Political, social, and cultural contexts are critical in public affairs because these factors and the impacts they create must be carefully weighed prior to conveying the message. In nation branding these factors are not only essential, oftentimes political considerations constitute the driving force or primary motivation in long-term advocacy, not in the interest of any specific group but for a broader objective, to wit: the nation or national interest.
The South Korean example I quoted in PR Indonesia’s 82nd Edition/January 2022 is a case in point. Notwithstanding its positive economic impact, the initial motivation was grounded in the country’s national politics aimed at establishing an international reputation to enhance the country’s credibility. The objective was to increase South Korea’s likability among the global community after a succession of repressive military dictatorships ruled the country for decades.
One of the main considerations in nation branding is to generate what in Political Science is referred to as “soft power” as stated by Dr. Anna Schwan. In addition to being a lecturer at the University of Hamburg, Germany, she is the founder and CEO of the Public Relations firm Schwan Communications in the same city. She analyzed the situation in Germany in the book Nation Branding in Europe which was published in 2022 and contains details of the implementation of nation branding in 14 European countries.
“Soft Power versus Hard Power”
In her opinion, in contrast to hard power which is realized by means of economic and military prowess, soft power aims to improve a country’s reputation to create a positive image that makes it attractive, particularly as a destination for investment, and career pursuit of professionals and the general public. The country concerned needs to conduct communication strategies and possess the political will to achieve it. Thus, clearly, it is incumbent upon the government to play the primary role. According to her analysis, Germany is weak in nation branding resulting in its failure to generate soft power.
In the introduction to the above book, its editor, João Freire, emphasized that the long-term strategy must be devoid of the interest of a particular political party or group and have multi-sectoral coverage to be successful and garner support from all elements of society. He criticized several countries that take a sectoral approach that results in the monopoly of the agenda by a single sector. In many cases, the agenda is dominated by the tourism industry and as a result, what happens is a destination or vacation branding instead of nation branding.
Another fascinating example of a carefully planned nation branding strategy coupled with long-term implementation is conducted by Turkey. Scientific papers in English written by Turkish academia, be those domiciled in Turkey or pursuing their careers abroad abound in international journals. This article refers to two scientific papers. The first is titled “Brand Turkey: Liminal Identity and its Limits” co-authored in 2017 by Bahar Rumelili (International Relations Koc University, Istanbul) and Rahime Suleymanoglu-Kurum (University of Nottingham, England). The second paper is written by Alparslan Nas, lecturer at the Faculty of Communications at Marmara State University in Istanbul in the same year.
The two papers on Turkey’s nation branding analyzed a targeted campaign titled “Turquality” in 2004 by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which was initially intended to support Turkish companies in obtaining recognition in the international market. The Turkish government’s support is extensive, including financial and media campaigns to make Turkish brands recognized all over the world. In 2014, this branding effort set the tagline “Turkey – Discover the Potential”, the narrative of which emphasized trade and technology in a modern country.
One characteristic of Turkey’s nation branding is prompted by the dilemma facing the country: positioning itself as a “Western country” or “Eastern country”. Even though the largest part of its territory is located in Asia, a piece of it is located in the European continent. The country’s largest and most famous city, Istanbul, occupies a unique position because it is located in two continents separated by the Bosphorus strait that is exceptionally strategic as it controls the entrance to the Black Sea. To connect with the Mediterranean Sea, ships to and from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, and Georgia must pass through the Bosphorus strait that runs smack through the city. Istanbul itself is recorded as the largest city in Europe with a population of 15 million, nearly 20% of Turkey’s total population.
The uniqueness of Turkey’s geography forced them to adopt a “double-faced” policy, showing the face of the West in Europe and the face of the East to the Eastern world. This strategy is deliberately created and executed due to these special conditions. On a lighter note, this strategy appears to be less successful in Indonesia as the popular press precede references to Turks living here by the term “bule” – denoting white-skinned persons (“bule Turki”) – unequivocally placing Turkey in the West.
Lately, Turkey’s name has been on the rise due to the significant role played by the Turkish drones, Bayraktar TB2 employed by the Ukrainian military in counterattacks against Russian tanks and helicopters entering its territory. The capabilities of this drone solidified Turkey’s reputation in the realm of technology. Previously, a German couple of Turkish descent, both scientists in the field of medicine, Dr. Uğur Ahin (his parents moved to Germany when he was four years old) and his wife Dr. Ozlem Türeci, who was born in Germany to Turkish parents, made a name for their ancestral land. Their company, BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, successfully formulated the vaccine against COVID-19 that was further developed by the American giant pharmaceutical company, Pfizer. Despite their citizenship and successful careers in Germany, both have names that unmistakably convey a Turkish identity.
Back to G20, as mentioned in last January’s edition, the momentum created by Indonesia’s presidency needs to be taken advantage of to launch Indonesia’s nation branding that goes beyond the G20 presidency that will terminate at the end of this year. The war in Ukraine is bound to hurt the world’s economy, which is currently trying to recover from the prolonged impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that has suppressed economic growth in the last two years. Hence, it is crucial for Indonesia to develop a nation branding strategy assertively with the support of the majority of people that needs to be inclusive to cut across society’s groupings and ethnicities to be sustainable.
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners
This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 84th Edition, issued on March 2022, pages 60-61.
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