Korea’s urge to look better

As most of you known, South Korea is embarked on an ambitious nation-branding project. While the country is almost leading the way by incorporating many good tactics and strategies, it’s also true that the programe has a darker side – the country’s invention of a custom-made nation brands index, something we discussed here. This index would arguably allow South Koreans to measure their country’s nation branding progress according to their own scale – which of course is pretty ridiculous.

Now Lee Chang-sup, chief editorial writer of The Korea Times, has written a piece on South Korea’s obsession with improving its image abroad, and he makes some good points:

The government is also impatient over results in promoting the national image. Korea’s image has been slowly moving in the right direction because it is doing the right things.

However, in a desperate attempt to make Korea look better, the Presidential Council for Nation Branding teamed up with Samsung Economic Research Institute to produce branding indexes. Many Western observers see the South Korean index as a tool to rig measurements, designed purely to make Korea look as if it is more famous or more admired than it is.

The council copied the Nation Brands Index, which Simon Anholt, a respected British policy advisor has pioneered. The Korean index is specifically designed to show that Korea has a better image than Anholt’s survey shows. In other words, the index is to produce data which is more flattering to the Korean government.

It achieves this by mixing in data about Korean exports, productivity and other factors, consequently showing the image which the government believes that Korea should have.

This is simply self-delusion. The reality is that most people outside Korea’s immediate neighborhood know little about the country. What they do know is inaccurate, distorted and out of date, according to Anholt. The fact that South Korea has shown considerable growth and progress during recent decades is itself no guarantee of an international profile and admiration. Being a successful country is not the same thing as being an admired country.

Devising its own Brand Index illustrates the impatience of the government here for making Korea look better. Seoul’s brand managers should also check their degree of impatience.