Anholt’s keynote on Chile’s nation branding

If you follow, you will know that Chile is developing its own nation branding project with the help of Simon Anholt, the reknown nation branding consultant. In a  keynote he did last month within Chile’s nation branding project, Anholt delivered the following speech – an illuminating and impressive speech worth reading that somehow summarizes most of Anholt’s wealth of ideas.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m going to speak to you in a foreign language. I realize I’m not the first Englishman in Valparaiso, by a very long way, nonetheless, I apologize for speaking to you in English if anybody is uncertain about the horrible language I’m going to use, I recommend you to get an ear piece, the translators are extremely good I’ve been listening to them all morning.

Well, I think I’ve worked in 27 or 28 countries during the last 15 or 16 years. Chile is probably number 28 or 27, and, I say this with any desire to flatter him, but I have never in any of those countries had the privilege of working with somebody who understands this subject, as well as Mr. Valdés does – the consequence of this is that I’m going to follow exactly the same intellectual path in my talk this morning, as he has.

I’m going to talk about exactly the same things, I’m afraid, as Juan Gabriel Valdés spoke about, the only difference is that I’m going to work along the same path, a little more slowly, and I’m going to speak and look at the flowers on the way.  And I hope you’ll do so with me, so, there are a few points that, I think, it’s important to touch on, in this very large and complex subject.  The first point that we have to touch on is really WHY? Why are we so obsessed with image? National image, regional image, personal image, why is it so important? The reason is because this is the way society works, it’s the way that markets work, It’s the way people communicate each other. Perhaps, when we were all Neanderthals, living in caves, things were a little simpler, because we didn’t have to rely on anybody’s reputation, in order to make decisions about them, because we knew them, they lived in the same cave as us, or perhaps, the cave next door. So, if I were a Neanderthal and I wanted to buy an axe to kill a mammoth, I would buy it from the bloke who made the axes, who lives in the cave next to me. And I would know that his axes were good, because I’ve talked to other people who’d bought the axes, and I’d seen him made the axes.

Fast forward to 2009, and we are living in a very different world. Most of the products we buy today, most of the services we consume are not made by a man, in a cave next door to us. They’re made by somebody we’ve never met, somebody about whom we know almost nothing, who lives in a country, probably, on the other side of the world. That, probably, we can’t even reliably point to on a map. Our lives are affected every day by the decisions made by governments, by corporations, by banks, by individuals, on the other side of the world. People we’ve never the consequence of this enormous spread, this thing we call globalization, is that we depend now, absolutely, on reputations. In order to make every decision, which is the only basis on which we can lead our lives. Therefore, your reputation becomes critically important, if you have a good reputation, everything is easy, if you have a bad reputation everything Is impossible.

Another Englishman called William Shakespeare once said a very wise thing about reputation, he said, and I paraphrase because I can’t remember the original quotation from Othello, he said “if you steal my wallet, you steal trash, it was mine, now is yours, you can have it. But if you steal my good name you steal something which makes me poorer, without making you richer and which I can never replace…and without it I’m inestimably poorer”. This is the importance of reputation, if we have it, we are rich, and if we lose it we are impoverished. Chile is one of many, many countries in the world today, and let’s not forget that this is a very big market place.  There are 200 products competing directly against each other, that’s a very, very busy supermarket. Chile is one of many countries that suffers from having a very weak reputation, I make no apologies for saying this, it’s the literal truth.

Like some countries you have a very strong reputation within your region, you are respected within South America. But go beyond this immediate region and Chile is virtually unknown. We know this, because we tested it. We spoke to many thousands of people, all over the world, and unless they are very expert, geographers, academics, business people, diplomats… if they’re none of those things they really don’t know anything about Chile. Well, I exaggerate. Many of them know it’s in South America, that’s very good. I have to say that in my work I am constantly shocked and appalled by the ignorance that most people have about other countries. But, I’m not saying this just in order to be elitist or to be annoying, but because it is the fundamental starting point of any discussion about national image, and national identity. We have to remember the profound ignorance of other people about other countries. You madam tell me about Ethiopia. Well, I may have picked on the one person in the room who happens to be an expert on Ethiopia, but if I haven’t, she would say “I don’t know. It’s in Africa, isn’t it?” if I were giving this talk in Ethiopia this morning, I would pick somebody in the room and say “You, sir…tell me about Chile” and he would reply “I don’t know. It’s in South America, isn’t it?” that’s the situation we are dealing with and there is an enormous disparity between the huge importance of your own country, your own identity, your own existence and the absolute indifference which other people feel towards it.

I cannot stress this highly enough because unless you are aware of that you will make many, many mistakes. It is a fundamental rule of marketing; actually, other people are much less interested in you than you are in yourself. You spend every day, every hour of every day, eating, drinking, sleeping, talking “Chile… Valparaiso”. Most other people in the rest of the world don’t. In fact, most other people in the rest of the world, including you, are really only interested in probably three countries, their own country, a bit. Chileans are more interested in their own country than most people. You are very interested in your own country. You have a very strong sense of national identity. It’s very good, it’s very positive. And it’s mainly benign. Most people in many other countries don’t even think about their own country. Then, they think about the other countries that are in the news regularly, they think about America, the United States of America, because the U.S.A is always in the media. It’s in your face. It’s always doing something… to damage our interests… or more often… we don’t like to admit it… to support our interests. You might probably be thinking from time to time about Iraq or Afghanistan, or North Korea, ‘cause they also have very powerful images. They are constantly in the media. We may think about China, more than usual at the moment because it has such a powerful impact on the global economy, at the moment. And that’s it. Oh! And you may possibly think about a country where you are planning to go on holiday. For what?! Thirty seconds a day?! If you are really planning your holiday quite vigorously, maybe thirty seconds a day.

That…those 3 or 4 or 5 countries are the only countries out of the 200 in the world that most people spend any time thinking about, all the others, effectively, don’t exist. They are on the markets and in the study which is referred toward the Nation Brands Index, which is really a barometer of global ignorance. We have this abundantly confirmed. What Chile is trying to do with the “Imagen País” is what many countries are trying to do today they’re trying to push themselves from the margins, from those 196 countries that nobody ever think about into the main stream, to be one of those 4 or 5 countries the people do think about. This is a gigantic challenge… A gigantic challenge. Why? Because, frankly, if you deserved to be one of those 4 or 5 countries, you’d already be there. You’d already be famous. You wouldn’t be worrying about how to become famous. I always like to quote my father who said a rather horrible thing to me. When I was a teenager, a difficult teenager, and I would often criticize the way he led his life or the way he run the family. And he would always turn round and say to me “If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?” and I had no answer to this. But I had my revenge on him. ‘Cause now every country I go to I say the same thing to them. I say “If you are so fantastic. Why aren’t you famous?” and I suggest, if I may make so bold, that every morning you start by asking yourself that question “If Chile is so great. Why isn’t it famous?” Well, just hold that thought for a moment since I properly depressed and insulted you.

So image is terribly important. Juan Gabriel mentioned the point about country of origin effect. Would you buy, if you had a choice, imagine you director of a large corporation and you need to purchase an important piece of corporate management software. This is a multimillion dollar purchase, and you’ve got only 2 competing products in front of you. Only two exactly fit the bill. One is made by a company in Seattle, in the United States, and the other one is made in Adis Abeba in Ethiopia. I seem to be picking on Ethiopia this morning. Which one do you buy? Well, the reality of the matter is that you do better by buying the one from Adis Abeba, because it’s a software company in Ethiopia which produces some of the best corporate counting software in the world. The evidence of that is that several large corporations in Seattle buy the Ethiopian software. But the fact of the matter is that they always have to charge a lower price because the perception is if software comes from Ethiopia it can’t be good.

It’s exactly the same with corporate brands. If you are going to buy a bottle of shampoo would you rather buy shampoo from Dove or would you rather buy shampoo from Toshiba? Toshiba shampoo doesn’t make a lot sense, does it? In fact, it sounds about as ridiculous as Ethiopian software. It sounds as if it’s coming from the wrong place. And it won’t be very good. Dove shampoo makes perfect sense. This is the problem,  many years ago in the 1980’s there was a very extraordinary event in the automobile market, in the U.S. two cars were launched on the market, at the same moment, they were in fact the same car. Because they were produced by the same workers, in the same factory, using the same components. But because there’s recently been a deal between General Motors and Toyota.  I believe it was, they produced the same car in two different versions. The only difference was that one was badged geo prison, which was the General Motors badge. And the other one was badged Toyota. The Toyota was priced at, I think, 10 or 12 thousand dollars more than the American one. Question. Which car sold more? Answer, the Toyota. It sold more than 50% more than the American car. Two American consumers, even though it was exactly the same car, made from the same components, in the same factory, by the same workers and it was 12 thousand dollars more expensive. Why? Are people stupid? Yes, they’re stupid. But it wasn’t stupidity that made them do that it was a little thing called country of origin effect, you see Americans believed at that time that Japanese cars offered greater value than American cars, that was the story that was constantly on the newspaper. They believed this so perfectly that they even ignored the evidence in front of their eyes and they paid more for it because they thought it was better value than the same car that cost less. Human beings are extraordinary creatures. We are driven by perception and not by reality. Anybody who thinks they are immune from this is kidding themselves. We all do it. All the time. And that’s why reputation is important. Because country of origin effect, the thing that says I want a Japanese DVD player, and not a DVD player from Ecuador, that country of origin effect has an impact on everything we buy, everything we do. It’s not just products, they have to come from the right country. Government policies have to come from the right country as well.

Let’s take a country with a bad reputation – Romania. Romania is actually rather a good country these days. It’s made enormous progress since Ceaucescu. He was deposed. But still suffers from a bad reputation. This is typical. The reputation of countries moves very, very slowly, it takes decades before the people catch out with reality. Why? Because, people don’t think very much about other countries, so it takes a long time before the reputation catches up with reality. Every now and again the Rumanian government would make a very wise and very interesting, and very innovative piece of policy, and they complained to me. That it is never covered in the international media. And it’s always criticized in the domestic media. And when they ring up the international media and say “We’ve just created this wonderful new piece of policy” the international media don’t print it.

Meanwhile, in another part of the European neighborhood, the Swedish government make a very bad, mediocre, boring piece of policy, can occasionally happen, it’s all over the international media. It’s covered in the Economist, the Financial Times, the Swedish government has passed another wonderful piece of legislation which fully reflects the social democratic values, a wonderful welfare state, the Nordic precision, the responsibility, etc. a bad policy gets good coverage and good policy gets bad coverage. Why? Because of the country of origin. It works with people.

In my survey I ask people an interesting question, I say imagine that you are the chief executive of a corporation and you have to hire a senior manager. Imagine you have 2 candidates in front of you, both with the same experience, the same qualifications, and the same salary demand. The only difference between them is that one is from Turkey and the other from Sweden.

Well, which one do you hire? You can guess the answer 85% say I would rather hire the Swedish one. Interestingly, 75% of the Turkish respondents say they would rather hire the Swedish one, too. That’s a little bit worrying, isn’t it? If your own population doesn’t believe in the qualities of their people, and they’d rather hire a foreigner instead of a fellow national. That’s also very worrying. The country of origin also affects your culture. Imagine I’m walking down the street in Valparaiso and I see a poster on the corner that says “the Chinese state circus is coming to town” and then on the next corner I see another poster that says “the Zambian sate circus is coming to town”. Which of those two circuses do I want to go to? Which one do I think would have the more expensive tickets? So the culture is influenced by the country of origin. The answer, by the way, is the Zambian state circus is gonna be far more interesting than the Chinese one. Zambian circus, you’ve gotta go, haven’t you? So for every possible reason, national image, national identity goes before you.

Your good name or your bad name, your week name or your strong name, and affects profoundly everything that you do. Let me repeat a phrase I used earlier: If you have a good reputation everything is easy, if you have a bad reputation everything is difficult.  I also said that Chile had a weak reputation. Chile doesn’t have a negative reputation, this is good news. You are not North Korea. The reputation that you have is simply weak, it’s not a very famous country, so if that’s the situation, you need a better reputation in order to trade and I don’t just mean an economic trade, human, political and cultural trade. You want to attract talent, you want to sell your product, you want to add value to your exports, how do you get a better reputation if you haven’t got one already. How do you make people interested in Chile?  How do you make it relevant to people? Well, you already know the answer. Because, you’ve already done it! You’ve done it in your own neighborhood of South America. You have a good reputation. So, unlike many other countries, you have already been through this process of building your national reputation, and your national identity, you’ve done it! You’ve done it very successfully. You are admired, not universally, of course neighbors always squabble over the garden fence. It’s impossible to be on perfectly good terms with all of your neighbors. There will always be jealousy, there will always be rivalry, there will always be friction of one kind or another. But you have the experience of building a reputation, at least in your own neighborhood. How did you do it? Was it and advertising campaign? I don’t think so. Was it because you had a wonderful slogan? That said “Chile, the best country in the region”. And people in Brazil and Bolivia looked at that and said “Gosh, I didn’t know that?!” Maybe Chile is the best country, of course it wasn’t… It was no kind of campaign; it was no kind of communications. It was because of who you are. Countries, and there’s an important, and obvious, truth in this, countries gain their reputation not by what they say, but by what they do – a reputation cannot be artificially constructed.

You can only be. In fact, the person who said this most effectively was Socrates. The way to achieve a better reputation is to try to be what you are desired to appear, which if you think about it. It is actually a very critical statement. He was saying don’t worry about your reputation don’t think about image – it’s superficial. Think about reality. Fix the reality and you will earn the reputation, cause reputation is simply a reflection of reality. That’s all it is. The problem is, this was the point that Socrates didn’t notice. Because he was talking about people not countries. Is the enormous delay between reality and reputation. Countries I often say are like the stars in the sky. If you go to the Tololo Observatory and you look through the telescope, as I’ve done and you see all these wonderful stars and you say, Gosh, aren’t they beautiful? One of the astronomers will correct you and they would say…no…no… not aren’t they beautiful. Weren’t they beautiful! Those stars died millions among millions of year ago and their lights has only just reached us now. This is a very depressing thought but countries work in the exactly same way. The reputation of most countries is in fact the reflection of things that they did 10, 20, 50 , 100 years ago.

Look at the reputation of Scotland in Europe. If you interview young people in Europe, about Scotland as I have done. They would tell you a the story about Scotland which was invented by sir Walter Scott, 150 years ago.  An image of men wearing skirts, and eating unmentionable parts of pigs. It’s completely out of date, completely old fashion. It happens to be very romantic and very positive. But, it’s of no use at all to Scotland’s economic, and political needs today. This is classic. So, when we talk about imagen pais, we are not really talking about of creating an image, because that creation process naturally occurs, what we are talking about doing is accelerating it. We are trying to close the gap. Between the reality of this country and people’s perceptions about it. The perceptions of delay. It’s not relevant to them.  And this is one of the most important point to understand. A lot of the language we use when we are talking about natural image is language borrowed from marketing, it’s language borrowed from commercial selling, but there are so many differences between the two. I could give you a whole three day seminar on the differences between a tin of beans and a country like Chile. Perhaps the most obvious difference is that if you want to market a tin of beans you don’t have a moral obligation to ask the beans how they most likely would like to be represented? If you are selling Chile you do have a moral obligation to ask the Chileans how they would like to be represented because they are the country.

But, a more important difference between commercial marketing and national promotion is that, basically, that when you are doing promotion-promotion you are selling a product to people who probably wants to buy it. So they are interested. People are interested because, if I’m Nike, and I’m selling a pair of running shoes, I’m talking to people who are interested in running shoes. They want to buy a pair. I got a pair, that I want to sell, and so we have communication.

When you are talking about a country, both of those factors are absent. Firstly, you are not selling anything. Chile is not for sale. I hear that Latvia, is for sale this week if anybody is interested. Chile is not for sale. Secondly, there are not interested, there are no interested. They do not care what you say, because you are not selling anything. And, in fact, if you do campaigns saying; Chile is the most wonderful country in the world, people will recognize that for what it is, it’s called propaganda. They’ll instantly reject it.

I was in a hotel room, a few years ago, watching CNN, and an advertisement came on, for Uganda. And President from Uganda, appear in the commercial, telling me that Uganda was, and that was the news logo, gifted by nature. And I sat down and I thought about this, and I thought, ok, I’m an ignorant Brit, what do I know about Uganda. I think that Uganda is in Africa, I think, so is probably a fail state, it’s probably poor, corrupt, disease retain, and basically hopeless. I see this advertisement telling me that I’m wrong about Uganda, and that in fact, Uganda is gifted by nature. I ask the question before, ¿What will I do at that point? ¿Will I say; oh, goodness, I have been wrong about Uganda all my life, I will immediately change my mind? Of course I want I will say, I was right about Uganda all my life, in fact, the particularly I was right about the corruption, otherwise where did they steal all of this money to make this expensive advertisement. That’s what I will think.

I have worked in this field, academically and as a practitioner, since the field began, fifteen years ago. I have reviewed; I have lost count of how many hundreds of academic papers on national Image, city image, regional image. And I swear I have never seen one single properly documented case study to prove that there is any correlation, at all, between marketing communications and national image. None. In fact, if you look at the Nation Brands Index, you will see that sewer all countries, whose image has slowly improved over the last five years, have done no marketing at all. And several of the countries to spend most money on marketing, there images have declined. Say, you can even argue that there is a negative correlation between self promotion and national image. National image doesn’t change like that it changes, if it changes over decades. Let’s look at some real examples.

We would all agree that the image of Ireland changed dramatically between the 1960s and today. In the 1960s the joke about Ireland was, would the last person to leave Ireland, please remember to switch off the lights? Today, it’s the Celtic tiger, and people are talking about its economy being more robust than many others in the Euros. How did that happened? Did they do a branding campaign? Of course they didn’t – they got rich, they promoted foreign direct investment highly successfully, they improved their economy. People noticed it, and they started respecting their country. What about South Africa? When I was a kid I was brought up never to eat South African grapes, because they were produced by the country of the partite, and we boycotted it all through my youth. Today, South Africa is the rainbow nation and is about to host the football world cup, unimaginable changes. Its image is completely reversed; it’s not a 100% positive but it’s so different from what it was.

Was that a branding campaign? Of course not. It was the end of a partite. It was the figure of Nelson Mandela. It was the new constitution. What about if we go further in history. Look at Germany and Japan. Germany and Japan their images after the end of Second World War were as negative as any countries image can possibly be, they were pariahs; today, they are two of the most admired countries in the world. Not just for their product but for their governors as well. These were detested countries in 1946.  What did they do? Was this a branding campaign? No, it was political and it was industrial, they made products, good products, that we got used to buying and we learned to respect them and eventually, to trust them. So, countries are never judged by what they say, they are always judged by what they do. But there is a long delay.

So, how can we shorten that delay? What’s the process? The process is simply: to make the broadcasting of your achievements more efficient. Normally, the means by which countries acquires the reputation is very inefficient… because it’s not done deliberately, it’s done accidentally. Countries are very chaotic things like corporations. Countries are usually democracies. Lots of people, doing their own things. And so the world does not receive a consistent message about image or identity or purpose, what it gets is a lot of tiny little things which don’t add up to any consistent story about the nation. To revert to the simile about astronomy they see lots of stars in the sky but there is no constellation. They don’t make a shape they don’t add up to any stories that people can understand. Oh, people do know about Chile. Trust me, if you interrogate them harder, you’ll find that they have heard stories about Chile. They know about this and that. But the point is it doesn’t add up to anything. It doesn’t tell a story in their minds which the can repeat, stories. Chile is the country which, and so that’s our job.  Our job is to make sure that people get the story, you don’t do that by telling the story. We get that by being the story. So the way that we do it, is we identify what is a Chilean, what is the genius of this people? What is the thing that people would love about the Chileans? If they meet, if they get to know each other. And then we ask ourselves where Chile is going, because people aren’t interested in your past, unfortunately. I love history; I’m a bit of an amateur historian myself, but the sad part is that your past is only interesting to historians, and historians are not our target audience. Historians are 0.0000000000001% of your target audience; the people we are interested in are not historians. So there is no point in trying to communicate Chile’s past to them.

What people are interested is what countries are doing now and where they’re going; this is why this word here, the most important word in this poster is the first word “Proyecto”. People want to know what your project is. They want to know what is your meaning from now onwards, they wanna now what you are doing, they wanna know what solutions you were finding to the same problems that they are facing.

And believe me, there are great many countries in the world facing precisely the same challenges as Chile is today. What people want to know about Chile, the relevance of Chile to those people is how you approach, attack and resolve the challenges that you are facing today as a developing economy. A post-neo liberal age. Let’s call it the age of Obama. What Chile does in this age? And the way it approaches those problems, is the key to you creating your relevance and forging your identity abroad, that’s why it has to be forward looking. And what we need to do is we need to find the faces that represent that process. The faces, the people, the entrepreneurs, the academics, the politicians, the ordinary folk in Chile who are doing amazing things. And there are many of them as we all know, in the regions, in the cities in the villages. They are doing amazing things to tackle the problems of our age, social problems, economic problems, environmental problems, and we need to take those faces and we need to take the projects that they are doing and make them famous.

I said before that countries are never judged by what they say, they’re judged by what they do. But even more than that, they are judged by the people who do the things that they do. Because the media is only interested in human stories, nobody is interested in a company, we are interested in the people who run that company, and the people who work in that company. We are a social animal. We really are more interested in human beings than anything else and so the way that Chile will make itself famous. It is by making itself relevant. And the way that it makes itself relevant is by showing the extraordinary attractive, fascinating, original, crazy, effective people and who are doing remarkable things around Chile and sending the mountain to the world, that’s the task that we’ve got in front of us to make ambassadors, out of every individual in this country who’s doing anything that might be of interest to other people around the world. No logos, no slogans, no campaigns, but lots and lots, and lots, of faces of Chile, doing remarkable things that people can follow, observe, learn from and admire. Thank you for your attention.

You can track developments of the Chile’s nation branding project by checking the project’s website. If you can understand Spanish, you’ll probably find very interesting this article on Simon Anholt’s contribution.