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Nation Branding: A Tool Of Soft Power

2546 words (10 pages) Essay in Media

27/04/17 Media Reference this

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Nations have always cared about their image, but in recent years one witnessed a turning point in methods used by states to build and manage their reputation. In this era of globalization the world is increasingly becoming a gigantic stage on which countries have to compete for all types of resources in order to enhance, and raise their international profile. In light of this, nation branding holds a vital key to win this “world contest”. Though, it draws heavily from the marketing and public relations realms, this concept is increasingly pertaining the sphere of international relations as states are using it as a tool to reach their desired international aims. In light of this, the aim of this essay will be to evaluate the relatively new concept of nation brand in the context of soft power in international relations. It will argue that there is close link between soft power and nation branding, since the latter if done effectively can enhance a nation soft power and consequently winning the hearts and minds of foreign audiences. The second part of the essay will then attempt to shed led on to what extent can state branding can fit within the theories of IR and the eventual implications it can have on the conduct of foreign policy.

Soft power, a term that is increasingly used in discourses of international relations, was coined by Joseph Nye – who is amongst the most prominent theorists within the Neoliberal theory, to define co-optive power in contrast to the traditional hard power related to the military and economic might. Soft power is conceptualized as the “ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies” (Nye, 2004). Soft power blossomed after the end of the cold war. Definitely, due to globalization and communication the usage of soft power is becoming more important. In fact, in light of this Nye states that, “Winning hearts and minds has always been important, but it is even more so in a global information age. Information is power, and modern information technology is spreading information more widely than ever before in history” (Nye 2004).

Though the concept of soft power was put forth by Nye in recent decades, it could also be seen in previous works such that of Hans J. Morgenthau, Klaus Knorr and Ray Cline (Fan, 2008). Soft power rests on the ability of shaping the preferences of others. Hence, such arguments insist that a nation may address and reach its desired outcomes on the global stage, due to the fact that other states admire its values, imitate its example and seek to reach its level of prosperity and openness. Therefore, it is a significant asset in influencing others, not by using “hard” military power, but by “the ability to attract,” which goes beyond influence or persuasion (Nye, 2004).

Nye states that soft power relies on primarily three resources “the attractiveness of its culture, the appeal of its domestic political and social values, and the style and substance of its foreign policies” (Nye, 2004). Due to such factors soft power is intangible and difficult to measure and control. Through such power, nations are able to cultivate specific relations with the other states particularly culturally and economically which eventually result in a better and more favorable public opinion and credibility in the outside world. An interesting aspect is that soft power in contrast to hard power is not controlled entirely by the government but non-state actors can also have a contribution to it.

As previously discussed, soft power’s most particular and important asset is the ability to attain desirable outcomes without involving any type of force. In today’s world, many nations around the globe are suffering from bad image problems which lead nations to embark on initiatives such as nation branding. Image problems are driven by both internal policies and events taking place in the political, economical and social landscape, and also due to certain stereotypes that exist on the external side. Cases in point are the nations of Greece, Spain and Italy which are under investigation in my dissertation. In fact such countries, particularly Greece has currently its image into a storm due to the economic crisis. Apart from that, as in the case of Spain and Italy it suffers from certain stereotypes associated with countries located in the Mediterranean basin. Hence, in order to overcome negative perceptions or turn their potentials into reality countries embark on initiatives such as nation branding.

The practice and theoretical conceptualization of nation branding it’s still in its infancy, although it must be noted that some researches (e.g. Olins 2002) argue that countries have always branded themselves throughout history. Nation Branding is about applying branding and marketing communications techniques to promote a nations image (Fan 2008). In the marketing field a brand is understood how what a customer thinks about a certain product. On the other hand, the brand state revolves around the idea of how the outside world views a particular country. Hence, this makes nation branding a crossroad between the world of public relations and marketing and international relations.

If one looks at the main definition of nation branding, one finds an array of differences in the focus and purpose of nation branding. Fan (2008) made a close examination of the major definitions. Fan’s (2008) evaluations show that nation branding is about remolding the national identities (Olins, 1999), enhance nation’s competitiveness (Anholt 2007), embrace political, cultural, business and sports activities (Jaffe and Nebenzahl, 2001), promoting economic and political interests at home and abroad (Rendon and Szondi, 2003) and to altering, improving or enhancing a nation’s image/ reputation (Gudjossan, 2005).

In less theoretical words, nation branding is about building and managing the reputation of a country. Hence, this concept allows nations to better control the image they project to the world, and therefore be able to attract and compete for the right kinds of available resources. Consequently, by this process a nation hopes to boost its international profile in a globalized world where every country has to compete with every other nation for the share of income, power, voice and influence. In fact, nations engage in branding primarily in order to attract tourists, investment, boost exports, restore international credibility and ratings, increase political influence, stimulate stronger international relations, combat negative national stereotypes and enhance nation building by nourishing confidence, pride, harmony and national resolve (Dinnie 2008). Thus, a positive nation brand provides a crucial competitive advantage in contrast to a bad image which hinders the states’ competitiveness in the global arena.

As Van Ham (2008) states, similar to Nye’s soft power resources, a country’s brand is determined by its culture, political ideals, and policies. There are three key components in nation branding, or in other words, a nation’s brand consists of three sub-brands: political brand, economic brand and cultural brand (Fan, 2008). Such arguments illustrate that nation branding and soft power are certainly two concepts linked.

Backing this argument is the nation brand hexagon developed by Anholt in which there six main factors that determine a brand which are tourism, governance, exports, investment and immigrations, culture and heritage and the citizens. Hence, such six factors fall under the three main categories previously mentioned. Evidently, these are also the sources associated with the conduction of soft power.

Certainly, nation branding falls under a wide umbrella of postmodern power where soft power and public diplomacy are also located. Van Ham (2008) argues that in academic discourse on soft power, the concept of nation branding has now acquired a place which is still somewhat awkward. Definitely, when one evaluates nation branding within the context of soft power in IR, one has to look also to the links and differences that exist between nation branding and public diplomacy. This is due to the fact that public diplomacy has much more theoretical backing of rich as one of the main soft power tools in IR. For example Melissen states that they are complimentary tools with the “practice of branding a nation involves a much greater and coordinated effort than public diplomacy” (Melissen 2005). On the other hand Szondi argues that both practices can be seen as “distinct but overlapping concepts” in that they are oriented toward the same purpose of branding a nation but as different tools in this endeavor” (Szondi 2008). Anholt argue that public diplomacy is a subset of nation branding. In Anholt’s arguments nation branding is how a nation represents as whole itself, whilst public diplomacy is exclusively concentrated on the presentation of government policies, hence the political subset of nation branding.

Nevertheless, one must keep in mind governments are assumed to represent the people of a nation, and therefore, there is no getting away from the fact that nation branding is a highly politicized activity (Dinnie, 2007). It must be noted, that the main link between public diplomacy and nation branding is that both concepts aim at the same outcome – wining the hearts and minds to create a favorable image of the country.

Though it is beyond the scope of this assignment to evaluate in detail the links and difference between nation branding and public diplomacy, it is interesting to have a glance between these tools through the table below – Table 1:

Table 1: Main differences between Public diplomacy and Nation Branding

Public Diplomacy

Nation Branding


Promoting political interest

Promoting (mainly) economic related interests.


Highly politicized and change according to government. Driven mainly by IR and culture

May be de-politicized. Driven by marketing and public relations


Targeted at key countries

Targeted more universal, applicable to nay country


Foreign public

Both foreign and domestic audience


Relationship building, more emphasis on substance and content

Image management, emphasis on visual and symbolic elements


Short, middle – and long – term

Mostly long-term

Definitely, as previously mentioned nation branding has very much in common with the values and issues related to soft power in IR. Fan (2008) states that nation branding can be an important asset in the development of soft power of a nation. Apart from that, a successful nation branding campaign will help create a more favourable image among the international audience thus further enhancing a country’s soft power. Hence, state branding is extensively seen as a vital tool to win over the hearts and minds of foreign audiences and persuade them that their ‘brand” is competitive.

Bringing, Nye’s arguments into light, one finds that reputation is a crucial part in the soft power of a country. This is due to the fact that reputation expresses the total impressions of other soft power recourses, such as for example how culture is perceived in the world. As in the case of soft power, nation branding initiatives are also built on credibility and reputation and determined by the nation’s culture, political ideals and policies. (Van Ham 2008)

In light of the increasing rise of nation branding, a daunting question is: what is the implication of such a concept on international affairs? One needs to evaluate to what extent established theories of international relations have the right theoretical tools to shed light on this new concept that is pertaining the world of international relations. Van Ham (2008) states that “The international relations theory of constructivism sheds some light on the functioning of place branding, whereas classical political science tools fail to come to terms with its implications for international politics”. Such argument is made in the light of the fact that nation branding, as part of soft power revolve around factors such as values, norms and ideas in international relations. Hence, this is on the same lines of the IR constructivists’ theory since constructivist explanations of international politics define the global system as a set of ideas, a body of thought, a system of norms, which has been arranged by certain people at a particular time and place (Jackson and Sorrenson 2006). Constructivism “assumes that the selves, or identities, of states are a variable; they likely depend on historical, cultural, political, and social context” (Hopf 1998, 176). Hence, such arguments are extremely relevant for nation branding since the latter assume that identities are contextual and malleable (Van Ham 2008).

Other traditional tools such as realism may find it more difficult to evaluate the rise of nation branding within the field of international relations. Realists are focused on a system of anarchy and balance of power in IR. First, they may find arguments about the relevance of public diplomacy and state branding as trivial and frivolous. (Van Ham, 2008). Apart from that, for realists, states in the international system pursue their egoistic self interest. Hence, regarding nation branding though, this can be a good initiative as such from the viewpoint of neorealism in that it can affect a state’s economic strength positively and thereby increasing its power and security.

Apart from evaluating the implications of nation branding to the schools of IR, it’s also interesting to investigate the effect of this initiative on foreign policies – the real IR world. As Anholt argues, applying nation branding techniques in foreign policies can be a dangerous initiative. Governments need to have a real sense and organized way of what are doing since they can fall their own victims if a brand is found not be credible or it is misleading. Apart from that, developing countries which are in need to brand themselves may use financial resources in branding efforts at the expense of more tangible needed reforms. Nation branding techniques can also backfire. This is highly illustrated with the case of Greece when it hosted the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The political, economic and international standing of Greece were at high levels, however none of government officials or departments took the task to develop the international profile of Hellas (Cromwell, T & Kyriacou 2005)

In light of the discussed arguments, one could assume that nation branding is inextricably linked with public diplomacy under the wider spectrum of the concept of soft power. However, as in contrast to traditional soft power tools such as public diplomacy, it makes explicit use of marketing and public relations techniques to reach its aims. Definitely, a new game in international politics is emerging about image and reputation. Nation branding provides the state a useful soft power approach in order to create its desired international influence in the international arena. As regards international relations discourses, nation branding is found most at home within the social constructivism theory. This is due to the fact that nation branding revolves around issues such as values, norms. With the increase use of soft power and the ever-increasing competition amongst states, nation branding will continue to gain ground as a concept, whilst further investigation in the IR field need to further developed in order give a better insight on the place nation branding have in the political sphere.

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