Russia's one-man brand

Like too many Russian leaders, Vladimir Putin's long shadow makes it hard to see the real owners of Russia -- its people.

Thomas Peter/Reuters
A giant Russian national flag is on display near the Kremlin in centra l Moscow.

Not long after joining the world, we are immersed in brand options: first Pampers or Huggies, later Coke or Pepsi, Apple or Android, Republican or Democrat. Companies spend billions on sharpening brand distinction, touting their brand’s benefits, and trying to win brand loyalty. Whatever tools are used, however, the one constant for marketing mavens is that image and reality have to match. Quality can’t be faked. The product has to deliver.

Nations polish and sell their brands, too. A good brand image facilitates commerce and tourism, and is money in the bank in an international crisis.

Last month, Brand USA, a new public-private consortium established by Congress, released a video titled “Land of Dreams” to promote the United States as a tourist destination. Rosanne Cash sings amid scenes of gorgeous landscapes and a dazzling variety of people enjoying themselves. The video is notable for what it doesn’t show: flags, presidents, monuments, and military might. After the controversial wars of the past decade, America has badly needed image improvement. Reminding the world of its people, natural beauty, and possibilities seems a promising shift.

Other countries have memorably burnished their brands. Remember “Cool Britannia,” “Israel is Real,” and “Incredible India”? Those were hits because they were human-scaled and genuine.

Russia is a country that needs brand help. Russia has plenty to work with. It is vast, beautiful, and historic. But Russian history has been dominated by czars, commissars, and tough rulers. What always seems invisible are its people, who over the years have been inconsiderately lumped together as serfs and proletariat and are only now emerging as citizens.

In a Christian Science Monitor special report, Angus Roxburgh, a longtime Moscow correspondent and former adviser to the government of Vladimir Putin, looks at the man whose image seems to be defining modern Russia. Mr. Putin is a onetime KGB agent who feints toward democracy and the rule of law, but too often uses his forceful personality to keep an iron grip on government. Putin’s goal, forged in the desperate years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been to restore Russia’s power and pride.

It would be a historic achievement, however, if instead of only restoring Russia’s prestige, Putin used his time in the Kremlin to nurture Russian democracy. After all, citizens, not rulers, own a country. What if, Mr. Putin, you made Brand Russia about the Russian people – and made Russia the land of their dreams?

 John Yemma is editor of the Monitor.

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