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What is Nation-Branding?


 What is nation branding? Traditionally countries formally market themselves when they host major world events such as the Olympics or the World Cup. Likewise countries that are popular tourist destinations regularly use targeted marketing campaigns to promote tourism. However, more recently countries are using technology and social media such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to run permanent branding campaigns. According to nation branding and promotion specialist, David Lightle, nation-branding is a strategic messaging campaign through which a country promotes itself to enhance its economy. David Lightle’s nation branding website proposes that in nation branding campaigns “the promotion should always be about economics. For developing countries, the key is to facilitate the development of the three pillars of prosperity: exports, investment attraction and tourism…For every country has a brand, sitting on the shelf of the global marketplace, needing to answer two crucial questions for the world: Who am I? And why me?” (Lightle, My Practice)

Specifically, Lightle proposes that developing countries must develop an umbrella brand; “In some cases, a nation needs an ‘umbrella brand’ to help differentiate itself and promote itself to open the doors wider to exports, investment and tourism.” (Lightle, My Practice)

In this example Lightle is referring to Colombia’s, “Colombia is Passion,” nation branding campaign.

 The key message of “Colombia is Passion,” is to promote the notion that Colombians distinguish themselves in the marketplace of nation brands as a people who live with an exceptional passion for life. Moreover, this campaign implies that the passion that Colombians have for life transcends into Colombia’s economy, its manufacturing sector, and its workplace, which in effect make Colombia an exceptional nation to buy exports from and an exceptional nation in which to make investments. Likewise, this campaign claims that the passion of Colombian’s also extends into Colombia’s tourism sector. In essence, premise of Colombia’s nation-branding campaign is that the passion that Colombian’s have for life is infectious and will give tourists a pleasant travel experience.

Do you think that nation-branding campaigns will have an important or marginal role in shaping world affairs?

Do you use social media to learn about other countries?

Which mass communication mediums do you use to learn about the world?



  1. Boon Han says:

    Nation-branding campaigns are definitely important public diplomacy exercises for countries to project their “influence” and “soft power” around the globe. The obvious and most visible forms of nation branding would be those initiated by the tourism agencies: “Incredible India”, “Dubai: The Jewel in the Desert”, “Malaysia: Truly Asia” etc. These are overt campaigns to bring in the tourism dollars and maybe foreign direct investments in the country.

    I personally feel that there is another more subtle and less obvious manner in which nations brand themselves around the world. In a way, it is done surreptitiously through the Media: Television, Radio, Books etc. In a way, huge media companies like CNN and BBC are able to dominate the global narrative by reporting on issues around the world based on their interpretation of events, by virtue of their vast networks of correspondents, offices and network infrastructure around the world. American television watched by millions globally gradually shape the culture and values of those watching them. You will just need to browse and compare the headlines reported by CNN (US), BBC (UK), Al Jazeera (Qatar) and CCTV News (China) and the different slant of reporting in the same events can be pretty obvious. In fact, China is cognizant of the importance having a say in the global narrative and has been expanding the reach of their national TV station, CCTV News into Arabic countries and major cities around the world in a bid to project soft power around the world.

    In my society, my generation is a lot more liberal than my parent’s generation who grew up in a much more conservative environment, based on the teachings of Confucius. While our core values remain, my generation has become more comfortable with talking about Sex and Violence (which my parent’s generation would frown upon) as we have been de-sensitized towards them through watching TV Serials like Sex & the City, Desperate Housewives, CSI and FRIENDS & Seinfield as we were growing up. In a way, we have become somewhat “Americanized”, succumbing to an invisible form of Nation-Branding.

    • andreslmc says:

      Boon Han, thanks for the response. As you mention nation-branding is a form of “soft power’ used by countries to promote their interests globally. You make a great point about the variants of soft power. Sometimes this soft power is exercised by tourism and trade conglomerates that work in tandem with business associations such as a chamber of commerce. In other cases–as you cite–media conglomerates are influential movers and shakers of soft power. This second point that you bring up about media conglomerates is very interesting and one I hadn’t considered. However, do you think that the power of these media conglomerates such as CNN, BBC, and CCTV has dwindled as citizen journalists have gained greater power as a result of the rise of social media networks and the availability of affordable technology such as flip cameras?

  2. KSA ROCKS! says:

    Hey Andres – hope you’re feeling better ^_^

    I’m totally in agreement with you Anders that nation branding will play a significant role in shaping the world’s affairs for the following four reasons:
    First, in today’s increasingly globalized world, competition for business opportunities, among countries, has been on the rise. As such, I’m convinced this the reason why nations have embarked on projects aimed at improving their public image in a bid to woo investors. This has led to a phenomenon known as nation branding. Lightle (2012) defines nation branding as a strategic messaging campaign through which a country promotes itself to enhance its economy.

    Second, I agree that nation branding will play a more prominent role in world affairs as more governments pursue avenues through which to open up their countries to exports, foreign direct investments and tourism. In fact, I believe that nation branding will play a more significant role in the economies of developing countries. In this regard, I believe that the key will be to facilitate the three pillars of prosperity: investment attraction, exports and tourism.

    Third, nation branding is now a global phenomenon that cannot be overlooked. Various countries, around the world, are now actively involved in aggressive nation building efforts in a bid to improve their image, which will in turn facilitate the three key pillars I mentioned earlier. Towards this end, Colombia is actively involved in a nation branding initiative called “Colombia is passion” in a quest to improve its hitherto negative image associated with drug trafficking and civil war (Markessinis, 2009). I’m also aware that Kenya and South Africa are involved in “Magical Kenya” and “Discover South Africa” initiatives respectively in a bid to market their countries as the ultimate tourist destinations.

    Fourth, I also agree that the emergence of the social media has become an effective communication platform through which countries seek to improve their images. I’m aware that, now more than ever, people are more likely to know more about events in other countries through the social media as opposed to the traditional news television channels.

    Having said all the above I do believe that the internet and the social media will continue to be the preferred medium of communication in the world over the next few years. As a result, I expect many more countries to start using social media and technology such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to run permanent branding campaigns.


    • andreslmc says:

      Maha thanks for the response. Yes, I agree, I think that nation-branding as Lightle defines it is designed to expand the economic opportunities of a country.
      However, the “Colombia is passion” nation-branding campaign has also generated much criticism from Colombians. A segment of public affairs leaders and activists in Colombia think that “Colombia is Passion” is simply tasteless marketing that overlooks many of the social ills that Colombia still faces due to the drug cartel war that gripped the country in the 1990s.
      On the one hand the proponents of “Colombia is Passion” and other nation-branding efforts propose that Colombia’s economic woes can only be resolved through direct foreign investment. Meanwhile the opponents nation-branding propose that such campaigns take valuable resources away from resolving deeper social issues.
      In essence, the two interests groups are in disagreement about how to interpret Colombia’s current social reality and about how to present Colombia to the world.

  3. zhoulinjolin says:

    I very much believe that nation-branding campaigns will take an important role in shaping world affairs. And the effect of such campaigns will be finally reflected on the country’s economy. Taking Olympic Games for an example, the reasons why always there are many cities join the fierce competition to bid for the Olympic Games are that such event can bring the country dramatic economic growth, as well as improving of the country’s global image. Plus, such events will long-term post event effects. Regarding Beijing Olympic Games, despite tourists were several times increased during the event, international business cooperation throughout China have been increased after the game and Beijing has become a global well-known place. The promotion of the country’s international role is an invaluable asset which is the thing could affect world affairs. Brazil will be the next host country of World Cup and Olympic, which will definitely bring the country a lot of international focus and great economic increase. As a developing country, its international role will also be largely enhanced.

    Yes, social media helps me a lot to learn other countries. For example, Korea drama and American plays as Boon Han stated in his post are both part of nation-branding campaigns. Youtube and other online video sites are their major channels to reach out people. I also follow Australia Tourism on Chinese Twitter which posts pictures and touring information regularly. Interestingly, it posts in Chinese. So Australia has a branding strategy targeting China.

    • andreslmc says:

      Hey Lin, I appreciate your response. While nation-branding campaigns play an important role in promoting the image of a country, I think that these “city-branding” campaigns that are typically used during the summer Olympics (Atlanta 1996 , Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008) have a stronger impact in shaping a standard image of a whole country. In effect, I think these “city-branding” campaigns tend to overshadow the cultural diversity of a country.

  4. grabernieto says:

    It is interesting you brought up the topic of branding and place it in a global promotion context. I have spent the semester learning about branding theories in my brand management class. I will define branding from what I learned as a method to create meaning in an product in this case a country. When talking about promotion of a country, the turism department is in charge of presenting the country in one way, but is up to the audience the people to develop the meaning or value. People are attracted to factors that relate to them, the more relatable the more value they incorporate into the product, hence how branding is created. Is all about the value we have towards something and the relationship that we are able to form. Providing relatable/attractive characterisctics to a an audience is what allows to create a bond with the audience and hence help in the promotion of the country. Branding a country must be an interesting task, since we are not talking about a product but rather a nation that may or may not have a plethora of important characteristics. So what should marketers/communicators stress or in better terms what culture code should it be presented to an audience. The way we brand our nations does have an impact, since the brand is what influences public opinion. Good branding efforts are able to dispel stereotypes and mysconceptions about a particular country.
    Branding is great source and an advantage for nations who depend on turism for economical revenue. Social media and technology is just a small component of the branding efforts, the overall picture the marketing team or turism department presents is what ultimately has the most influence.

    • andreslmc says:

      Hi Enrique. Thanks for your insight on this topic. As you mention countries have numerous important characteristics about their culture and history that they promote in order to make their brand appealing. For many years Colombia has touted its high quality coffee through the Juan Valdez “Café de Colombia” campaign. To some extent the success of the Juan Valdez campaign has overshadowed other aspects of Colombia’s economy. The Juan Valdez campaign tends to promote the idea that Colombia has a monolithic economy that chiefly depends on agricultural production. However, in recent years Colombia’s economy has developed strong manufacturing and services sectors. Correspondingly, Colombia’s marketers and brand managers have had difficulty promoting Colombia’s popular coffee brand while also promoting the notion that Colombia modern economy has a highly trained workforce that is worthy of foreign direct investment opportunities.

  5. Laura Chechette says:

    Do you think that nation-branding campaigns will have an important or marginal role in shaping world affairs?

    I think that a nation branding campaign’s effect and success will depend on the country ruining the campaign and the management of it. We learned in “The Culture Code” that every country has its own codes so hypothetically a country that is trying to brand itself would have to produce multiple videos, posters, etc. for the different countries it is trying to market itself too. Also the country that is trying to brand itself has to be on somewhat stable political grounds to begin with. For example I’m not sure how successful a nation branding campaign would be for Libya right now when they have so many other concerns. I think the country has to have a somewhat positive/neutral reputation before you start to try and brand it; otherwise it could just be a waste of money and have no effect.

    Do you use social media to learn about other countries?

    Yes I use social media to learn about other countries. I will often “like” Facebook pages of places that I want to visit or have been too. I also follow many international news outlets on Twitter so I can receive international news updates in my feed along with everything else. I have started experimenting with Pintrest as well and I’m already posting pictures of places I want to go to or have traveled too.

    Which mass communication mediums do you use to learn about the world?

    Most often I use the Internet and TV to learn about the world. I try to read the newspaper online to be able to stay knowledgable about the current events happening in other countries. I also try to watch the national nightly news as often as possible to get other perspectives.

    • andreslmc says:

      Hi Laura, thanks for your input. In your example of Lybia, you bring up an interesting point concerning the timing of nation-branding campaigns. It certainly takes a long time for countries that have a negative image to reach this “positive/neutral” phase that you mention. During the height of the drug cartel violence that ravaged Colombia during the 1990’s, Colombia war regarded by many observers as a lawless failed state controlled by drug lords. However, despite many of the socio-economic problems that Colombia still faces, its economy has grown steadily during the past 10 years; foreign direct investment in Colombia has increased, and many of its cities such as Bogota and Cartagena are becoming popular business and tourist destinations.

  6. tjglover23 says:

    I think that like all branding it is not one sided. Nation branding by the nations themselves is great and helpful but I think that the branding that is done by people who have visited a location is the strongest. I think that word of mouth or now that tweet or YouTube post or Facebook picture about a great trip you took somewhere is what gets people. I think when nations brand themselves it is the assumption of the viewer that, of course the nation is going to depict themselves in a positive light. I mean what country would say, “I am a hell hole, don’t come here”, none of them so, I think nation branding is important but there is only so much a nation can do to brand themselves, until they have to leave it in the hands of the people. I think it should be done but don’t make that the only thing you count on.

    I use everything to learn about other countries. There are magazines, news, films, friends, and the old faithful ‘Google search’, to learn about a place as well as social media. As we enter into a media age it is important but it is not the end all. Social media is still very unstable and because it is always changing it can’t be ones foundation but a pillar.

    • Taja makes a wonderful point that while nation branding is becoming more of a phenomenon, it is really all marketing and I believe most people see it as such. The video you shared, Andres, was beautiful and I really enjoyed that there was a little boy narrating. I also thought it very interesting how they presented certain items like their “beautiful women” :). A lot went into those specific decisions like it would in any marketing campaign. A little boy talking about how much he loves his home makes you more sentimental and interested in visiting and also makes it seem more safe- if a little boy lives there and likes it, then everyone should visit (at least that’s one of the impressions they are trying to send in my opinion.)

      I’m impressed that so many of my classmates use social media to learn about other countries. I haven’t very much. I went “old school” and bought a couple of books. I have been using social review sites like TripAdvisor.com more than previously to learn more about countries. I think what all countries could do more of in their nation branding is have testimonials of people who have visited or sharing “real stories” from residents. Bringing it to the individual level has worked in a lot of marketing campaigns I have been a part of across all types of companies. While I recognize that nation branding is essentially marketing, I think nations should continue to brand themselves. So much of what we see is mediated anyway by the media, it is only fair that the nation have it’s own say in how we perceive it.

    • andreslmc says:

      Hey Taja, your bring up an interesting point about the legitimacy and sincerity of nation-branding campaigns. Colombians who oppose the centralized and business oriented nature of nation-branding campaigns, such as Colombia is Passion, have opted to engage the world through public diplomacy campaigns. A great example of this is the city of Medellin. Once known as the home of Colombia’s most notorious criminals, Medellin has now become known as model city of urban renewal development, public art, and renewable energy—green economy—initiatives. Many of these initiatives have been primarily successful due to public diplomacy initiatives led by local community activists and urban planners.

  7. Alex says:

    Interesting topic. Perhaps this is because I have done very limited international travel, but I do not have much motivation to seek out information about other countries. The information that I hear about other countries mostly comes from either a) my friends who have traveled there and whose opinions I value and trust or b) people I become well acquainted with who come from other countries and speak to me about them. So in this case, I suppose word of mouth shapes how I perceive countries, and to that effect, any branding efforts done by these countries are indirect on my end as a receiver. Rather, the country may have been branded externally to my U.S. friend who decided to travel to this country, or my friend who grew up in that country and to which it was internally branded. So it seems like the third party effect, as I do not directly interact with campaigns or outreach regarding other countries. Going back to internal branding for a moment, this is actually the primary example that came to mind in terms of how a country is branded. Without reading the others’ responses, the first thing that came to my mind from this post is how the U.S brands itself internally – to U.S. citizens – and that is through nationalism (i.e. talking about “freedom” or being “proud to be an American” or even “Support the troops” because it instills pride in the U.S. military force. These are methods that immediately come to my mind as to how the U.S. brands itself internally – which is the predominant form of nation branding that I am accustomed to being on the receiving end for.

    • andreslmc says:

      Hi Alex, thanks for your input. As you mention nationalism is a type of branding that is essential to national cohesion. One of the most interesting expressions of this nationalism in Colombia occurs everyday at 6PM. At this time of the day most major radio stations in Colombia stop their regular programs to play the Colombian national anthem. Whenever I travel to Colombia I’m always surprised to hear the national anthem play on the radio. It just happens to be that I often find myself in a taxi cab at around 6PM, so I tend to listen to the Colombia’s national anthem quite regularly during my visits.

  8. sonigreca says:

    I think nation-branding campaigns will have an important role in shaping world affairs. They not only help a country to promote the turism, but also help the economy of the country. I believe nation-branding campaigns under certain circumstances such as big events like the Olympic Games will provide more opportunity to shape world affairs.

    Yes, I use social media to learn about other countries. I follow some countries on Weibo, Twitter, and “like” some countries’ pages on the Facebook. And I watch videos like the one you showed us on YouTube. I love travelling and I love to explore different cultures. So, I use social media to learn about different countries and make my plan to travel to those countries that interest me a lot.

    Like I said, social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and of course, our Chinese Twitter- Weibo. I also read travel magazines. When I was at home, and I could afford a TV, I watch on TV.

    • andreslmc says:

      Hi Sonia, thank for your input. I think that YouTube has certainly become a popular medium that people around the world use to learn about other countries. YouTube is specially a great resource if you are looking for non-government sponsored branding campaigns.

  9. Kristina Coppola says:

    I think that nation-branding is a really interesting practice, but I think its also interesting to note that the same/similar techniques are being used on smaller scales, like state branding. An example close to my heart is the Pure Michigan campaign (http://www.michigan.org/) which from what I can see targets other American’s and tries to change their perception of the state from crime-ridden Detroit to an outdoor-lovers paradise.

    I’m with Jackie on consulting sites like Trip Advisor when looking to travel, rather than social media, so it was really interesting to hear all the ways that countries are sharing information in that space.

    I also think that as nation/place branding becomes more popular it may also become less authentic and become less trustworthy as it focuses more on creating economic gain than creating an accurate understanding of a people/place.

    • andreslmc says:

      Hi Kristina, thanks for sharing this link to the Pure Michigan campaign. As I mentioned in my response to Lin, I think that these smaller scale state branding or city branding campaigns have a greater impact in shaping public perceptions. One of the current city branding campaigns that find very interesting is Chrysler’s “This is the Motor City” branding campaign that portrays Detroit as a gritty and resilient city.

      • Kristina Coppola says:

        Hi Andres, the Chrysler ad is fantastic too! I think these campaigns are also interesting if you consider one of their audiences as “ex-patriots” of sorts. The population decrease/”brain drain” in Michigan, and Detroit in particular, has become a real problem for federal funding, economic recovery, etc…so ad campaigns like this serve a dual purpose to me…yes try to change public opinion for those who may not be familiar with the area, but also to make those of us who have left proud of our city/state and remember all the good reasons for being there and incentivize us to return and be a part of the revitalization.

  10. Ji Li says:

    I am always interested in nation-branding campaigns which offer me a more colorful and wider lens to see and get closer to the world, especially those countries I’m not very familiar with. Yes, nation-branding campaigns do play a quite important role in shaping world affairs. No matter what kind of nation-branding campaigns are, they not only help stimulate tourism, economy, but also get people from all over the world connected.

    If I’m planning to travel to some country I am really interested in, I will search for a lot of information about the destination in order to enrich my knowledge about that country. Otherwise I don’t take the initiative to use social media to learn about other countries, unless some promotion videos or other kind of ads about certain countries appear on the screen. Also, if some big events or breaking news are taking place in some country, in this case, I will use social media to know more about that country.

    The channels I use to learn about other countries when I need to, are basically Google and Weibo (Chinese Twitter). There are always huge number of information on these two websites which is far enough for me to look for what I want. If I have heard about some country’s promotion video is really interesting, I will go to Youtube or Youku (Chinese Youtube) to check it out.

    • andreslmc says:

      Hi Ji Li, thanks for the reply. Yes, I think most of these nation-branding campaigns tend to showcase each country as a colorful place. As Enrique mentioned, the point of these campaigns is to brand each country in a way that will create mass appeal; therefore, I think that sometimes these campaigns exaggerate or distort a certain cultural characteristics.

  11. meredithmckenna says:

    I think nation-branding will play a significant role in world affairs. Countries that aren’t as developed are currently in a race to brand themselves in a particular way to attract tourism and investors. Without a strong identity (aka a good marketing campaign) people will not be motivated to visit, and a negative impression will be formed. For example, if a country’s main website looks like a gimmicky and not developed well, that country will most likely lose the attention of a large audience. It is definitely very important in today’s world for countries to brand themselves (hopefully in a friendly, desirable way) and to create a presence.

    Although social media is not my main source of information for obtaining information about other countries, I regularly look at whats trending in different parts of the world, especially when I read an interesting news article. I like to see what people from that country are saying about the issue, and that usually impacts my views as well. If I am actually going to go somewhere though, I use more specific websites such as Tripadvisor.

    • andreslmc says:

      Thanks for the response Meredith. You bring up a good point about the general expectations we have of branding campaigns. As you mention, whether or not we are interested in visiting or learnign about a country, we also judge nation-branding campaigns based on the presentation qualities of the campaign itself.

  12. lisamedina says:

    Hi Andres. While I feel nation branding play an important role in tourism, I feel marketers have far less control over their place brands. Aside from nation branding campaigns, people may learn about a country in school, from media sources, and from trips abroad or from contact with citizens or former residents. Not all of these sources may agree with each other. Another issue with nation branding is that the brand can become stagnant with a growing country. The brand of today may not represent the future of that country.

    I guess I’m a bit of skeptic when it comes to a nation branding, because I’d much prefer to hear about a country through personal testimonials. To me hearing a personal experience is much more authentic. When I travel I want to do as the locals do. I thought it was interesting that you posted a video as an example of a nation branding campaign. I feel like I’d gravitate towards pictures over video when I’m learning about a country. I feel pictures are more of raw representation of someone’s experience over an edited piece of video. As far as social media, I haven’t in the past and I don’t think I would use it learn more about a country. It can be a little overwhelming and right now their are just too many conflicting voices.

    • andreslmc says:

      Thanks for response Lisa. You bring up a great point about the limitations of nation-branding. As I mentioned in a previous response, Colombia is trying to maintain a fine balance between touting its natural resources and its growing high tech economy.

      Moreover, as you mention there are a lot of resources at our disposal on social media sites that we can also use to learn about a country as an alternative to the more standardized image offered by nation branding campaigns.

  13. drcookejackson says:

    Excellent dialogue everyone… I am up late finishing some work and I’ve been reading/following the comments over the past few days… Tonight as I read I am intrigued by the way you all individually think about nation-branding. For instance, everyone seems to agree that nation-branding can have a huge impact on tourism, world affairs, and of course globalization.

    Moreover, your cultural perspectives from an intellectual view point are fascinating. What I mean is that we easily see nation-branding via the lens of our own worldview and cultural paradigm. This makes me realize that even if a country is at odds (i.e., “Colombia is Passion” juxtaposed with Columbia drug cartel) over the branding message — the ultimate goal for any country will be to create global appeal… to minimize that which doesn’t work well while highlighting that which promotes beauty, prosperity and the good life! Is that a correct assumption Andres?

    …So is there a universal culture code that all countries use when it come to nation-branding… promote that which looks ‘good’ and diminish that which looks ‘negative’?

    What would your positive/negative culture’s nation-branding look like. I can easily find the visual clip of ‘America the Beautiful’ yet think … hummm… treatment of illegal immigrants, oppression of marginalized groups of people… etc — I don’t want that represented in my video – Food for thought.

  14. andreslmc says:

    Dr. CJ—Yes I think that ultimately nation-branding campaigns are designed to highlight the positive aspects of a culture/country in order to promote economic development. I also think that these campaigns are designed for an audience that is mainly willing to think about a country or culture through a consumer viewpoint. These campaigns are particularly effective if one is contemplating making a business investment, taking a vacation, or buying a product from a foreign country based on the perception that the service or product one is purchasing is of ‘high quality’ or as you say highlights beauty and promotes prosperity. However, I think that if these campaigns were to highlight the social realities (i.e. poverty, violence, human rights violations etc.) this would make consumers uneasy about our choices to the degree that it would slow the pace of consumption and thus slow the economic development of these countries that rely on foreign direct investment and tourism.

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