By JASMINE L. HENDERSON ’15
“Nation” may conjure a multitude of images: a country’s flag, food, subcultures, patriotism, innovations—any number of things that define experiences within its boundaries. The word “brand” is often associated with clothing, electronics, fast food franchises, even credit cards. So, what does it mean when these two words come together? This is one question that Dr. Melissa Aronczyk investigates in her book Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity.
On April 10, Dr. Aronczyk, assistant professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, presented on nation branding, which she defined as the self-conscious process of constructing and communicating national identity implemented by national and local elites. Following the lecture, she spent time with students who read her work this semester in Adjunct Professor of Communications Evan L. Welsh’s graduate course, Image Management. To those students, her visit was especially welcome.
“I’m really interested in aspects of PR and reputation management so to think in terms of protecting a whole country’s reputation over just one company is massive,” said print/corporate communications major Sierra Altland ’15. “It wasn’t until she gave her presentation and sat in on our class that I was really able to grasp the complexity of the initiatives of branding nations as well as how new of a concept it is.”
Dr. Aronczyk explained that everyday people do not usually think to “criticize branding because it’s so much a part of our lives,” making nation branding an inadvertent blind spot. Even for scholars, there is a void.
“This was a huge undertaking and from what I’ve seen, no one else has done this in as comprehensive a way as Melissa has,” said Welsh. “We’re really just at the beginning of what it means to brand a nation and the book offers an understanding of what goes into it and the possible outcomes.”
The rationales for branding a national identity, as explored in Dr. Aronczyk’s research, range from tourism to diplomacy to establishing local and international legitimacy. For instance, Germany Trade & Invest, a governmental agency that promotes investment in German businesses, rebranded national identity to encourage economic development and to send the message that Germans have moved away from wartime wounds. Their “Invest in Germany” image campaign featured supermodel Claudia Schiffer clad in a German flag, a significant show of pride after so many years of shame, Dr. Aronczyk pointed out.
At times, countries are mending reputations that are damaged “by even a small incident that was blown out of proportion in the media, but isn’t representative of who they are,” said Welsh.
“Nation branding is no different than a business or a person making sure their reputation is the best it could be and is understood by all,” Welsh continued. “It’s a complicated, long-term process but the brand of a nation is so important in a world that is much smaller.”
Photo by Christina Yee ’14