This article appeared in the November 28, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Why national identities get the ‘brand’ treatment

ME NewsWire/AP/File
Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan’s prime minister, speaks on governments’ role in achieving happiness at the Global Dialogue on Happiness in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2017. Bhutan’s push to position happiness as a success metric dates back decades. A new rebranding push has settled on "believe."
Clayton Collins
Director of Editorial Innovation

Brand-building is about making quick and positive associations. It’s why you might associate Volvo with “safety” or – more imaginatively – Subaru with “love.”

As with cars, so too with nations. It matters.

“Countries that perform well across any variety of brand measures can gain a variety of advantages,” says Rina Plapler, a partner at MBLM, a brand agency in New York, “from increased tourism and foreign investment to a greater sense of national identity.”

Germany, for example, rides on a reputation for quality engineering. Estonia (digital hub!) and Costa Rica (sustainability leader!) are often hailed by brand assessors as winners.

Bhutan, a tiny country on the China-India border, recently engaged in an exercise that got it to “Believe,” a reach for “engaging youth and renewed love and appreciation for the country,” reports Fast Company. (You might recall that Bhutan coined the success metric “gross domestic happiness” in the late 1990s.)

Rising unrest (see our story today) stands to affect perceptions of China. Where else is the action?  

“Russia’s brand has clearly been tarnished, without question externally, and even, perhaps, internally,” notes Ms. Plapler, whose career background includes having once run the country brands index for the global consultancy FutureBrand. “One could say Iran is currently facing upheavals internally that are impacting the nation and its reputation.”

Different ranking bodies use different methodologies. Books have been written about whether nation-branding is a critical positioning play, a cheery form of boosterism, or something tinged with nationalism. Perception does influence reality, though. No nation’s “brand” is immune from volatility.

“The U.S. brand is going through some turbulent times,” Ms. Plapler says, with concerns about crime and safety and the effects of divisive discourse contributing. Her take: Given the “more ‘moderate’” than anticipated midterms, “people may feel less alienated than a few months ago.”

So what’s America’s prevailing brand – its unique value proposition – today? Tell me what you think, at I’ll report back.

This article appeared in the November 28, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 11/28 edition
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