Is Country Branding A Waste of Money?

Country branding - well, place branding in general - tends to be expensive, especially when approached as an advertising campaign. Which by itself is one of the reasons why many place branding projects fail. So can we justify it?

Having advised many places on their branding and reputation management, Robert Govers in a recent opinion piece urged communication leaders and representatives of countries to stop wasting taxpayers' money. We caught up with Robert to find out what this was all about, and to learn a new thing or two about the do's and don'ts when engaging with country branding.

Robert, why do you think campaigns are a waste of taxpayers’ money when dealing with country branding?

Three reasons:

First: With online and digital television, pop-up blockers and other tools it is becoming easier and easier for audiences to limit their exposure to broadcast advertising anyway. In addition, the global networks on which these commercials are usually aired are particularly popular among travellers who hardly need to be convinced of the richness of other countries, because they are probably more aware and better informed than most other audiences already.

So, I would question whether the right people are exposed to such campaigns, if the idea is to fight international ignorance about places.

Second: How likely is it that people will be paying attention? Most viewers or listeners will question the relevance of a random message about the wonders of some other country somewhere else on the planet.

Documentaries, travel shows, or targeted tourism or investment promotion commercials are legitimate because they are relevant to a (self-selected) audience that is in the market for what is on offer. But a random commercial bragging about a long list of achievements, attractions and attributes of some other place and people is hardly relevant to a relatively random audience.

What is more, many campaigns are very similar in content, as countries feel that they have to push the idea that they are also serious players in the global system. Lots of countries are projecting ideas of openness, diversity, dynamism, innovation and creativity.

Of course, the paradox is that globalisation has resulted in a level playing field in many of these areas, which is precisely the reason why countries need to become more imaginative in order to stand out. Instead, what they do is copy and paste the same message as many other countries. Why would anybody still pay attention?


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The Editorial Team

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