We are definitely in need of a branding strategy and we are definitely in need of designing more public diplomacy projects using all available resources – including Turkish migrants!

    Hey, we can shoot high quality promo videos!

    A friend of my recently sent me this video… Well, in fact, she sent the link with critical comments. Though I liked it!

    Istanbul is selected as one of the three European Capitals of Culture in 2010 and the below video is prepared by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The re-occuring theme of hospitality (everyone welcoming you) gets a little bit disturbing after the 50th person.

    All we have are scenes from Istanbul, only city images. You can see some people but cannot hear anything. (Thinking about a long term branding process, I argue that we need people “talking” “sharing their ideas”.)

    People walking around, trams, ships on the sea, the bridges, religious diversity… All great themes to be shown.

    Is it possible to make this video better? I believe so,

  • Add something about science and technology. (Research facility, universities etc.)
  • Add something about contribution to current culture. (A concert, an art exhibition, a recent architectural work)
  • Add something about business and business places. (Yes, it is related with the culture.)
  • Cut down the number of mosques. (There are way too many…They could be just included in the religious diversity section).
  • Definitely change the intro music.
  • We have see again way too many houses (mansions) by the Bosphorus.
  • Enough with the SUBWAY! If your city has more than 500.000, you have to have SUBWAYS! (plural – subwayS). Istanbul’s subway is quite new – which means the city is behind the transportation technology, let’s say, by 100 years. It has no historical value. There is only one line – nothing to be proud of in transportation terms. It is just a subway.
  • Lastly, officials need to be more careful about distribution channels. I know it is difficult to control the flow of information in the age of Web 2.0 – but this is what happens if you don’t. The following are the key words from the youtube video: (Bold ones are unnecessary, and italic ones are “weird”)

    Turkey turkish liverpool alanya marmaris paris amsterdam manchester germany greek bellydance tarkan hilton madrid dj sex
  • Nation Branding Index Loves Turkey!

    Recently, I ran into this beautiful, optimistic, and Turkey loving report. This report is modified for Switzerland and uses Nation Branding Index 2008 results – in other words, it is based on scientific data.

    Some highlights from the reports:

  • The panel study took place in 20 countries.

    Western Europe/North America: U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Sweden
    Central and Eastern Europe: Russia, Poland, Turkey
    Asia-Pacific: Japan, China, India, South Korea, Australia
    Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico
    Middle East/Africa: Egypt, South Africa

  • Turkey ranks 36th in overall ranking – out of 50 countries listed.
  • 38th in Exports!
  • 37th in Governance! A short explanation here. According to GfK’s website governance measures public opinion regarding the level of national government competency and fairness and describes individuals’ beliefs about each country’s government, as well as its perceived commitment to global issues such as democracy, justice, poverty and the environment. – No further comment.
  • 28th in Culture!
  • 37th in People! – Hey! This is not fair! I thought we were educated, friendly and open – minded.
  • 31st in Tourism! – So, I believe the people from those 20 countries are not interested in seeing an emperor riding a horse towards a subway train! (why the hack do you use a subway in tourism commercial anyway!)
  • 36th in Immigration/Investment. – Hey, respondents “be fresh, be cool”. Well, as I have used this slogan towards my target audience, Turkey will rank top 10 in 2009.
  • More comments will follow after I discuss the issue with my mermaid friends.

    Reality TV in Nation Branding

    What about using reality TV for nation branding? By reality TV I don’t mean the “beautiful” TV shows, but I mean the footage from daily life, interviews with people… Will it help with nation branding?
    I was searching YouTube to find such videos, however I couldn’t find any… Let me present the two videos I have found.

    Looks nice, doesn’t it? Well, bad news, there are no flying ships or semi-ghost emperors riding horses or mermaids in Turkey. Tourism is a part of nation-branding and public diplomacy, but these messages are not enough. In order to present our “society”, our “country”‘; we need -what I tend to call- Reality TV.

    Here we go, footage from daily life. Turkey is associated only with the Muslim identity. The majority of Turkish population is indeed Muslim, but we are also proud of the fact that Turkey is a secular democratic country.

    This footage proves the point that the opposite of successful nation-branding is not a nation without any brand. If a nation does not brand itself, other entities will do it.
    So, time for a YouTube channel? I guess so.

    Nation Branding: Turkey

    Currently, I am working on my thesis proposal, I spend hours and hours on the internet, trying to find branding theories and case studies. To my surprise, I ran into a case study from Turkey (link is in Turkish). I have gone through the website, there are many prominent social figures involved in the project. Basing my claims on the presentation they have, many talented work on the project for two years and came up with a highly structured branding plan for Turkey…

    The Association for Public Relations was supporting this project, I believe this is why at the end of the day, the project produced four main branding “slogans” for Turkey (to be delivered to EU audience):

    • Turkey is a young power for you
    • Be fresh, be cool
    • It is time to get together
    • It is time to make business

    Although, these are acceptable messages; if we are going for a national brand – we need more than just an image of a “good” business partner.

    Eventually, an esteemed Turkish national brand will indirectly affect the business. However, if the brand is defined on business, it will be extremely difficult to expand the effects of a good brand to political and social areas.

    Perfect recipe for me:

    There is a need for branding in Turkey. I am a strong advocate of grass-roots public diplomacy attempts. I believe individuals can create a “change”. All my research is focused on nation branding, implementing marketing principles to political communication and public diplomacy. I am enthusiastic about these subject and I can take risks! For the first time in my life, I will do my best to start a project by myself without an institutional sponsor!


    For a similar project for Israel, please take a look at this link.

    I will keep posting about my progress!