MY CITY IS A BRAND
German precision, Japanese innovation, French savoir-faire, Thai creativity. We often recognize countries as brands that stand for something – a USP – and we often pull IT out of the case when we need help understanding a foreign culture or a cultural output. They are a quick-sketch direction for navigating an unfamiliar territory, giving credence to our expectations even before we have actually made contact. If you plan to buy a watch, you would probably go through the Swiss models first, or if you’re driving a car, you might feel safer or more confident in one that is German engineered.
The connection between a country or a culture and what it represents is a very complex, often tenuous, association. There is for certain that kernel of truth, that hard fact basis for things being thought of as such and such, but there is also a whole load of biases, interpretations, expectations, and beliefs. How do you squeeze ‘Americanness’ into a few words? And more interestingly, why do we understand it when we see it?
It’s the 53rd birthday of Singapore, and we have a lot to celebrate as well as to ponder. Singapore has evolved as one of those country brands with very strong associations with positive ideas – cleanliness, discipline, modernity, adherence to the rule of law.
As we now know, a brand is like a sharp knife that can harm or protect depending on the way it is used. In his insightful essay about brand Singapore, branding expert and author Koh Buck Song observes that, “the downside of a country brand being a portfolio is that anything and everything can become pertinent…. Policymakers may make the mistake of thinking that marketing a country is some kind of self-contained activity – which is what essentially happens when a nation brand is often seen as the purview of the country’s tourism body or investment promotion agency”.
I’ve not been to Bora Bora but if the chance ever comes up, I would know exactly how to pack for the trip, and picture with some accuracy what I would be doing at three in the afternoon, where I would be sitting, and what I would ask to drink.
Have fun reading this issue!