From a new Council on Foreign Relations analytical brief, The ‘Nation Brand’ Marketplace:
National public-relations campaigns typically raise eyebrows. The whole idea of a country advertising itself evokes propaganda—and history’s most notable propaganda efforts, in Stalin’s Soviet Union, for instance, or Nazi Germany, carry dark connotations. Yet just in the last ten years, an industry has emerged to help countries better tailor their image. As a new Backgrounder outlines, “nation branding” has established itself as a hip new field, both in academia and consulting.
It’s no mystery why countries find the idea compelling. Public-relations concerns loom over some of the world’s geopolitical heavyweights—and the stakes include economic prowess and diplomatic power, not just tourism. “Brand China,” for instance, finds itself increasingly threatened (BBC) following a flurry of scandals over dangerous lapses in the quality control of Chinese exports. The United States, too, is besieged with bad press. Recent polling data from the Pew Research Center shows global perceptions of the United States at a nadir in many parts of the world, particularly among Arabs and Muslims, but also in Europe and Latin America. These numbers represent a stunning shift from the years between 1989 and 2001, when the world’s views of the United States, even in Islamic states, were overwhelmingly positive.