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The limitations of nation branding.

by on March 28, 2012

The concept ‘nation branding’ is said to have been coined in 1996 by Simon Anholt, today considered one of the fathers, and gurus, of nation branding, partly as a result of increased ‘homogenisation of markets on the one hand and in the increasing sense of national identity on the other’ (Szondi 2008: 4). As such, it emphasizes the competitive global economy with its interdependence and the need this creates to “stand out” and be attractive in the eyes of foreign audiences. However, it should not be understood as a way for a nation to brand itself, but rather as the process where a nation uses the techniques that are used in branding in order to alter a nation’s image in a more favorable light (ibid: 5).

Nevertheless, there are limitations to the practical use of nation branding. An image of a nation is far more simplistic than reality and cannot capture the complexities and diversity of people and opinions within its boundaries – trying to do so may well undermine these characteristics as well as a country’s credibility (Riordan 2004: 9). This is not to suggest that one’s perception of a country is irrelevant. I doubt that there is anyone who has never been affected by ads, slogans, or simply a recommendation from a friend. Whether this is about a product, a vacation spot or an actual person, it will most likely have an impact on your perception of it, whether you want so or not as Caroline Jaine’s (2012) research clearly suggests.

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Yet, the question remains of how important these perceptions are in changing peoples’ political opinions. It seems as if nation branding can play a great role in regards to tourism as well as attracting foreign investments and selling products abroad. United States’ declining popularity has made it more difficult for American multinational corporations to conduct business, which proves this point (Murphy 2004: 4). Yet, as easily discovered, these issues all belong in the economic sphere. None of them are relevant to the broader foreign policy issues that States need to gain support for, such as policies regarding environmental degradation, terrorism and civil conflicts to mention some examples (Evans 2010). Thus, nation branding’s direct relation to the area of marketing, makes me question the role it does, and more importantly, should play in the broader field of public diplomacy which is about communicating. Further, while public diplomacy is about gaining influence and support for specific policies, nation branding seems more focused on establishing an overarching positive image.

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Nation branding excludes the aspect of two-communication which is necessary in order to understand your audience and which today is important in order to gain credibility and respect. In regards to American public diplomacy, it has been suggested that it needs to ‘ recognize that the United States’ constituents are ‘publics’, not ‘markets’, and that an effective public diplomacy model must be one that is not propaganda or market-oriented advocacy, but one that is based on two-way symmetrical communication and community-building’ (Kruckeberg 2005: 303). Clearly, the failure of the Bush administration to gain support for its “war on terrorism” and its attempts of marketing America as the land of the free and the liberator of democracy, illustrates this example. This also proves the necessity of having policies that clearly coincides with your words. If a country wants to be perceived in a positive way by foreign audiences, it needs to convince them that their policies are “good” and this requires implementing policies that these people perceive as good, not only performing a nice sales talk. This difference can be seen in the example of “niche diplomacy” which clearly differs from nation branding in that it requires states to focus resources and adapt policies into one certain field in order go gain influence within it  – a process that requires more than an effective marketing strategy.

While acknowledging that people to a great extent are affected by stereotypes and simplified images, I believe that public diplomacy has to deal with issues that are far more complex than nation branding alone can handle. Whilst the former can go a long way without having to use the latter, the latter cannot exist without the former.


Evans. A, 2010, “Towards a theory of influence for twenty-first century foreign policy: The new public diplomacy in a globalized world”, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, vol. 6, no. 1;

Jaine. C, 2012, “Smoke Without Fire: A Look at Influence, Trust and Media-Built Perceptions”,, (online: published 20 March 2012), Available at:, [Accessed: 28 March 2012];

Kruckeberg. D, 2005, “Public relations, not propaganda, for US public diplomacy in a post-9/11 world: Challenges and opportunities”, Journal of Communication Management, vol. 9, no. 4;

Murphy. J. E, 2007, “Preface” in U.S. Department of State, 2007, Private Sector Summit on Public Diplomacy, Available at:, [Accessed 28 March 2012];

Riordan. S, 2004, “Dialogue-based Public Diplomacy: A New Foreign Policy Paradigm”, Clingendael Discussion Paper in Diplomacy, no. 95, Available at:, [Accessed 28 March 2012];

Szondi. G, 2008, “Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding: Conceptual Similarities and Differences”, Clingendael Discussion Paper in Diplomacy, no. 112, Available at:, [Accessed 28 March 2012].


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  1. eub0015 permalink

    I do agree overall with your points, however, some of them I was a little skeptical about. Isn’t public diplomacy as well as nation branding about showcasing/marketing your country’s best attributes, qualities and selling-point. Granted the traditional sense of marketing (exchange of goods and services for money), nevertheless, nation branding and public diplomacy does involves marketing as it sells a constructed idea or product of one state to the government and citizens of another. And if successful, results in the growth of a nation’s image, which in turn might lead to economic growth as well.

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