Simon Anholt coined the term “nation branding” in 1996. Since then, he has also persistently warned of the dangerous myth surrounding this concept. A nation can’t be managed as a product, Countries are so complex, rich and diverse, that any would- be manager would suffer an absolute lack of control. Brand managers are better off limiting themselves to helping the world to understand the real, complex, rich, diverse nature of their people and landscapes.
Spain dreams of strengthening its brand. A stronger brand will help the economy and reduce unemployment – so the thinking goes. And so we see the retailers telling us “we only sell made in Spain products”, hoping that patriotic consumers will put their money where their mouth is. Multinational mass market companies pronouncing that Hero jams, Renault cars or Balay appliances are made in Spain (a message that only ever gets broadcast locally). And then there are the “me too “companies attacking leaders like Zara or Mango for eschewing the Made in Spain line.
Anholt warns of an absolute lack of control that Brand managers have over countries, as well as a lack of common goals. And in a nutshell, this is the problem we have in Spain. The Spanish government has named a High Commissioner – the Alto Comisionado – to manage the brand Spain. It’s an impressive-sounding title. However behind it there is the usual cronyism – a reward for faithful party service. The post itself is a part time position with no retribution, and the challenge of dealing with a brand where no less than four ministries and 20 institutions are competent. The latest decision from this brand manager has been to criticize autonomous regions such as Catalunya for developing their own brands, describing these efforts as squandering resources.
Nation branding, as outlined by Anholt, should follow Socrates’ advice “the way to achieve a better reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” How a country is perceived depends on too many uncontrollable factors for it to be meangingfully managed.