Branding at the time of Crisis Vol.2: Turkey and “Ergenekon”

*For those who don’t know about the Ergenekon case, here is the Wikipedia article, a really well-written report on the issue, and  a Q&A from Financial Times.

As of today, a local court came up with the verdict at the Ergenekon case. Several individuals, including a former Chief of Staff, various high ranking military officers, prominent intellectuals, and politicians were sentenced, some were sentenced to life in prison. Practically just like any other given aspect of Turkish life in the last decade or so, Ergenekon was a highly politicized issue and divided the population into “pro” and “against” camps.

The case has received quite a high level of international media attention, and therefore is likely to influence Turkey’s perception by the foreign audiences. I argue it would be naïve to expect a positive influence without any communicative intervention from Turkey. Besides, such an intervention is definitely not going to be easy.

This is what an open court looks like in Turkey – as portrayed by the international media (Image from Spiegel)

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Branding at the time of Crisis: Turkey and Gezi Park Protests

*For those who don’t know about Gezi Park protests, here is the Wikipedia article , here is a short infograph explaining the first 8 days, and here is a segment from the Colbert Report.

As Ahmet Davutoglu mentioned, the Gezi Park protests have an impact on Turkish reputation in the international arena (link in Turkish). But as the debunked urban legend goes, the Chinese word for crisis includes two characters: one for danger, another for opportunity. This post argues that the Turkish state has failed to use the Gezi Park protests to boost its image. Yet, it is not too late. Turkey can still use these protests as a way to increase its reputation as a strong modern capable state.

A protestor reading to the police officers at Gezi Park

A protester reading to the police officers at Gezi Park / Early days of the protest

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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.

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Somalia, you’re welcome!

I, as a research, do not study Turkey. I even don’t do case studies. My current research is more at a conceptual level, where I try to map the current actors and subject in international relations. But thanks to my current government’s perfect understanding of aid diplomacy, public diplomacy, and nation branding; I find myself writing about Turkey quite often. When my PM decided to visit Somalia during Ramadan and take his mustache, family, friends, several businessmen, members of the parliaments, and Turkish celebrities – in short everything the Somalians wanted to see -, I had to write…

Is he really shaking hands with the kid?

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Anholt on Turkey

Simon Anholt announced that Turkey should focus on its ‘nation brand’, a couple of weeks ago in an interview with a Turkish daily newspaper. Back then, as the Turkayfe team, we used the news on our newsletter, and put his statements in some of our materials. More recently, picked up the news , and we are running through a second cycle of viral distribution. In the first cycle, I refrained from commenting on Anholt’s views – mostly because we used the interview to support our project – Turkayfe. Yet, I believe I can put my two cents in during the second cycle.

I want this sofa (Image from

Let me first extract main points from his interview. The points below are directly taken from Hurriyet Daily News article:

Turkish government must develop policies to improve the “brand” of the nation:

Now, on one hand, this is an important statement. It is nothing new, fairly obvious to anyone who has any idea of international arena in the 21st century. But, Anholt used this statement in a national newspaper (actually English version of a Turkish newspaper). On the other hand, he puts the responsibility of brand-making, if you will, to the governments. As we know from his various books and speeches, he supports the idea of all-exclusive, (i.e. public-private partnerships) brand creations. However, it seems like the governments have a leading role in his conceptualization of nation-brand. I assume, it is because he equates nation brand with what a country does. Yet, we should stop and think about moral and ethical implications of making governments the primary responsible party for nations’ brands.

Turkey has to find ways of making itself “indispensable” to other peoples:

Again – pretty obvious but great to read it in a newspaper. This statement (together with his metaphor of the celestial keyboard) raises questions about Anholt’s understanding of international system. Is he talking about a closely-linked global economy? Or about a Global Village? Global politics? I mean, what is indispensable? So, is a good ‘brand’ something that people cannot live without? Is it just this necessity bound? I like to think a brand more in terms of a network of associations – which cannot be reduced to necessity.

Turkey’s best chance to increase its reputation in the world is “to be the bridge between Europe and Asia, between Islam and other religions:

Well, this has failed so many times in the last few decades, I don’t know what to say about it… It has been used by government officials since the very early days of the Republic – never worked. It usually ended up making Europeans suspicious as ‘we are a Muslim country’ and Muslims suspicious as ‘we are a Westernized country’.

“Nation branding”..[is].. not about communication or promotion, but concrete policies:

Well, no. I highly appreciate Braun & Zenker’s* definition of place brand as a “network of associations in the consumers’ mind based on the visual, verbal, and behavioral expression of a place, which is embodied through the aims, communication, values, and the general culture of the place’s stakeholders and the overall place design”. Therefore nation branding is about communication and promotion. Actually, if we are looking at nation branding as an integrated process of creating and disseminating a brand identity; ‘nation branding’ part is predominantly communication. Turkey has to change the expressions of the country, through communication as well as concrete policies (and communicating these policies).

One interesting thing about Anholt’s Nation Brand Index and Turkey is that the country is fairly consistent across the six criteria. For instance, Egypt, which shares similar scores with Turkey, has a higher rank in tourism. However in order to talk about the causes for this consistency, one has to accept that NBI’s methodology is valid and reliable. So, I will just say this is an interesting point that might be used as a conversation starter.

In sum, Anholt’s public interviews, speeches, or even books do not provide readers/listeners with ground-breaking information, however, (i) it is great when the most prominent person in the field says these things, and (ii) it is nice to have them in one book. His comments about Turkey are generic, as this is a newspaper interview. His comments about communication and nation branding is based on an assumption that communication is about false information, spins, and manufacturing identities. Yet, ‘branding’ is an attempt to socially and communicatively adjust to living in today’s brand-era. It is a necessity to negotiate what a place means for target audiences with target audiences. It is not about concrete policies, it is about being a part of the global society.

*Braun, E. and Zenker, S. (2010), “Towards an integrated approach for place brand management”,
paper presented at the 50th European Regional Science Association Congress, Jonkoping.

A Nightmare on the 51st Street

In an earlier post, I tried to write about my reaction to CAN’s decision to use Turkish Flag on a 9/11 documentary, and Turkey’s close association with Islam. My main point for the former issue was that 9/11 should be seen as a tragedy that deeply affected the humankind and we should all learn what extremism is capable of doing. The latter issue was dealing with Turkey’s image and the recent shift in the country’s image. Well, after receiving thousands of angry mails, CAN decided to change the poster and the cover of DVD……and right now we have the flags of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

In a very ‘noble’ crisis communication attempt, CAN explained why Turkey was chosen at first: “the presence of the Islamic star and crescent on the flag”. They might have overlooked the fact that the aforementioned Islamic star and crescent are a little bit different than the contemporary Turkish flag. Ottoman Empire, indeed, used a flag very similar to that of Turkish Republic – and there you are able to see the Islamic symbols. But even if you find a symbol that perfectly reflects ‘Islam’, do you want to put it on the cover of an anti-terrorism DVD? Or is the documentary anti-Islam? anti-Islamic countries? anti-anything that resonates with Islam? (PS: For instance, Al-Qaeda has a flag)

After their decision to put several more random flags to the poster, it is very difficult to take CAN seriously, and argue rationally. Therefore, I’ll just talk about the impact of ‘crazy’ organizations on nations’ images and their ability to raise hatred among people. CAN made headlines in several newspapers in a couple of countries. In other words, CAN managed to create an image where the collapsed building are associated with Turkey, Islam, and right now with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and Syria (by the way seriously why not Iraq? I mean the pre-liberated Iraq.). Classical crisis communication strategies advise policy makers to take corrective actions. In other words, Turkish authorities (in this specific case Turkish people who feel responsible for their country’s image) should warn CAN, tell what is wrong about the imagery, and ask for an apology. Most of the time, these strategies reach a settlement point. However, if you are dealing with a crazy organization, what can you do?

One path of action would be to ignore the situation. But as CAN gained publicity, it is a mistake to ignore them. Another strategy is to create a grassroots movement that target CAN’s target audience. So, we can take CAN out of the equation and tell about CAN’s mistake to the people who are going to see or who are interested in seeing the movie.

Lastly, humor or humorous critic might be an effective way of counter-arguing. As I said, it is very difficult to rationally argue with an organization that apologizes for “the use of only the Turkish flag on the cover of the film”. For instance, next time you want to feel like calling some a ‘crazy-ignorant-xenophobic idiot’, you can ask them whether they support CAN or not. Anyway, before ending this post, I would like to suggest some other symbols that should be included: Baklava, Humus, Kebab, Egyptian Pyramids, Republic of Balkavia from American Dad

Long story short, there is a problem with the Turkish image and this documentary is exacerbating the issue. Moreover, CAN is encouraging hatred among American people. This sounds like a perfect opportunity to become active citizens in our societies.

Sacrificed Survivors: Recreated Xenophobia

There is a new documentary coming up, “Sacrificed Survivors: the Untold Story of the ground Zero Mosque”. October 28th will be the premiere of this documentary but it already created some controversy. I want to raise two points here, first one about the approach of the documentary, and the second one about the Turkish flag used in the cover and posters. Quick disclaimer, I did not have the opportunity to see the documentary in its entirety. This is why my comments are based on the trailer, comments, and other descriptions. The project director describes, for instance, the documentary as “a 45-minute film that is fueled by the testimony of the survivors and the families of the victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001. It is about how they feel about the mosque being built on the site where their loved ones lost their lives”. In order to “protect America’s religious and moral heritage”, an ‘undercover’ team goes to the mosque, then creates a collage with the footage from the mosque, interviews with the survivors and the families of the victims who don’t like the Islamic Center, and a Turkish flag.

I have an Israeli friend who shared his military experience with me. As part of their training, they visited some of the concentration camps in Europe. While my take on the issue was based on nationalism, his was very universal. I thought about strengthening the nationalism in Israel. He said, if Israeli youth can see what extreme nationalism is capable of doing, the world would be a better place. Here again, we witnessed an atrocious event. 9/11 deeply affected everyone, it changed the way we looked at the world. Now, we have two options again. We can draw lessons from 9/11, we can see what fundamentalism is capable of doing. Or, we can start the blame game. Apparently, Christian Action Network, decided to do the latter.

The trailer, together with Christian Action Network’s name and motto, creates an us vs. them based on religion. Decorated by news pieces from Fox News, several messages point to Islamic take over of the United States. Shortly, no – this attack was not only on Americans. Just like any other terrorist attack, this one was also on humanity. 9/11 could and should be used as a case to see what fundamentalist religious (not only Islamic) thoughts can lead to… If you are curious about what extreme nationalism based on hatred towards a group can lead up to, take a long historical journey back to Third Reich.

My second point, Turkish flag on the cover, also shows us how close Turkish brand is to Islam. As far as I know, Turkey had nothing to do with 9/11. Turkish national flag is unique. The older Ottoman flags were closely associated with Islam and were sometimes used as religious symbols. But Turkish flag does not have such a function. Then again, Christian Action Network did not mind using Turkish flag to represent (what I would say) the Islamic ‘conquest’ of Ground Zero. The mere fact that an action network can confuse the flag with a religious symbol is alarming (well, Christian Action Network seems to be a ‘fair & balanced’ organization but still, this seems to be a problem)

Long story short, let’s stop playing the blame game and pointing fingers. 9/11 should be seen as a tragedy uniting humankind, not as a tool to legitimize xenophobia and discrimination. Also, a lesson for Turkish brand – we need to come up with a country image. I am not claiming that we should ignore religion but we should have an image that is not so closely associated with it.

Oh, here is Peter Griffin’s take on Ground Zero… Now, I can understand him better.

PS: Also, knowing more about the symbols we are using in our projects….won’t hurt.