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Recent years have seen the loss in prestige for organisations and nations alike, under the spell of global crises triggered by economic downturn and international conflicts. However, the last two years have seen a change in strategy at national level: in order to improve national brand equity and stimulate competitiveness in a globalised economy, states are relying on branding, not only on statecraft. Representatives in this case are the United States of America and Dubai (for the branding overviews of the two nations, please check Appendix 1).
What the final work will try to demonstrate is whether systematic and realistic branding is able to counteract the effects of international crises. To this end, the current work will discuss the overarching theoretical frameworks necessary to shape the final research, but also underlying theoretical methodologies to analyse the inputs of national branding. The choice of public relations and social identity as frameworks is argued through the fact that the chosen topic needs to be considered both from communicational perspective, but also through the relations established between discourse and society, on the one hand, and regulative inter-groups dynamics, on the other hand. Further on, the essay will focus on the underlying methodologies of semiotics and critical discourse analysis. Both of them are relevant to the dissertation topic through their approach to discourse. However, semiotics on the one hand analyses the use of codes to create meaning in a selection of texts. Critical discourse analysis on the other hand follows the relations established between discourse and society.
To begin with, the concept of national branding should be integrated in the context of identity. More importantly, due to the relation between the object of the branding process (the nation), and its publics, the forthcoming paper will be considered through the framework of social identity. Of definite importance for the subject of national branding is the underlying 'relationship between self- concept and group behaviour' (Hogg and Terry, 2001:2).
First introduced by Tajfel, social identity is defined as 'the individual's knowledge that he belongs to certain social groups together with some emotional and value significance to him of this group membership' (Tajfel, 1972:292, cited in Hogg and Terry, 2010:2). According to this theory, people identify themselves as being part of groups, depending on social categories (nationality in this case). The 'repertoire of such discrete category memberships' describes and prescribes a member's attitude (ibid: 3). Also, social identities are self- evaluative, in the sense that 'members are motivated to adopt behavioural strategies for achieving or maintaining in-group- out-group comparisons that favour the in-group' (ibid:3-4). The latter concept of the social identity theory is more relevant to the research topic, as it explains the process of self- regulation undertaken by both Dubai and the U.S.A. after the recent world crises through branding, in order to readjust the publics' images of them, so that they favour the in-groups.
For example, in March 2009, Dubai initiated the campaign Meet Dubai, in order to counteract and readjust its publics' view of it as a 'gilded cage' of exploited immigrants (Davidson, 2010, The Independent online), only attractive through 'glitz and glamour' (Dubai Lynx 2011. Winners and Shortlists, online). The initiative's objective was to 'substitute classy polished Dubai ads with unscripted reality', focusing on the multicultural community that creates the Dubai experience (ibid). While for the outside publics (tourists and investors) this enhanced the appeal of the Emirate, for those that identified themselves as members of the in-group, it boasted their national pride and sense of unity.
However, the drawbacks of this theory are the fact that 'the subjective belief structures' are not always reflecting the reality and that the framework is mostly applicable to the relationship between individuals and groups, but less between in-groups and out-groups, as relevant for the dissertation topic (ibid).
Further on, the essay will discuss the framework of public relations. 'Nation building', the phenomena that motivates branding, 'is a strategic process that involves various resources and policies, and communication is one of the most important of these resources' (Taylor and Kent, in Botan and Hazleton, 2006:342). Relating this to the future research work, it is important to understand that nation building is applicable to all nations, indifferent of their level of 'economic, social, and political development', with the purpose of achieving 'specific national goals' (ibid).
Nevertheless, the process of nation building does not only rely on communication to create meaningful messages, such as national identity and unity. Contrariwise, it also relies on human dynamism, triggered by relationships. Therefore, the overarching theoretical framework to explain the process of nation building will be public relations. The appropriateness of this framework is explained through the importance of relationships in nurturing nations, both between governments and publics, as in the example of brand America, but also 'between nation- states and publics in other countries', as in the case of Dubai (ibid).
Having assessed the importance of communication processes and building relationships, the current paper will continue by discussing the methodological approaches to analyse the output, in terms of discourse and how it relates to the large picture of society. Respectively, the advantages and difficulties of semiotic and critical discourse analysis will be reviewed using examples of branding materials.
As far as semiotic theory and method are concerned, Porter (in Heath and Toth, 1992:279) attributes their use in corporate image advertisements to 'describing and interpreting how meaning is produced and constrained'. Relevant for this case are the Saussureian theoretical considerations on semiology (ibid:282). In order to assess the production of meaning in a selection of television commercials used for the campaigns on focus, I propose the use of semiotic phenomenological method (Ihde, 1986; Lanigan, 1988), that includes three stages: description, reduction and interpretation(ibid: 285). While at the description stage, the process involves decoding the signs and detailing the visual/ audio text, through reduction the signs are collated into codes. Lastly, through interpretation 'the myths and ideologies that undergird a text' are identified (ibid).
In addition to assessing the production of meaning in corporate identity campaigns, I also plan to use semiotics in order to demonstrate a reoccurrence of messages in the campaigns put forward by the two nations. The most relevant example (that will be detailed in the dissertation), is that of America putting across the message of 'rising up to the challenge', as a form of counteracting the crises generated by economic downturn and implication in military conflicts (Ad Council, online). This message is more relevant as it has been put forward both through public and foreign diplomacy: on the one hand, in the campaign 'United we Serve', initiated by the Ad Council, President Obama- the head figure of the campaign, calls Americans 'to rise to the challenge of fighting the crises through continuing support, service and personal responsibility' (ibid). On the other hand, the same message has been put across visually, through the code of power supported by the use of an eagle- shaped pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo (Expo 2010 Shanghai China, online). In this case, the signifier- eagle, sets intertextual relations with the bald eagle present on the federal emblem, which here also signifies boldness, perseverance and even aggressiveness. In addition to this, the message has also been conveyed explicitly, as the pavilion's slogan was 'Rise to the Challenge' (ibid). In this particular case, semiotics' relevance to the chosen topic is argued through the ability to decode messages that empowers readers to access a different level of meaning that is inferred, not denotative.
Nevertheless, one must be wary at the production of alternative texts, since the interpretation could be biased because of 'multifarious possibilities for meaning' (ibid). Needless to say, the critical reading of a text can be easily flawed by subjectivity, especially if we relate back to the theory of social identity and the implications of being part of an out-group (non- American, non- Arab), with different cultural codes and perspectives to interpretation.
In my analysis, I shall continue with Fairclough's Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) model. CDA finds its source in the 'critical linguistics' considerations 'coined in the 1970s by Roger Fowler and his colleagues at the University of East Anglia' (Simpson and Mayr, 2009:50). Despite the fact that CDA is heterogeneous in its range of critical approaches, in the future dissertation I will draw preponderantly on the assumption that 'language both shapes and is shaped by the society' (ibid:51). With a view to the future research, it is important to concentrate on Fairclough's (1989:20, cited in Simpson and Mayr, 2009:50) view that 'discourse has potential for the expression of particular ideologies and identities'. Considered in the framework of public relations and social identity, this methodological approach explains how discourse and the creation of meaning (through semiotics) in communication processes impact on social change and national identity in this case. Other aspects of CDA, such as the relation between discourse and 'power abuse, ideological imposition and social injustice' (forwarded by Dijk 1993, 1998, cited in Bhatia and Flowerdew, 2007:11) are not relevant for the research topic.
The practical approach will follow Fairclough's (1995:5, cited in Bhatia and Flowerdew, 2007:11 ) framework, by 'mapping three separate forms of analysis':
'analysis of discourse'
'analysis of discourse practice (processes of text production, distribution and consumption)'
'analysis of discursive events as instances of sociocultural practice' (how the macro environment impacts on discourse) (ibid).
The difficulty will arise from the cross disciplinary approach to CDA, which I will try to address by focusing on social and national identity.
In conclusion it can be said that the chosen frameworks of public relations and social identity are of definite importance to understanding the implications of national branding. More importantly, the analysed methodologies of semiotics and critical discourse analysis create a symbiosis favourable to thoroughly discussing the creation, dissemination and effect of discourse on society and how this, in turn, responds.