Simon Anholt

Brand America

I write extensively on national identity and reputation, and am the author of Brand America. I am the British Government’s advisor on Public Diplomacy, and I have advised the governments of many nations around the world.

I Recommend...


Simon Anholt website
Nation Brands Index


Brand New Justice by Simon Anholt
Brand America by Simon Anholt

Crossing Borders

Nation Branding

May 3, 2006

What Is Nation Branding?

Today, we live in a world which globalisation has turned into a single marketplace, where every country (and every city and region too) must compete with every other place for its share of the world's consumers, tourists, investors, and for the attention and respect of the international media, of other governments, and the people of other countries. It is also a world in which international public opinion matters as never before.

Countries, cities and regions are brands because people perceive them as brands. Few of us have time to learn what most places are really like, so we navigate through the complexity of the modern world armed with a few simple clichés: Milan is about fashion, Switzerland is about precision and integrity, America about power and money, Japan about technology, Moscow about corruption.

We may not like this, but there's little we can do to change it. It's very hard for a country, even a famous and powerful country like America, let alone less well-known countries in the developing world with virtually no presence in the international media, to persuade people in other parts of the world to go beyond these simple brand images and start to understand the real complexities, the contradictions and the social and cultural riches which lie behind them.

So it becomes the primary responsibility of national leaders to find out what their country's brand image really is, and to develop a proper strategy for managing it; to build a nation brand that is fair, true, positive, attractive, memorable, genuinely useful to their economic, political and social aims, and which honestly reflects the spirit, the genius and the will of their people. Looking after national reputation and identity has indeed become one of the primary skills of governments in the twenty-first century.

Can the Nation Brand be Managed?

Any discussion about the brand values of nations raises the question of whether there is anything that can be done to change them, to reverse a negative image, or just to manage their brand as well as the better corporations sometimes succeed in doing.

Just as advertising can't sell a product that doesn't deliver on its promises or that people don't need, so a country can't build its reputation by singing its own praises or churning out endless information about its wonderful products, investment opportunities, people, places and achievements. In today's world, information is virtually valueless because there's so much of it.

In the end, if a nation wants to change its brand image, it must learn to behave differently — not an easy or a quick task by any means. But only through constant innovation, in all sectors, which is aligned to a clear national strategy, can the new "story of the nation" be proved to be its true story to the rest of the world. Most places, at some level, get the reputation they deserve, so if they want a new reputation, they need to do new things.

Fortunately, there are examples to prove that a country's international reputation can be managed and changed to better represent the current reality and future aspirations of the place, as long as there is a clear strategy for doing so, good leadership, and proper coordination between government, the public and private sector, and the population in general. The natural channels of communication of all places — what I call the "nation brand hexagon" of governance, culture, people, products, tourism, and trade and investment promotion — need to be harmonised around a single, clear, visionary strategy for positioning the nation competitively in the global marketplace.

The message about nation branding is of critical importance to developing nations, which don't have the time to wait until their image catches up with the rapid pace of their development . In a deeper sense, nation branding also provides a way for newer, smaller and less well known countries to establish their true cultural, social and historical identity, and carve themselves a "perceptual niche" in the global community. As my quarterly survey, the Anholt Nation Brands Index clearly shows, no developing country has a global brand image which begins to compete with the wealthy Western democracies in power, reach and persuasiveness.

Nation branding is a new paradigm for statecraft in the modern age, and one of the most powerful tools for competitive advantage.

Newer: Bono and Brand Africa

Link to this entry


Brett wrote on May 3, 2006 5:58 PM:

This whole notion of Nation Branding seems misguided to me. Why does Anholt say that nation branding is especially of "critical importance to developing nations?" It seems to imply that developing nations need to "appeal" or "sell" themselves to multi-national corporations in order to have economic development. As we've seen with recent events in South America (Chavez in Venezuela, the nationalizing of gas in Bolivia), not all "developing" nations want to hop onto the corporate bandwagon. Who knows, they might just want to keep some of their natural resources for themselves!

Rupert wrote on May 4, 2006 4:51 PM:

I'm skeptical about the ability of a country to manage its own brand. There are two parts of your hexagon, people and culture and heritage, that are not easily changed. Seems like you have to just play the hand you're dealt, doesn't it? And how does race factor into this the Nation Brand hexagon? Is this the elephant in the room that's not being mentioned?

Simon Anholt wrote on May 8, 2006 2:28 PM:

Brett, the argument for developing nations to manage their brands is absolutely not about them selling themselves to multi-national corporations but about ensuring that they are properly and fairly represented to the rest of the world. In other words, trying to make sure that they don't labour under the 'brand image' of a hopeless basket case, but enjoy the benefit of a reputation that is more fair, more true, more complete and more useful than the typical cliches that most poorer countries are saddled with. The improved image may indeed make the country more attractive to foreign direct investment - if that is part of the country's development plans - and don't forget that FDI has helped many poorer countries to get their economies into gear. But it might equally well be for better political relations, cultural relations, tourism, exporting more of the country's goods and services or generally participating more effectively in the global economy. The fact is that countries don't really brand themselves: it's public opinion that brands countries, and I believe that it is the task of governments to ensure that the 'brand image' is as good as it possibly can be. BUT - and it's a big but - this can't be achieved through marketing or propaganda: it has to be proved. If a country wants to change its image, it has to change its behaviour. No question about that. I use the word 'brand' as a metaphor to help people understand the important role that reputation plays in the progress of countries, but I am certainly not implying that nation brands can be 'built' through marketing in the same way that corporate brands can. Socrates said it first: "the way to achieve a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear".


Simon Anholt wrote on May 8, 2006 2:39 PM:

Rupert, you are right that it is a big challenge for countries to manage their own brands, and you're also right to single out people and culture as particularly tricky aspects of the image. Even the international brands produced in a country - which are increasingly powerful ambassadors of national image - are pretty hard to control. However, if the brand strategy is a good one, and it's properly and enthusiastically communicated, it really can bring together people with pretty different agendas. I've seen it happen over and over again. In the end, only soft power can do it.

Race is very important, and in fact is one of the main reasons why so many countries - richer European countries in particular - need to start thinking very hard about their brands, even though they might appear to be in very good shape. The fact is that a lot of these Western European nation brands are out of date, and tell a story about the country that is largely mono-cultural. The consequence is that the brand image no longer reflects the reality of the "product" - and because the "product" isn't a can of beans but a society of people, the resulting sense of exclusion can create huge problems. Perhaps one part of the explanation for France's current difficulties are precisely that: the "brand story" of France, the way the country is viewed, and to some extent the way it still represents itself to the outside world, is still an old story of a white European power. But many, many French people feel that the national story leaves them out: and of course that causes bitter resentment.

Many countries now need to reassess the way they identify themselves and communicate that identity to the world in the light of their changing populations. It's one of the biggest tasks facing nation branding today - and it is an elephant that no government can afford to ignore for very long.

Megan Richardson wrote on May 15, 2006 2:17 PM:

I am currently a post graduate student studing at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and am doing research for my dissertation. There is currently a huge debate surrounding the co-ordination of our brand messages as many institutions have attempted to launch campaigns branding our country (namely the "Alive with possibility" and Proudly South African campaigns) but the belief is that the essence of "brand South Africa" has been lost. Is there perhaps any research pertainig specifically to the South african context as a am finding it very difficult to find.

Simon Anholt wrote on May 25, 2006 5:17 PM:

Megan - for further information about the brand image of South Africa (and 34 other countries) you might want to check out the Nation Brands Index ( It's a quarterly survey I run together with Global Market Insite in Seattle, who have an online panel of over 5 million consumers around the world. We use it to test perceptions of countries' brand images and measure their rankings on 6 verticals - people, policies, tourism, brands, investment and culture.

Megan wrote on May 31, 2006 5:03 AM:

Thank-you so much!!! Will check it out. -Megan

Laura wrote on August 12, 2007 11:16 AM:


I am writing my thesis on Brand America, namely the influence media has on attitudes toward Brand America (and will likely focus on French and Polish media). Of course, I have reviewed a lot of your books, especially Brand America Mother of All Brands and Brand New Justice. I'm curious to know how you think the media influences beliefs/public opinion about the U.S. now and in the future. And, how media is changing the way Brand America is perceived short-term and long-term.

Thank you in advance for your response,

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Recently Commented

"Why does Anholt say that nation branding is especially of "critical importance to developing nations?" It seems to imply that developing nations need to "appeal" or "sell" themselves to multi-national corporations in order to have economic development. As we've seen with recent events in South America (Chavez in Venezuela, the nationalizing of gas in Bolivia), not all "developing" nations want to hop onto the corporate bandwagon."

— Brett

in response to
Nation Branding  »

Expand Your Borders
 Is Brand America in Trouble?
Forbes magazine comments on the decline of Brand America.
 Re-branding America
The Boston Globe investigates the concept of nation-branding.

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