Nation Branding and Slovakia

In this article, Slovak author Martin Búr explores nation branding examples such as the UK’s, New Zealand’s, Australia and South Africa. He also discusses the importance of the filming industry in shaping perceptions, and traces some ideas on how Slovakia could elaborate a nation brand story.

As a result of globalisation, many regional characteristics are starting to disappear and can then return to consciousness only thanks to a well-done campaign. However, this campaign cannot be built on sand, in which it must combine the actual qualities of the country into a single, well readable brand.

The image of a country affects not only the number of tourists visiting the country, but also the amount of investments. In recent years, many countries, therefore, have been investing in their ability to differentiate themselves from their competitors. At the same time, the image of a country contributes to the perception of its nationals abroad. Long before the term nation branding became established, the Dutch, who are warmly welcomed all around the world and with whose country only pleasant things are associated, were excelling at it. Nobody reminds them of their colonial past, but everybody immediately recalls bicycles, tulips, windmills and eventually clogs. By the way, the clogs originated as protective equipment at work – for men to avoid chopping off their toes when mowing the grass.

Not all campaigns were successful. The British like to make fun of everything, so they made fun of the campaign that was launched under the Tony Blair administration with the slogan „Cool Britannia.“ It was a fiasco. The New Zealand campaign, where they did not try any ambiguous slogans, went over much better. Ten years ago, they started to build the quality and freshness image with a slogan reminding one of the juice labels.  „100% Pure New Zealand“ has gone very well, in which their exports, and the number of tourists, have both increased. In the latter, New Zealand was also lucky that The Lord of the Rings movies were shot on location in New Zealand. Therefore, not only the slogan „100% Pure New Zealand“, but also the 100% luck of free advertising contributed to the success of the campaign. Thanks to it, many people haven’t the faintest idea of just how rainy this country actually is…

The importance of the film industry should not be underestimated – Crocodile Dundee similarly helped the Australians many years ago. Up to the present, they enjoy the worldwide reputation of funny and bold adventurers who have got brains. Last year, the movie Australia was such an image-making movie. It starred Nicole Kidman, but actually it was featured Australian nature. Slovakia succeeded in winning recognition in the movie world in the horror movie Hostel – paradoxically also the negative representation of the country had helped to increase the number of visitors and many hostels appeared in the capital city of Slovakia. Since then, Bratislava is being visited not only by pensioners from neighbouring Austria, but also by young people from all over the world.

Not only countries, but also whole continents may have a bad image. A good example is Africa, which still evokes in many people images of civil wars and famine. Its economic and political situation, however, is actually improving. The presently most successful country in nation branding is South Africa, which built a clear image of its best products. All they need to win the „Proudly South African“ label is to be at least a 50% South African.

The most renowned person who is connected with nation branding is the British expert Simon Anholt. He issues three country and city popularity indices several times a year. They result from inquiries conducted among thousands of inhabitants of the selected countries, who assess the image of the others.  The country index combines a large number of components. The inhabitants of the country (their education, openness, but also level of discrimination); relation of the government to democracy, justice, poverty and environment; image of the products exported from the country; attractiveness of the natural and historical monuments and the perception of culture through film, literature or music are all assessed. The last item deals with immigration and economy, i.e. assessment of the openness of society towards foreigners and of its economic and social situation.

The present leader in the Nation Brand Index is Germany (Ed: this is obviously a mistake – the #1 country brand at the 2009 Nation Brands Index is the United States). It is not placed first in any of the mentioned categories, but it was ranked in the first ten in all of the categories, so the total number of points made it the winner. As Anholt said during his visit to Slovakia, „you can only change the image of country by your deeds.“ The idea that a half-minute commercial on CNN will change the view of the country is erroneous in his opinion. He underlines the importance of a product and story behind it. Although many global producers established themselves in Slovakia, he sees the potential of the country for differentiation in tourism. Slovakia has a varied landscape, rich cultural heritage and splendid nature. Most successful are those countries that can be themselves, but self-confidence is a Slovak problem. According to Anholt, Slovakia is not a hidden treasure – many other countries have what it has. Its brand can be built on what it is becoming, rather than on what it is like.

In recent years, Slovakia implemented the largest number of reforms in the entire region; it was the only country of the region that changed to the currency EUR and development was not even slowed down by the new government, in spite of the expectations. You should visit this country in a couple of years in order to be able to see upon your return all the big changes that it has gone through since then. In fact, in part two of the horror film Hostel it already looked much better.

Article by Martin Búr, first published here.