FutureBrand, a branding strategy consultancy from the McCann Group has released a Country Brand Index. For the 3rd year in a row, Australia tops the ranking as the ‘strongest country brand’ in a survey among 2700 travellers. The top ten, in order, were Australia, Canada, America, Italy, Switzerland, France, New Zealand, Britain, Japan and Sweden. Not surprisingly, emerging markets like India do not feature in a poll that is most likely conducted among western travelers.
India’s highest ranking is for Value for Money (No.2, behind Thailand!) and figures at No.8 in ‘History’ and ‘Art & Culture’. Thankfully it is seen as a ‘Rising Star’ featuring at No.5, ranks No.4 in ‘Authenticity’ and also features in the Top 10 of ‘Most Impressive Last Year’ (the No.1 slot for that went to China, thanks to the Olympics, I guess).
Such rankings and the millions of dollars spent on tourism advertising begs an interesting question: can nations be branded? How critical is advertising’s role in that? The above report says:
“Countries are becoming more aware of the importance of defining how they want to be perceived and the need to improve and leverage their assets. While tourism is often the most visible manifestation of a country brand, it is clear that the image, reputation and brand values of a country impact its products, population, investment opportunities and even its foreign aid and funding.”
I am not too sure if branding a nation has such a wide sweep in terms of impact. The blurb about Australia in the above report says this:
‘Tourists can access a wide range of offerings: adventure, relaxation, pure scenery and mouthwatering gastronomy’.
That description can apply to many nations, not just Australia. I think consumers form perceptions of countries – not necessarily driven by advertising. Am not suggesting that advertising has no role to play. It can enhance a country’s reputation and bring it top of mind. But will not be able to create a perception that is not in line with what is already perceived. The above rankings of India is in line with the age-old perceptions about our art & culture. India as a ‘rising star’ in economy & business is a theme played back in world media in recent times. Among the tourism campaigns apart from Incredible India, the other two favourites of mine are Truly Asia for Malaysia and 100% Pure for New Zealand. Both leaned on the existing characteristics of these nations and created a consumer friendly idea. While advertising has its role, consumers form perceptions or stereotypes based on what they see & hear in unpaid media & word-of-mouth. A single story on churches being burnt in India can do more damage to a country’s perception than the millions of dollars that go in trying to improve it.