Nation Branding and National Brands

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I had never considered taking principles from advertising such as brand perception and customer loyalty and applying them to an actual country.

While doing some research on advertising campaigns I came across this blog http://nation-branding.info which focuses on the concept of 'nation branding'. It's almost as if this is the 'high-stakes' form of advertising. We're not talking about a brand that sells shoes or coffee, this is a place. A place with history, culture and most importantly people that are being represented and perceived on the world stage. Given that, it seems logical that this concept of nation branding would become more important as we all become more connected.

Why Brand a Nation?

The Kosovo branded logoIn a global economy a nation is becoming more and more the 'parent company' of a product brand. Would you buy regular flat-packed furniture or would you rather buy Swedish flat-packed furniture? Would you take a cooking class from a local chef, or one that studied in Paris? These conceptions (or even stereotypes) are becoming more and more the subject of 'nation advertising'.

Consider Kosovo, a new country as of 2008. When we think of Kosovo we can't help but think of war, turmoil and devastation. Would you ever visit Kosovo? Send your student to study there abroad? Probably not, but the Kosovo government is working to change that. The following video and website is an effort to re-brand the small country in a new light, one that will attract tourists, immigrants, investors and foreign aid.

How Nations & Brands Interact

Nation brands are not to be confused with national brands. America is a nation brand, Coca-Cola is a national brand, but there is interaction that happens between these two things. The relationship basically works out in two different ways:

Stronger Product, Weaker Country

The Samsung LogoOne such example is Samsung products, which come from South Korea. Samsung is a fairly common brand in the U.S., but it is not widely advertised where the brand comes from. Perhaps this is on purpose. Do Americans think of a thriving democracy when they think of South Korea, or a post dictatorship military state on the brink with North Korea? What other attributes might be placed on the nation brand of South Korea? Sweatshop mass-production or innovative technology? Rural farming or futuristic urban-utopia? Whatever one comes up with, whether true or not, would subsequently affect a consumer's idea of a national brand. Samsung recognizes this, and remains neutral about its connection to its homeland. Perhaps someday we'll see a "Made in South Korea" proudly emblazoned on a product, once a strong nation brand is established here in the U.S.

A Corona Print AdAnother example is Corona, based in Mexico. There is a lot of negativity in the U.S. regarding Mexico right now. Detroit auto plants are moving to Mexico City, drug cartels are common and domestic immigration issues are headlines often. One strong aspect to Mexico's brand, however, is its tourism – sandy beaches and blue waves. Despite all the negatives listed aboce, eople in the U.S. are still envious of their co-workers vacationing in Mexico. And what do we see in Corona commercials? Exactly. Corona latches on to the positive aspects of it's nation brand to elevated the product brand while avoiding the more negative aspects.

Stronger Country, Weaker Product

The opposite case is true for other countries. Take fashion, for instance. Italy is known for its high-quality fashion and trend setting culture and right there you have a nation brand attribute. So when a new boutique opens in the US with an Italian name and "Made in Italy" on their products, consumers will automatically make the connection of high quality and "trendiness" to the nation brand. In essence, the product leverages the nation brand to boost it's own.

An image from the drop it like its hot music videoGermany is also a good example of this. Take any German functional product from electronics to cars and what do you think of? "German engineering." Now take specific brands from Germany: Audi, BMW, Braun, VW. We've all seen ads for these products emphasizing the engineering and design which reinforces what we already perceive of the national brand. A powerful combination.

Related note, the "Unpimp My Auto" VW commercials were pretty much the coolest thing ever so I have to throw the link in here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuC6jeKjTdg&feature=related).

Politics and Products

A made in the USA logoIn 2008, the US Anholt-GfK Roper National Brand Index ranking was 7th, trailing Japan, Canada and the UK. But when Barack Obama became president, there was a dramatic shift in our perception by the rest of the world. In 2009 we jumped to 1st place, a huge shift from previous years, despite our economic turmoil. Politics aside, what's interesting to consider is how this perception has helped (or not helped) US brands in the rest of the world. Has Coca-Cola's brand perception globally changed at all? How about Nike's? Perhaps more consideration on America's brand towards other countries will be a new economic strategy in the future. It's not Microsoft, it's American Microsoft.