Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ah, branding...

I don't have anything particularly "new" to discuss in this post, but in the past couple of days I kept stumbling upon a "story", so I thought it would be a good excuse to break the silence on Global Chaos, even if briefly. I just wanted to share a couple of interesting videos and pictures, which I probably should have done way earlier...

So, on Sunday, The Washington Post ran a story on its home page about Brand USA, the public-private partnership aimed at promoting the US on the international travel market, i.e. it was charged with branding the country. Here's a little snippet of that effort's "Discover America" campaign:

In a nutshell: throughout the past decade, the US had been losing a significant global tourism share to the emerging markets. And finally, about three years ago, the Obama administration realized that something needs to be done in this regard. It was something that America usually does best: sell. It's just that this time, it was about selling itself. To the world.

I should say, I love the song, and the video is pretty awesome, too! And whether it was thanks to this or just the circumstances, the tourists have apparently started coming back. After all, the US is still the second most visited country in the world, while eight of the 25 top city destinations are in America, too. A lot of it is inertia, of course, but adding a little butter won't hurt, especially when there's tough competition from the likes of China and Turkey.

And what does all this have to do with public diplomacy?

Certainly, a memorable visit can be the first step in winning over hearts and minds.

However, to me, the example above demonstrates the key difference between branding and public diplomacy. While the former is more of a marketing campaign that functions at a very emotional and affective level -- i.e. appealing to your pathos -- the latter is more about appealing to the mind through argumentation and demonstration through example (read: logos and ethos). The former is more immediate, and possibly short-lived, while the latter takes years of hard and persistent work and dedication. Branding is about business; public diplomacy is about foreign policy (though, arguably, the two are not mutually exclusive; even if separate).

In short, although it's great to see the issue of branding the US and attracting tourists re-gaining prominence and funding (and resulting in beautiful, beautiful ads like these), it should not be confused for public diplomacy, because the latter - unfortunately - cannot be achieved through colorful, high-end ads.

And speaking of American ability to "sell", I'd just ask you to compare it to the branding attempts by Germany, another successful, Western country (you know, to avoid the East-West argument regarding the Chinese example). Here's a billboard from a campaign a couple of years ago (from my FB feed, today):

"Germany: Land of Opportunities" [wink-wink]. Smart and really amusing, but why couldn't they ask a copy-editor to take a look at it? (Also, I'd ask you to picture an American reading this...)

Then, there was the awkward DC-based campaign from last year (it was on buses and ran, endlessly, on NPR): "It’s nice here, but have you been to any German cities?" I'd be very curious to find out how many more Americans visited Germany inspired by these two initiatives...


P.S. - DO check out the States section on the Discover America website. I live in DC and have been to 20 states so far, but looking at it all certainly reminded me that I haven't seen anywhere near "enough" :)


  1. Hey, Lena, just saw this post. Did you see the two men on the tram at 1:15 in the first video? I just saw it and though it's a brief shot, it does seemed to be aimed at attracting the gays :) And of course this is followed by the wedding of a mixed-race couple. They're really trying to target everyone, aren't they? :D

  2. Yes, yes! Saw it all. Neat, eh? :)