Nation Branding. Controversies.

(Excerpt from the doctoral thesis “Visual identity sources for Romania’s country brand,” author Bogdan Brînzaș)

The most documented approaches to defining the country (or nation) brand belong to Simon Anholt and Keith Dinnie. According to Anholt, the country brand is “The sum of people’s perceptions of a country taking into account six areas of national competence: people (population), tourism, export, culture and historical heritage, investment and immigration, governance.” According to Keith Dinnie, “the nation brand is defined as a unique and multidimensional mix of elements that provide the nation with cultural differentiation and relevance to all audiences (target groups, n.n.)”.

When we apply the concept of brand to nations (instead of products and services) – a relatively recent expansion of the meaning of brand – there is an ethical obligation to do so by investigating the limits of this approach to treating or simplistically assimilating nations with brands. “Nations do not belong to brand managers or corporations […] they belong to all members of that nation.” Also, from an ethical perspective, it should be noted that the exaggeration of competitiveness between countries or cities, focused on attracting tourists and investors at any cost, can sometimes lead to a decrease in the quality of life of citizens due to the focus on extreme development and publicity, to the detriment of fundamental problems. It can give rise to adverse phenomena, superficiality in the treatment of local issues or even “commodification,” a phenomenon observed in today’s society. Thus, consideration must be given to maintaining the balance between addressing narrow interests, such as attracting cash flows, and real, local problems, both pre-existing and those that may arise from branding efforts.

Nation branding is an area in which there is relatively little theorizing, with practice predominating. It is also a complex and controversial concept due to the translation of the application of the commercial branding concept to nations. The complexity derives from the multitude of factors that must be taken into account when creating the brand and which can affect that brand. Since we are talking about a nation – a multifaceted living organism – and not about a product with clear boundaries and easily defined – a product being essentially specialized and therefore having a limited number of attributes – the complexity of defining a nation brand resides precisely in the complexity description and definition of that nation. Thus, simplifying, schematizing, and reducing a country or nation to a few attributes and values for commercial communication can lead to the creation of erroneous stereotypes, as simplified and superficial as the initially selected attributes and values. Thus, the most varied disciplines are needed to study and transmit a country’s identity and specificity: sociology, history, politics, economy, design, marketing, architecture, urbanism, visual communication, public policies, psychology, culture, etc.