Tag Archives: branding

The Business of Building a Country’s Brand

AP Photo/Sergei Grits

Flipping through a magazine — if you’re like me and still do that — you’ll often encounter a colorful advertisement beckoning you to visit some place like Montenegro or Switzerland. “Belarus,” the slogan says. “Hospitality beyond borders.” But do you even know where Belarus is? What images does its name conjure? At The GuardianSamanth Subramanian tells the story of a whole sector of the marketing industry outside tourism, whose machinations remain invisible to consumers, but whose work shapes our opinions about place.

Many people associate Mexico with drugs, China with pollution, and Russia with spies and snow, but each country has so much more to offer than those social ills. A host of marketing firms now work with nations, regions and cities to sculpt their public image, crafting an identity that either polishes preexisting rough edges, or builds one from scratch from history, character and potential. To attract visitors, a place must be safe and full of activities, but tourism is not rebranding’s only objective. Some places want to reposition themselves on the map of public opinion. They want to increase their status and respect among their neighbors. Many want foreign investment, and to attract business, they must appear flourishing and stable.

Nation-building requires more than writing taglines and designing logos. It requires psychology, and firms can conduct years worth of research and interviews to identify how to fix image problems or make places like Primorsky Krai visible in the first place. As with all marketing, some part of the image is a lie, and branding’s inherent manipulations don’t always work. Example A: Gaddafi’s Libya. As Subramanian asks in his piece: What makes a nation a nation?

Of all their projects, the Grands are proudest of Tatarstan, which has bolstered their reputation among the people who run Russia’s regional governments. The government of Tatarstan, a republic of around 4 million people in south-western Russia, was convinced it wasn’t getting the recognition it deserved, either in Moscow or overseas. In 2013, they hatched a plan to promote the region’s heritage.

When Instid was hired, the government merely wanted a thick book, with glossy photos and text about the artefacts in Tatarstan’s museums. The Grands expanded this meagre vision. They reached into the period of the Bulgar kings, who ruled this region between the seventh and 13th centuries, and distilled a set of attitudes and values that had persisted into modern-day Tatarstan. The people were perfectionists, the Grands decided. They honed their skills and craftsmanship continuously, they were competitive, and valued pragmatism; they also bore a sense of loss about their past, and they prized the material over the spiritual or the intangible.

The products of such study – lessons from medieval history, or patter about “mastery,” “decisiveness” and “speed” – can seem amorphous, or even concocted. But they lent structure to some of Tatarstan’s initiatives, Alex Grand said. Schools and universities folded these cues into their syllabuses; architects based blueprints on them. In their annual reports, government officials took to naming sections after the values the campaign celebrated. The tourism sector, which was never encouraged as warmly as industry, received a dose of state enthusiasm: its own ministry, more funds, better training.

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Inside the Content Machine

Assembly line workers

Many of the freelance writers I know cobble  together their income from a mix of projects:  journalism, copy writing, web production work, and cranking out content widgets. Call that last bit what you will — content marketing, brand journalism, native advertising — skilled writers can make good money in this sector of the word market.

And there’s a fat supporting industry to all that content marketing gold — books, classes, fancy conferences. On Tablet, Sean Cooper attends a content marketing conference to find out how the content industry is selling itself — and selling itself out.

…the roaring fire that was 20th-century nonfiction magazine literature has been hosed down to wet coals. In this new 21st-century post-literature era, the techniques and tools of the journalism trade have been plundered by scavenger industries, which rightly foresaw profit opportunities in what has been called branded content, native advertising, or content marketing, which agglomerates techniques used to build characters, create narrative arcs, and establish tones of voice that once served as conduits for nonfiction writers attempting to intimately mind-meld with readers. While journalism continues to struggle, burgled storytelling devices are being leveraged at scale by content-marketing agencies and branding studios that publish content stories to satisfy shareholder expectations. One industry analysis estimates that the content-marketing business will be worth $215 billion in 2017. The Struggling Writer is here to see them count the money.

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The ’90s Soda that Nobody Cared About Until It Was Dead

In The Believer in February, 2014, Michael Schulman wrote about one of the most dramatic and memorable failures in American branding: Coca-Cola’s OK Soda. Marketed to Gen X’ers in 1994, the OK Soda brand died by 1995, though its artifacts live on in collector circles and advertising lore. As ’90s fashion and music cycle back through popular culture, this epic story of food, failure and the secret heart of youth culture highlights the arrogance of business people who think they know what you want and how to manipulate you into buying it.

When OK Soda was introduced, of course, Coke executives were certain they had it right. Drawing on a study from MIT, the company had pinpointed what Generation X was all about. “Economic prosperity is less available than it was for their parents,” Lanahan theorized. “Even traditional rites of passage, such as sex, are fraught with life-or-death consequences.” Tom Pirko, a Coke marketing consultant, told NPR, “People who are nineteen years old are very accustomed to having been manipulated and knowing that they’re manipulated.” He described the soda’s potential audience as “already truly wasted. I mean, their lethargy probably can’t be penetrated by any commercial message.”

How to sell soft drinks to such people? The answer was to embrace the angst. Coke turned to Wieden + Kennedy, the ultra-hip Portland, Oregon, ad firm that had devised Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. The agency’s pitch has become the stuff of soda lore: research had shown that Coca-Cola was the second most recognized term in the world. The first was OK, which, the firm pointed out, was also the two middle letters of Coke. So why not combine the two? The drink was christened OK Soda, and its semi-reassuring motto was “Things are going to be OK.”

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ABC Family’s Conservative Christian Roots

Photo: ABC Family

Writing for The New Republic, Jacqui Shine recently looked at the long, strange history of the Disney-owned television network ABC Family, which will be renamed “Freeform” in January 2016. The network may feature progressive content like The Fosters, which has garnered GLAAD awards and acclaim for its portrayal of an interracial, same-sex couple, but its also had difficulty shaking its conservative Christian image:

This name-change marks a decisive effort to finally shed the neoconservative Christian ethos that has dogged the channel’s branding, however mildly, since Fox bought the network from Pat Robertson in 1998. Yes, that Pat Robertson. In the ABC Family constellation, the televangelist may be the Foster family’s strangest bedfellow. He has maintained a hold on the network’s identity through two sales, and, however vigorous Freeform’s rebranding, he’ll continue to lurk in the background.

Robertson founded the network, then called CBN Satellite Service, in 1977. CBN’s flagship program was The 700 Club, a five-day-a-week program already in production for 11 years; it began as a nightly religious variety show—it’s where Jim and Tammy Faye Baker got their start—but has gradually evolved into a newsmagazine style talk show. Over the next two decades, under Robertson’s ownership and his son’s direction, the network dropped most of the explicitly religious content and evolved into The Family Channel. Even then, the network struggled with its core identity. Like a weird mash-up of competitors Nick at Nite and the Game Show Network, The Family Channel broadcast wholesome syndicated series like Ozzie and Harriet and Barney Miller and tepid originals like Big Brother Jake and parenting game show (not joking) Wait ‘til You Have Kids!!

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