Public Diplomacy

Nation Branding

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The term “nation branding” was first coined by Simon Anholt in the 1990s and refers to the application of marketing strategies to individual countries. The aim is to create and promote a distinct self-image and international reputation that will most effectively serve a nation’s interests. The tactic has become especially important for countries aiming to carve out particular niches for themselves in the international system as global markets continue to expand and international competition for trade, investment, and tourism intensifies. The field remains one of the most controversial arenas of public diplomacy, but the growing interest in the power and potential of nation branding suggests that its presence and legitimacy will only continue to grow in the coming years.

What is Nation Branding?

In the broadest sense, nation branding simply refers to the application of corporate branding strategies to individual nations with the aim of influencing foreign affairs and international interactions. Nation branding focuses on developing an appealing, positive image in order to support a nation’s presence and influence in the international realm.[1]Simon Anholt, one of the most influential theorists and practitioners in the field, remarks on the fundamental importance of a nation’s image:

People around the world, and that includes all of us, look at countries in very much the
same way as we look at products and its brands. In our mind, we throw together a whole lot ::::of attributes, positive and negative, about countries and we think about them in terms of ::a simple narrative. We all do that, no matter how intelligent or clever we are.[2]

Nation branding recognizes the profound influence this instinct to associate nations with generalized qualities can have on a country’s perceived character and standing in the world, and subsequently attempts to use these associations to the nation’s benefit. Similarly to the way in which businesses use advertising to appeal to customers, branding attempts to manipulate that dynamic in favor of the country’s own interests. The specific goals of branding campaigns can vary according to the government’s priorities, but they often focus on issues such as attracting foreign investment, facilitating trade, and, more generally speaking, developing a more positive image abroad. The aim of nation branding as outlined above represents only the broadest sense of the term. Further specifications about what exactly nation branding is, and how it is applied, is a subject of heated debate. Craig Hayden, a professor of International Relations at the University of Virginia, outlines three alternative usages, each with a particular slant and focus:

  1. The Brand as research construct. The term "brand" stands in for a measure of national representation or perception of views about a nation. It reflects observations about how [the nation] is viewed, packaged into the "brand" as a dependent variable.
  2. Branding as a set of policies. This usage suggests [the nation] actively "sell" its image and reputation in a persuasive message campaign. The term suggests methods similar to commercial marketing techniques to shore up the image or views of [its] policy. As some have argued, if international relations is increasingly a "market" for identification, then branding strategies are the logical evolution for…foreign policy.
  3. Branding as a representational metaphor. Branding in this usage describes what functions as public diplomacy -- both in policy and in the flow of cultural communication. Branding captures how [the nation] is communicated -- both in its cultural exports and in the de facto rhetoric of its foreign policies. The term is useful because it expands the domain of public diplomacy. Public diplomacy as branding assigns roles to communicators and audiences, while providing a policy objective (like "brand" identification). [3]

Measuring Brand Strength

Because nation branding is by nature a highly qualitative subject, dealing with matters of image and reputation, measuring the strength of a nation’s brand can be very difficult and highly contentious. As of yet, there is no consensus on a standardized methodology for determining brand efficacy, and the number of measurement mechanisms remains severely limited. The Nation Brands Index, managed by Simon Anholt and the international polling firm Global Market Insite (GMI), is currently the only major source of comprehensive, numerical data on the relative strengths of national brands. The organization surveys 25,900 citizens in 35 nations regarding their perceptions of the cultural, political, commercial and human assets, investment potential and tourist appeal of each nation, and ultimately translates and consolidates the results into a numerical dataset comparing each of the subject nations. This approach is based upon the assumption, developed by Anholt, that nation branding can be divided into six primary subfields: tourism, exports, governance, people, culture and heritage, and investment and immigration. The aim is to create a comprehensive and empirically-sound measurement of a nation’s international reputation on which to base future branding efforts, but the methodology remains highly contentious and has failed to garner universal approval. Thomas Cromwell, director of East-West Communications, calls the approach “pretty weak,” skeptical of the capacity to comprehensively understand global perceptions through polling data.Nevertheless, Cromwell himself admits that there are few alternatives, and that the data gathered can be useful as a broad measure of reputation. Such assessments therefore remain an important tool in the valuation of a nation’s brand, offering a broad survey of public opinion that allows campaigns to target lagging sectors for further development (i.e. tourism, culture, governance etc.).

Developing a Nation’s Brand

Recognizing the importance of their international image and reputation, nations are pouring more resources into developing and implementing a positive national brand. It is now very common for a government to hire a specialized organization, like consulting firm East-West Communications, to design targeted branding campaigns.(See East West Communications) Depending on a nation’s primary goal, whether increasing tourism or attracting foreign investment, these companies work with the government to highlight and communicate a nation’s most attractive features. Much like corporate advertising, nation branding emphasizes the most positive and appealing assets, aiming to make those features the dominant association with subject nation’s character. In 1999, for instance, New Zealand launched its highly successful “Brand New Zealand” campaign to reinvigorate the country’s tourism and trade sectors. The campaign, marked with a distinctive silver and green fern logo, aimed to re-brand New Zealand as “fresh” and “new,” emphasizing lush landscapes and attractive travel options with its slogan of “100% Pure New Zealand.” The effort proved highly effective, with New Zealand rising significantly as a desirable vacation destination. Similar campaigns have been launched by a wide range of nations attempting to highlight their most attractive assets in order to raise their profile on the international stage.

While a well-designed branding campaign can prove highly beneficial to the subject nation, the difficulty in achieving branding success should not be underestimated. To begin, an effective campaign requires high levels of cooperation among a wide range of government and private actors. There is great opportunity for cooperative interaction between the government, corporations, non-governmental organizations, and other actors for common goal of furthering their country’s interests. However, this diversity of actors can also prove counterproductive, as with separate sectors emphasizing different national qualities, multiple branding campaigns sometimes work at cross-purposes. Anholt emphasizes this potential for confusion, noting that mixed messages are a common pitfall in nation branding:

You have the tourism board saying how wonderful the country looks and how welcoming the ::people are. You have the investment-promotion agency saying almost the opposite, that it’s ::super modern and full of cars and roads and railways. And you have the cultural institute ::telling everybody how wonderful the film industry is. And you have the government ::occasionally doing public diplomacy, and perhaps occasionally attacking its neighbors. ::They’re all giving off completely different messages about the country.[4]

In addition to this intra-national branding confusion, campaigns are also at risk of insufficient commitment and ineffective design. An attractive logo or catchy slogan is not enough to create a strong, positive, and believable national brand. The image of a nation is primarily built upon a long history of its government’s policies and the products or qualities it offers the rest of the world, and, as Anholt says, if a country wants to change that image “there is no magical shortcut through marketing or advertising, logos or slogans.”[5] Echoing Anholt, branding consultant firm East-West Communications stresses that “branding, for corporations or countries, only works if truthful.”[6] Successful brands must have an authentic foundation, with the qualities highlighted by the brand clearly apparent in the nation’s existing qualities. Any attempt to transplant a positive brand onto a nation that does not have the policy to support and legitimate it will be fruitless. As Anholt concludes, “generally, countries get the reputations they deserve, and the surest way to fix that reputation is to address the policies (or absence of policies) that caused the reputation in the first place”[7]

Branding Development Model

As an example of the development process, East-West Communications, a consulting firm specializing in nation branding initiatives, uses the following progression in the design of their branding campaigns:[8]

I. The Marketing Plan

a.Identify what needs and whose needs can the country meet and satisfy. What preference groups (of investors, for instance) or even market niches (e.g., stem cell scientists) should be targeted to optimize economic outcomes?

b.Compile databases of past clients of the state, its resources, offerings, laws, regulations, international treaties, and economic opportunities (e.g., state companies to be privatized). These allow for micro-branding (or segment branding as opposed to mass branding): tweaking the national brand to suit the preferences, likes, dislikes, and wishes of specific target groups, down to single, important, individuals.

c.Position the country in relation to its competitors, emphasizing its natural and human endowments and its relative advantages. The process of positioning aims to identify the nation with an image, perception, concept, or trait which captures its essence and furthers its appeal to the clients it had identified in stage I above (investors, other countries, diplomats, scientists, and so on). Great care should be taken to align the positioning messages with realities on the ground. Anything perceived by the preference groups as being a lie or an exaggeration will backfire.

II. The Product

In designing its "products" and, thus, in acquiring a brand name, a country makes use of and leverages several factors:

1.Natural Endowments The country's history, geographical location, tourism sites, climate, national "mentality" (hard working, forward looking, amicable, peaceful, etc.)

2.Acquired Endowments, Public Goods, and Externalities Level of education, knowledge of foreign languages, quality of infrastructure, the court, banking, and public health systems

3. Risk Mitigation International standing and the resolution of extant conflicts (political risk), the country's laws, regulations, and favorable international treaties, its credit history, insurance available to investors and exporters

4. Economic Prowess Growth promoting policies, monetary stability, access to international credit, the emergence of new industries

III. The Price

The "price" of a country is comprised of two elements:

1) The average (internal rate of) return on investments in its infrastructure, human capital, goods, and services - adjusted for:

2)The risks associated with doing business there.

IV. The Place

The distribution channel, the path from producer to consumer (in our case, from country to foreign investor or tourist, for example) is less encumbered by topography than it used to be…Even the poorest, most remote, landlocked, arid, and disadvantaged country can nowadays leverage air flight, the Internet, television, cell phones, and other miracles of technology to promote itself and its unique offerings (knowledge, plant and animal species, scenery, history, minerals, cheap and educated manpower, cuisine, textiles, software, and so on).

V. Promotion, Sales, and Advertising

a. Promotion i. Not to be confused with marketing, it is concerned with setting up a trained sales force, and with advertising, sales, and public relations. b. Sales i. At this stage, poor countries will be hard pressed to cater to the pecuniary needs of high-level and, therefore, expensive, salespersons. Setting up a body of volunteers under the supervision, guidance, and training of seasoned sales personnel maybe a more suitable solution. c. Advertising i. There is no substitute for a continued presence in the media. The right mix of paid ads and sponsored promotions of products, services, and ideas can work miracles for a country's image as a preferred destination.

VI. Sales Force and Marketing Implementation Oversight

d. Sales personnel should work hand in hand with marketing intermediaries such as travel agents, financial firms, investment funds, and corporate buyers. e. Marketing intermediaries are crucial as trusted links to investors, tourists, businessmen, and other "clients". Marketing implementation is about ensuring that the country's message is both timely (synergetic) and coherent and, thus, both credible (consistent) and efficient.


Nation-branding has earned a place as one of the most controversial diplomatic tools in use. Critics argue that it is both deceptive and demeaning to treat the character and identity of a nation as a brand, a commercial product to be manipulated and sold to consumers. Craig Hayden, for instance, has expressed concern not only about the efficacy of branding, but also of its broader political and moral implications:

The problem with branding in the conventional marketing sense is that it hails its audience in a way that does not invite participation in the politics of foreign policy. Public diplomacy is traditionally justified by how foreign publics can shape the foreign policy attitudes of their leadership. Yet if messages are targeted to cultivate brand-loyalty -- does that constitute the kind of dialogue implicit in previous conceptions of public diplomacy?... Or, does branding in fact cheapen the brand itself? Previous criticism of the branding idea argued that it ran against the norms international dialogue, while failing to do justice to the values implicit in the national "brand." I would add a more immediate concern. Branding strategies that rely on proxies begin to conflate the cultural "message" of the Untied States with the contrived brand-image of the corporate proxy. If we invite audiences to view us as brand, we can be just as easily discarded as a consumer product. [9]

In addition, the risk of mishandling campaigns is high, at potentially great cost to the subject nation. Anholt himself acknowledges the danger of the situation, as “public officials without a sophisticated understanding of private sector practice are ‘rather easy victims’ for marketing firms” that often charge exorbitant fees without any real concern for the country’s best interests. Professor Nicolas Papadopoulos of the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, believes in the potential of nation branding, but points to a number of significant obstacles to making the technique truly effective. Specifically, Papadopoulos notes that the most important challenges currently facing branding are “lack of unity of purpose, difficulty in establishing actionable and measurable objectives, lack of authority over inputs and control over outputs, restricted flexibility, and relative lack of marketing know-how,” and argues that truly effective branding requires a cohesion and expertise that most countries have not yet developed. [10] In defense of the field, branding analysts and scholars argue that most resistance to nation-branding stems from a misunderstanding of the concept. Legitimate branding is not simple product advertising, it is the presentation of a country’s best face to the world to the benefit of its citizens. Anholt is credited with inventing the term “nation branding,” but admits the immediate associations with corporate branding have skewed the real intent of the approach:

I will be the first to admit that I rather regret having coined that phrase. I meant something simple when I first used the phrase nation brand. I meant that nations have images—they always have—and that those images are as important to their progress as the brand images of products are to the corporations that own those products. What I didn’t mean is that you can directly manipulate perceptions. From that point of view, absolutely, nation branding is quite the wrong term. I use it less and less. My latest book is called Competitive Identity. That’s my attempt to replace the phrase nation branding.[11]

From this less commercial perspective, branding may be seen more as a technique for nations to distinguish themselves in the increasingly competitive international system. Such branding is especially important for poorer and developing countries as it allows them to carve out a particular niche in the global marketplace. In a 2007 interview, Anholt defended his field with the following argument:

The old system was that a country could only really succeed in the world if it had conventional military or economic or political power, which meant that 99 percent of countries in the world had lost before they started. If we move toward a marketplace model, which globalization is compelling and which nation branding is a part of, then you have the interesting situation where a small, poor, remote or less-known country, is nonetheless is able to find a niche in the marketplace because of one interesting thing it does that appeals to one sector of the public.[12]

Particular African countries, for instance, could benefit significantly from positive branding to distinguish them from the overarching reputation of the continent as whole. In an article entitled “Brand Africa,” Anholt remarks that “even a relatively prosperous and well-governed nation like Botswana ends up sharing perceptions of violence with Rwanda, of corruption with Nigeria, of poverty with Ethiopia and of famine from Sudan.” [13] In such cases, a positive branding campaign to develop and broadcast a unique, positive national image could be hugely beneficial to the development and international presence of a nation.

Branding Beyond Nations

In addition to country campaigns, branding can be equally effective on virtually any scale in the international realm. “Place branding” and “city branding” offer more narrowly targeted campaigns, and are clearly apparent in the international reputation of cities such as London, New York, and Beijing, all of which immediately conjure particular associations and images. Place branding should also be distinguished from nation branding because it frequently involves multiple stakeholders, often with competing interests. As Randall Frost, author of The Globalization of Trade remarks, “Trying to market a country to tourists as a mountain hideaway inhabited by rustic peasants may not serve the interests of those wishing to promote the country’s budding industrial infrastructure to foreign investors”[14]. Branding can also be applied on a larger scale, as in the case of international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union, which have definite, practical interests in presenting a positive international image. The European Union, for example, has been working to solidify its reputation as a united and accessible representative of Europe. The Commission has focused on increasing its media presence, including the “EU Tube” video service launched in June of 2007.(see EU Tube) The goal, as stated by Margot Wallström, Vice-President for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, is to “[reflect] the Commission’s commitment to better explain its policies and actions on issues which concern citizens across the EU.” [15]In addition, the Commission hosts a range of cultural events intended to boost the image and popularity of a united Europe, including “Europe days,” film festivals, concerts, and fairs. See European Commission Policies and Initiatives.

Branding Campaigns Past and Present

United Kingdom: “Cool Britannia”

The “Cool Britannia” campaign of the 1990s, under the administration of Tony Blair, remains one of the most famous nation-branding campaigns in history. Intended to reinvent the U.K.’s image as an energized and liberalized nation, the campaign attempted to shed the traditionally formal image of Great Britain as well as reflect the shifting political model of the Blair administration. In addition, launched in the aftermath of the Mad Cow disease crisis, “Cool Britannia” targeted the tourism sector in an effort to improve the international image of the nation. Despite the millions of dollars poured into the initiative, however, the campaign is largely considered a failure because of its limited focus, lackluster results, and the general perception, both within Britain and abroad, that the campaign’s gimmicky approach had actually hurt the nation’s international image.[16]

Switzerland: “Presence Switzerland”

Switzerland is considered to have one the strongest national brands, due in large part to “Presence Switzerland” (PRS). Initiated in 2000, PRS’s function is to “highlight Switzerland's particular values, qualities and characteristics” in such a way as to raise the nation’s international profile in a positive and attractive manner. Switzerland is already associated with strong, attractive clichés, including beautiful landscapes, fine chocolate and watches, as well as organizations such as the Red Cross. Building on this positive foundation, PRS’s approach is to highlight specific offerings as representative of various aspects of the national character, which ultimately come together to create a broadly positive image of Switzerland that appeals to both policy-makers and citizens abroad. PRS explains their strategy of associating particular images with broader national qualities: For example, we take transport timetables as an illustration of the key element efficiency, biological agriculture as a demonstration of sustainability, the Swiss financial centre for the elements trustworthy and stability, the PAC car II (developed by the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) for curious and Science City for reconciling differences. [17] Presence Switzerland’s campaigns have proven highly effective, with the nation continuing to enjoy one of the most positive international reputations in the world


Malaysia is currently in the early stages of developing a Malaysian master brand, intended to help the country solidify a positive reputation and further its progress towards development. Malaysian Development Institute (MDI) director Prof Datuk Dr Noor Azlan Ghazali said a strong brand would convey to global and domestic investors where the country is heading, and will focus on creating a common image consistent across political, economic, and social sectors. Specifically, as globalization has intensified global competition, the Malaysian brand will attempt to shift its focus from agriculture towards manufacturing and services, utilizing assets such as its economic and political stability as a legitimizing force for the brand. Dr Noor Azlan summarized the initiative by emphasizing the need for cohesion: We want to ensure all layers of society - citizens as well as investors - move in line with the shift. We have moved from the low income to an upper middle-income economy, and we want to continue advancing to become a developed nation by 2020. We want everyone to get aboard the speeding train. [18]

South Korea

See South Korea.

Nation Branding in the News

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Further Reading

  • Anholt Nations Brands Index.
  • ”Journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy”. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Anholt, Simon. Competitive Identity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Anholt, Simon. Brand New Justice: The Upside of Global Branding. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinnemann, 2003.
  • Ind, Nicholas. Beyond Branding: How the New Values of Transparency and Integrity Are Changing the World of Brands. London: Kogan Page Limited, 2005.
  • Simon Anholt’s Placeblog:
  • Teslik, Lee Hudson. “Nation Branding Explained.” Council on Foreign Relations 09 Nov 2007
  • Teslik, Lee Hudson. “The ‘Nation Brand’ Marketplace” Council on Foreign Relations 12 Nov 2007.


  1. Teslik, Lee Hudson. "Nation Branding Explained." Council on Foreign Relations 09 Nov 2007 10 Jun 2008 <>.
  2. "Update on How the World Views America." Foreign Press Center Briefings. 28 July 2005. U.S. Department of State. 10 Jun 2008. <>
  3. Anholt, Simon "Public Diplomacy Blog." [Weblog Response to Public Diplomacy and Branding: A Clarification] 15 Feb 2007. USC Center on Public Diplomacy. 10 Jun 2008. <>.
  4. Teslik, Lee Hudson. "Anholt: Countries Must Earn Better Images through Smart Policy." Council on Foreign Relations 06 Nov 2007 8 Jun 2008 <>.
  5. .Anholt, Simon. "Nation branding, place branding, destination branding, country branding, Competitive Identity ... what does it all mean?." The Site for Information About Simon Anholt. 2005-2007. 10 Jun 2008 <>.
  6. Kyriacou , Savas and Thomas Cromwell. "Corporate Strategies for a Nation's Success." Branding Nations. East-West Communications. 8 Jun 2008 <'s-Success.htm>.
  7. Anholt, Simon "Public Diplomacy Blog." [Weblog Response to Public Diplomacy and Branding: A Clarification] 15 Feb 2007. USC Center on Public Diplomacy. 10 Jun 2008. <>.
  8. Vaknin, Sam. "Nation Branding and Place Marketing." Branding Nations. East-West Communications. 8 Jun 2008 <>.
  9. Hayden, Craig. “Public Diplomacy Blog.” [Weblog Can Branding Define Public Diplomacy 2.0?] 9 Feb 2007. USC Center on Public Diplomacy. 8 Jun 2008. <>.
  10. Frost, Randall. "Mapping a Country's Future." Brand Channel 09 Apr 2007 9 Jun 2008 <>.
  11. Teslik, Lee Hudson. "Anholt: Countries Must Earn Better Images through Smart Policy." Council on Foreign Relations 06 Nov 2007 8 Jun 2008 <>.
  12. Teslik, Lee Hudson. "Anholt: Countries Must Earn Better Images through Smart Policy." Council on Foreign Relations 06 Nov 2007 8 Jun 2008 <>.
  13. Anholt, Simon. "Brand Africa: What is competitive identity." African Analyst Quarterly 2007 16 Jun 2008 <>.
  14. Frost, Randall. "Mapping a Country's Future." Brand Channel 09 Apr 2007 9 Jun 2008 <>.
  15. "EU Tube – Sharing the sights and sounds of Europe on YouTube." EUROPA. 29 Jun 2007 . European Union. 16 Jun 2008 <>.
  16. Cromwell, Thomas. "Why Nation Branding is Important for Tourism." Branding Nations. East-West Communications. 10 Jun 2008 <>.
  17. "About Presence Switzerland." Presence Switzerland. 04 Mar 2008. Presence Switzerland. 10 Jun 2008 <>.
  18. Hock. Teh Eng. "Branding -the next step forward," The Star 14 Jun 2008. 10 Jun 2008 <>

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