Country Branding

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“We’re all going to…. Australia”

Price-tag: $3 million 

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Scene 1 Imagine you’re locked inside as the winter storms rage outside, covering the ground in a thick blanket of snow. The minus-degree temperatures are frozen in place. As you turn on your television to catch up on the news, the last program is showing live footage from Sydney’s beaches where boisterous people are celebrating Christmas, accessorizing their bikinis and board shorts with bright red Santa hats.

Scene 2 You’re watching the classic Harrison Ford movie, ‘Clear and Present Danger’ – particularly the scene when Ford is running through the streets of Bogota in Colombia, fleeing bullets from the drug cartels he’s fighting against. fighting the drug cartels as they fire rounds of ammunition at him.

Scene 3 Oprah is looking to find the happiest people in the world. She visits a young woman in her Copenhagen home in her home in order to gain a better understanding of what places Denmark on top of the list.

Looking at these three scenarios, did you conclude that the best winter escape would be Australia? That Colombia is dreadful? Or that if you want to be happy, move to Denmark? If you did, you are among the millions of like-minded people who reached similar conclusions. A slick advertising campaign, or a glossy tourist brochure did not sway you, rather your opinions were influenced by Country Branding.

What started out as coincidence, has led to a sophisticated discipline. The roots of Country Branding can be traced back over 100 years to the Swiss Alps. Back then Switzerland didn’t have much advantage over its neighbouring countries, and so had to find a point of differentiation for a challenged chocolate industry. Their answer to the conundrum was to brand Switzerland. And thus the first Country Branding board was formed to build and control the Swiss image, including drawing up parameters about using the phrases ‘Swiss Made’ or ‘Made in Switzerland’. Today, a century later, all associations linked with Switzerland remain under tight control.

A few years ago, the watch industry tightened their control, and now companies can only use the ‘Made is Switzerland’ claim if at least 50% of the components is manufactured in Switzerland.

Switzerland is not alone in systematically building its brand. Year after year the Australian tourist authority beams free footage of its warm beaches to a frozen Europe and US. The timing is like a Swiss clock, airing the first images every 24th December – which happens to be the very date the very peak season for the travel industry begins.

The campaign continues through to New Year’s Even when the fireworks extravaganza on Sydney Harbour ushers in the New Year. This doesn’t necessarily undermine other nations’ celebrations because Sydney is one of the first cities in the world to mark the time change.

This is all part of a well-planned and well-oiled Country Branding marketing machine which eyes any opportunity to put Australia on the map – at almost any price. Think the world’s best job, a campaign implemented by the Queensland Tourist Bureau, which made headlines around the world. Or maybe you were watching when Oprah, to everyone’s surprise, announced a free trip to Australia for all her 300 studio guests – sponsored courtesy of the Australian Government. Oprah will spend two weeks in Australia recording her show around the country.

But it isn’t everyone who is as lucky, or as strategic as Switzerland and Australia. Take Colombia, for example. The first time I went there I thought my days were numbered. It didn’t take long for me to realise the country’s bad-boy image was more fantasy than reality. It also highlighted the very real power of Hollywood. Where exactly was it that Harrison Ford was filmed running for his life in Bogota? Turns out, definitely not in Colombia. Fears of real-life Colombia are enough to keep actors away.

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They don’t go there. But the movie in itself is enough to scare off any traveller. Colombia? No way!

The reality is that most of the impressions we form of countries come from television, and of course, the silver screen. Just think of the lush landscapes of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and you immediately conjure up the vistas of New Zealand. Romance, perhaps? It won’t take long to think Paris. More than 100 movies were filmed there last year, all focusing on… love! And then of course there’s the power of the media.

How many images of Chile did you have before the spectacular trapped miners rescue? Until then Chile might just have morphed into a general South American context. But if you were questioned further, you almost certainly would not be able to expand on its economy, its people or indeed its record of safety.

Today the world has changed its impression of that nation. It took 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days, coupled with a highly professional rescue operation to take it to the top most-searched for tourist destination on Google.

Country Branding involves so much more than selling a tourist destination, it is about selling brands too. Louis Vuitton wouldn’t enjoy the same success without France. It so happens that the majority of Japanese girls to dream about getting married in Paris (no surprise that Japan is by far Louis Vuitton’s largest market). Furthermore, the largest pasta manufacturer, Barilla, leverages its Italian heritage in every possible touch point. (You may be interested to know that 92% of consumers think pasta comes from Italy. Well, it doesn’t. Pasta comes from China.)

As we travel more and more, so Country Branding has increased exponentially. Manufacturers like Audi (VorsprungDurchTekhnik) and Vokswagen (Das Auto) both have slogans in German that they continue to use in non-German speaking countries. By keeping things German they are indirectly emphasising ‘quality’ without having to spell it out.

We’ve only witnessed the beginning of a discipline that’s starting to gain traction. Of course, Country Branding, like any other endorsement technique, has inherent dangers – political instability, corruption and change of circumstance. And yet, increasingly, this approach leads the way. The negative effects are way outweighed by the many positives.

Is this a game for you to play? Without any doubt. If your brand can be linked to your country and its image, you can ride a wave that money cannot buy but a whole nation can build.

Martin Lindstrom – made in Denmark

hc_author_1This article is authored by Martin Lindstrom, one of the world’s leading brand expert and author of several New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books, including Buyology (Doubleday, New York, 2008) and Brandwashed (Crown, New York, 2011).

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