Russian way of branding vs Soft Power

Does Russia has a Branding Strategy? The image of this powerful country in the common imaginary is rather clear and has little to do with what we see a Country Brand. Russia may have a plan to disseminate his ideas in the same way they used to several decades ago. They appear to be living in a new cold war, but in an asymmetric way: developed countries design their Branding Strategic Plans with common coordinates, but Russia has not been able to overcome the concept of propaganda.

If we flew back to the 60s, we would find no major differences in what Russia is doing today and what she did then. Only tools would essentially change.

We cannot forget the brutal social change that Russia had to face since 1989, forced to an almost one step evolution, without a process that allowed its population and structures to assimilate their new scenario.

We can conclude that Russia has no Brand in the terms of modern Branding; its propaganda has been working in a wrong place and when trying to act within its limits, they have failed. Their interference in others´ home affairs (US and France presidential elections, among others), their state-sponsored doping programme…, a way of acting in which traps are a fundamental weapon… together with its iron hand against the rights of gays… have not helped to soften its reputation in the world. We can say that Russia has a highly recognizable image, but not precisely a good one.

Related article: Professor Nye details Russia Information Warfare in this interesting article.


The impossible European brand

When the Malaysian plane was shot down in Ucraine, the European Union failed again to react as it had to. The EU has shown once more that it is not a real country, but an economic and little more meeting of 28.

The United States reacted immediately and Obama spoke loud and clear. Russia was the one to blame for the disaster and maybe there were too many crossed interests in Europe to allow Brussels to shout firmly with one single and unique voice.

While that silent was the only sound arising from the EU, the bodies of dozens of Dutchmen were received in Amsterdam. British Prime Minister was the one to take the EU voice and claim for exemplary actions against Russia. But that was a suspicious voice, in a time of European rivalries of the strongest towards the continental leadership.

This is the last sample of the lack of authority of the EU in the global context. Although the Lisbon Treaty tried to amend this strengthening the head with a new Presidency and created the position of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, nothing has effectively changed.

The result is European foreign policy keeps being the same. Too many different actors with too many different interests.

I can guess that Europe will not be able to shape its own brand, as there is not a shared and uniform reality. The lack of identity and character is enough to turn it in an impossible dream.


Causes and effects

Building a place brand is a harder task than that supposed. What happens is urgency pushes stronger and not all the campaigns we can see are real branding ones. This is the result of the historical confusion between some disciplines, such as marketing, touristic promotion and even propaganda, among others.

Place branding is a very specific science. I dare to name it so, as I firmly believe we can design and plan actions to meet our goals. As a lab issue, this is a matter of causes and effects.

“It is independentism that hurts Spain´s Brand”


“The perception of Spain does not hurt that of Cataluña. It is the other way”. This is the conclusion of the last report of the Spain´s Brand Observatory, that monitors the Brand of Spain. This Observatory is a part of the Instituto Elcano, an official organism of the Spanish Government that takes care of anything around and into the Nation Brand.

Its Director, Javier Noya, stresses the fact: “It is independentism that hurts the Brand of the country“.


Spain´s Brand is getting better and better in the foreign media. And, for the first time in 4 years, we can see positive articles about the country.

Full article in Diario ABC

Spain´s brand returns

I am happy to see that my perceptions about the current value of Spain´s Brand converge with the last Nation Brand 100 results carried out by Brand Finance. Although I am not enthusiastic about Nation Brand Rankings, it is quite interesting to read the conclusions reached by this report about Spain´s Brand.

The current social and economic situation the country is suffering has been reflected in the perception the world has of it. But not in the depth one should predict. In my post about this specific fact, I explained why the brand of Spain has not suffered in a proportional way all those news about debt, crisis and unemployment. And the report agrees with my perception, drawing the numbers: from 2009 to 2011, the value of the brand of Spain felt 37,8% (from 950.820€ million to 591.001€ million), but recovering a 25% of its value in 2011.

The report highlights the fact that Spain managed to stop its fall and even improved its results in key areas, such as investments, while those related to people, services and tourism also rated better, getting some more points.

What we can conclude is that the brand of Spain has a solid core.


Mexico vs Brazil

I´d like to share this interesting article on the perception the Public Opinion has about Mexico and Brazil. I found it in

Although we can check economic data are similar or even better in Mexico, Brazil has had the ability to perform the positive role, that showing the glass half full, while Mexico has been condemned to be the country showing the glass half empty:

“The conventional U.S. wisdom today is that Mexico is a problem, and Brazil is an opportunity. The reality is that while Mexico faces serious challenges, the United States shouldn’t count it out. And, while Brazil does present real promise, there are serious issues it has yet to take on.

Economically, these two countries are not as drastically different as current analyses suggest. Yes, Brazil has had six years of consistent high growth. In large part, these were the dividends from macroeconomic reforms begun in the mid-1990s under President Cardoso and reinforced and deepened by President Lula (in fact, the pick up in growth coincided with the start of Lula’s second term, when domestic money finally believed  his centrist promises).

By comparison, Mexico embarked on a similar reform process ten years earlier and earned its macroeconomic dividend in the 1990s, when Brazil was still struggling to rein in hyperinflation. Looking at per capita growth rates over the last twenty years (not just the last 7 or 8), Mexico and Brazil actually look fairly similar (with annual average per capita growth of 2.25% and 2.5% respectively).

While both countries have now solidified a range of necessary macro reforms, they face somewhat similar long-term  challenges. Both desperately need to invest in  infrastructure, in education, and to find ways to reduce stark inequalities. Both too are now thriving democracies – a plus on so many levels, but not for pushing through big comprehensive reforms.

There are of course big differences – but those don’t necessarily cut just in Brazil’s favor. Brazil is a bigger market, has ever-increasing oil finds, and is a complement to China’s rise – all positive. But it is also a more bloated state, stands in a much worse place vis-à-vis inequality and infrastructure, and faces worrisome inflationary and exchange rate pressures that threaten to undermine its recent gains.

Mexico is already a more export and manufacturing-led economy. And while Obama (and others) made much of  the potential of US-Brazil trade during his March visit, the reality is that the United States already depends on Mexico as its second largest export market – earning some $163 bn last year compared to $35 bn with Brazil.

Mexico is also a much more friendly business environment. According the World Bank’sDoing Business index, Mexico ranks 35th globally – and the highest in Latin America — while Brazil is a woeful 127th (out of a total of 183 countries). On the downside, Mexico lacks widespread credit (which is much more available in Brazil), suffers from too many monopolies and oligopolies, and so far competes with (rather than complements) China’s rise.

The upshot is that there is no clear “winner” in terms of future potential or peril. So what drives the misguided conventional wisdom? A recent paper by Roberto Newell, founder of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), provides a partial answer.  Analyzing the Mexico coverage in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal since the late 1980s, he shows the increasingly negative tone and focus of the main U.S. papers of record. While political and economic news dominated both papers in the 1990s (in large part due to NAFTA), in recent years crime and the border have taken over the new cycle. Economic and political news – much of it good – rarely merit a mention, much less a sustained focus.

Without doing a similar in depth study, anecdotal readings of Brazil in the U.S. media shows the reverse – an almost ebullient focus  on economics and politics, with relatively few stories on crime (even though Brazil’s 25 per 100,000 inhabitants murder rate far exceeds Mexico’s 14).

This negative shift isn’t because that is the only news coming out of Mexico. Yes Mexico’s security situation is grave, but it isn’t Mexico’s only story. As the brief comparison above shows, there are many economic and political strengths (and weaknesses) in both countries. Newell lays out many more of Mexico’s advantages and advances vis-à-vis the much touted BRICs, which include Brazil.

This skewed coverage hits both countries – though Mexico the hardest. For Brazil, it encourages the “hot money” flowing in, further aggravating the underlying economic weaknesses. For Mexico, the resoundingly negative take may, somewhat paradoxically, make it harder to address the security challenge. To see through necessary changes, Mexicans need some sense of optimism and can-do spirit, as well as a sense of what can be lost – and that is so much of what Mexico has gained.”


Stereotypes and Country Branding. Why Spain´s brand is different.

Perception is the first clue we get on a country brand. It makes us shape in our minds what that place must be. Unconsciously we have our first opinion on it, and it will be backed or modified by other information we will receive, be in a way or another, about the place.

This is the reason of thinking of some places and their people through stereotypes. We once got some information, processed it in any way, and no other has come to change it. Stereotypes are not always bad news for a country. They can even help when reality has become so bad appearing that keeping people minds in pre-conceived concepts can make us gain time to recover a competitive identity (a branding definition by Simon Anholt).

Although today´s media absolute coverage and 2.0 channels echo constantly launching what happens wherever, there are places enjoying the benefits of what they are supposed to be. We can clearly see that many places have two main different concepts set in Public Opinion mind. Even three, as the singular case of Spain has. And, although complex reflections, it is checkable in such simple way as one´s own mind. If we asked people around the world about the image they have of Spain, we would  probably get three different answers: the stereotyped one, represented by words as matador and flamenco; the admired one, talking about the political and economic impressive change Spain enjoyed and a last one, remarking the deep economic and social crisis she is in.

At this point, surely would feel a lot alleviated being said to be a land of matadors, flamenco and fiesta. No deeper thoughts to damage, by instance, her so needed touristic flows. Spain has always complaint for being considered a mere services country. Her people made a tremendous effort for years to balance that with a stronger industrial sector that attracted direct foreign investments, among other targets. Today, without surfing in the Spanish economic and social reality, we can end that the identity of Spain has kept its competitiveness in a certain sense. Let´s make a simple mental exercise: Have you recently thought of spending your holidays in Greece? Have you thought to do it in Spain? What a brand means is also what it provokes. And right now, I am sure Spanish do not mind at all being named as the land of bullfighting, flamenco or fiestas. The thing is a solid conviction that makes tourists come and come back to Spain every year in a number today surpassing 54 million. This side of Spanish brand has not been damaged, as it keeps ranking at the top of world touristic destinies.