I know Portugal won the Eurovision Song Contest, but Sweden won the Eurovision. As I am obsessed (not only with Eurovision but also) with nation branding and perception, I look at the results from a branding perspective. And I will argue that Sweden – not Portugal, not even the host country Ukraine – won the Eurovision.
As my beloved home country, Turkey, has just voted “yes” on proposed constitutional changes that made current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan pretty much president until 2029* and gave him extensive powers that will (I guess) enable him to enact all the policies he did not have the resources to enact – despite being in politics since 1983, an elected official from 1994 to 1998, and controlling the executive branch since 2002, controlling the executive branch with little to no opposition from the legislative branch since 2007, with little to no opposition from the judiciary branch since 2010.
But anyway, I digress. Where was I? Yes, Turkish brand. So, what will happen to the Turkish brand? Well, Turkish brand will both benefit from the results and be damaged, almost, beyond repair.
There is a Twitter ban in Turkey. A democratic country blocked access to the microblogging site, 10 days before the most important election of the decade! This move brings the question is whether the ban signals the end of the Turkish model – as a democratic country with a predominantly Muslim population – for the region or not. I say, this ban clearly shows what the Turkish model is. We think about Turkey as a country that combines the Western values with a different religious belief. I argue the model was always about using Western institutions to justify the influence of religion on society and politics. Here is how:
Last Saturday, countries from across the European continent came together for the 58th time, for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden….but not Turkey!
Turkey explicitly expressed its concerns about the fairness of the contest – a concern that has not been voiced by any other country before. Therefore, Turkish decision is indeed a symbolic action that has implications for its reputation (or brand) as part of the European society.
As seen in the video above, it is quite difficult to take Eurovision seriously and discuss its fairness. But Turkey did it. What was Turkey thinking?
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, Nation-Branding.info 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.
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.
Currently, I am reading No Logo by Naomi Klein. As most of you might know, No Logo criticizes the mega/super brands; is also known as one of the most influential anti-globalization books. Well, I am learning a lot of new things about branding and how to create brand identities from a book that highly devalues branding. This week, I wanted to write about what I learned about branding from No Logo (I am sorry, Ms. Klein), and discuss Simon Anholt’s speech below based on communication and branding.
Anholt starts out by telling us to ‘forget about branding’. He claims when it comes to cities/places; promotion is not enough to change the perception. He says he has not been able to see one case study where a city/place/region has demonstrably and measurably increased its reputation through marketing communication…
I have three main ‘issues’ with and one methodological objection to his statement:
1) Promotion and marketing communication are two different terms. Communication in nation/place branding is, and should be, strategic communication. In the strategical conceptualization of the term, promotional activities will stay only as tactics and operations. The entire communication framework is broader than promotion. Therefore, Anholt fails to see the complete communication mechanism in the branding processes. I agree that promotion is not enough to increase reputation, however strategic communication is a prerequisite.
2) Anholt wants to see a measurable increase in a country’s reputation… Currently, I know two measurement scales in nation branding. One belongs to Anholt and GfK – Nation Brands Index (NBI), and the other one to East-West Communications. I am not really sure whether NBI is methodologically sound, as I have not had access to the documentation. East-West Communications bases its arguments on a simple content-analysis. Long story short, I do not know any place reputation measurement scale. Therefore, it might be very difficult to find a case where a city/place/region has measurably increased its reputation (It is important to note that Anholt distinguishes branding from promotion for tourism or economic development. Therefore those figures cannot be used to measure the success of a branding campaign. Otherwise, we could have easily used Polish Plumber to disprove his argument).
3) Several branding campaigns start ‘re-actively’. In some cases, there is a need for policy advisors to change their policies, to restructure their economies, etc. However, in several other cases, the need for branding/re-branding is sparked by misinformation and misperception. Therefore, in fact, the main of the reputation management (branding/rebranding) is to provide the facts and figures to target audiences. In other words, there are several branding cases where communication is the main component. A project I have been working on, RediscoveRosarito, is such a case study. The main aim of the project is to debunk the myths of danger created by mainstream media.
4) Well, I just want to tweak Anholt’s words. He has not seen any case where communication succeeded. Is there a story of success where communication had no role? If the answer is no, we cannot overlook the importance of communication in branding.
Shortly, what I want to say is, strategic communication is not the only component of a successful branding campaign. However, a campaign that does not appreciate the dominant role of communication in changing perceptions is not very likely to accomplish its objectives.
PS: Before I forget, as far as I can recall, Poland was working with Wally Olins for branding. Did Poland change its mind? And secondly, can any one name one of Anholt’s branding campaigns?
Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion theory is one of my guiding theories in my thesis. While discussing the impacts of ‘the real world’ vs. ‘the pictures in our heads’ on nation branding, I felt the urge to differentiate rhetoric explicitly from deception. Shortly speaking, Lippmann claims that we are too lazy, the world is too big, and the couch is too comfortable, so we will not have the opportunity to contact a huge part of the real world. We will hear about events happening in the other parts of the world. We will read newspapers, watch TV, follow tweets (no, Lippmann was not talking about tweeting), and then interpret the information we get in a personal way to create a picture of the world in our heads.
It is called a fictional reality, reported reality, mediated reality, and several other names. In short, we don’t witness events, we witness how they are reported by some others. When we add up our own perceptive criteria on top of this manufactured reality, we end up with ‘our world’ (a.k.a. the picture in our heads). Putnam argues for the decreasing levels of social interaction. In daily parlance, it means the couch is more comfortable than ever. So, less real world, more perceived world through reported information.
Nation branding, in this sense, is providing a narrative to this reported world. Many people don’t know the reality about your nation (see the video below). Nation branding can try to:
– make a nation relevant to people (first step into the picture)
– help people know more about a nation (maintaining your spot)
– tell something else about a nation (repositioning)
– diversity the arguments (creating more spots in the picture)
– keep some issues off-the radar (shifting the discussions)
Persuasiveness, or rhetoric, is important in creating and restoring images in people’s minds. All these communication processes in nation branding take place not in the real world but in the perceived reality. Given the complexity of the real world, and the decreasing levels of social interaction , ideas are formed with the help of the mediated reality. Now after talking about the same issue in my thesis, I felt the urge to say “This research does not, in any way, argue for defamation, deception, or manipulation of the reality. Because of the fact that people’s views about a nation are created in this mediated reality, the author argues that nations should be actively involved in providing their narratives.” Even in keeping issues off-the-radar, the main aim is to avoid being associated with an issue which does not reflect the reality of a nation (i.e. Greece might want to keep discussions over current financial situation off-the-radar by promoting another issue. In long term, Greece and financial crisis should not be associated. Similarly, US tries to divert the attention away from domestic political discussions). The main aim is not to lie, to manipulate reality but to provide your narrative for your own image.
Rhetoric is all about persuasion. Yet, first rule of communication, if you cannot support what you say, don’t say. Communication takes place in several platforms, so nation branding messages should be present in all these with the aims of increasing the relevance of a nation and putting pictures in the perception, not of deceiving people. Branding campaigns do not (should not) censor other news sources, but should compete with them in terms of credibility, legitimacy, and efficiency.
Now I pretty much understand why Dr. Nancy Snow insists on saying ‘persuasion with principle’ and ‘truth is the best propaganda’.
Here are the books I talked about:
Lippmann, W. (1922). Public opinion (1st ed.). New York: Free Press Paperbacks.
Putnam, R. (2001). Bowling alone : the collapse and revival of American community (1st ed.). New York: Touchstone.
Here is the video: (WordPress, why are you so difficult to use? Please click on the link below if you want to watch the video)
Nation Of Andorra Not In Africa, Shocked U.S. State Dept. Reports
And my cross-posting announcement: