Sun, Nov 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Countries take a second look at nation branding

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Nobody from the government of Kazakhstan was present at the Langham hotel in London on Friday for the world's first masterclass in nation branding.

This wasn't for want of trying: the Kazakhs had appealed for help in combatting the Borat Problem, but Simon Anholt, the expert in the field of image makeovers for nation-states, had refused on ethical grounds.

Representatives from 65 countries did attend -- including a man from the Saudi tourist board, full of ambitious plans for oil-refinery tours, and an Armenian woman named Armine Yeghiazaryan.

"We recently completed a survey to find out what people think about Armenia," Yeghiazaryan explained.

And what do people think about Armenia?

"Lots of people don't really think anything about Armenia," she conceded. Then she brightened. "But quite a few of them had heard of it."

Anholt, who works as a consultant to numerous governments, including Britain's, frequently gets hostile responses to the term "nation branding."

"At first there was outrage," he recalled. "People said: `You're treating nations like nothing more than products in the global supermarket!' Which I actually thought was a great metaphor."

In fact, most big countries already have brands, Anholt explained -- gut associations that people make when they hear a country's name. "Nigeria? It's those scam e-mails. Japan? Technology, expensive ... Britain? Posh, boring, old fashioned. Switzerland? Clean and hygienic. Sweden? Switzerland with sex appeal."

His job is making sure those associations are a help, not a hindrance.

"This is fundamentally not a marketing trick," he insisted. "It's national identity in the service of enhanced competitiveness."

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