Early in 2003, Simon Anholt, a British "branding expert" opened Placebrands, a Netherlands-based "branding agency". He is now a freelance policy advisor, no longer connected with Placebrands. Anholt has made a career of "developing international campaigns for Coca-Cola and Nestle, and admittedly "getting bored" with spending his "life making already rich companies a little bit richer", "is trying to put his image-making skills to work for a very different kind of client: countries with struggling economies, like Croatia and Slovenia."
According to Anholt, Placebrands had "one clear goal: to help countries develop themselves as brands, with a carefully managed international identity, as recognizable as any consumer product. He has worked with Germany, Britain and New Zealand, in addition to Croatia and Slovenia, and is now in negotiations with Mongolia."
For example, Anholt says that it is his job to assess a country's "qualities, understand what outsiders may think about the country and then work to coordinate the messages from various ministries, private industry, cultural institutions and even sports teams."
"Because he regards branding as something that can take 10 or 20 years to achieve, Mr. Anholt does not recommend advertising as a solution. In the case of Slovenia, he argues that schools there should teach English, Italian and German. In 15 years, when some of those students are working in hotels and can greet visitors in their native languages, those visitors will be more likely to leave with a positive impression of the country."
"WORKING with countries can be exasperating. Corporations have top-down structures that require employees to get behind new projects and often have chief executives with long tenures. Nations have political factions, sudden leadership changes and vast bureaucracies. Branding programs may be seen as superfluous. Advertising firms and corporations may have different goals than government agencies.
"Mr. Anholt said he had started and stopped work with Slovenia many times. 'Every time I get involved, I make friends, create a good impression, some of my advice is taken, some is not, and then I have to start all over again,' he said. ... Whether branding is as useful as Mr. Anholt believes, however, is the subject of some debate, at least if the goal is to help a country's corporations expand internationally."
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