What is nation brand?
Nation brand refers to the sum of intangible values such as recognition, preference and reliability of a country, which are calculated for a nation brand index. This is seen as an important element of national competitiveness, and the economic ripple effects derived from it are beyond imagination.
A typical index is the Anholt-NBI, which was created by Simon Anholt, who made the term “Nation Brand” and has been announced annually since 2005. The Anholt-NBI is evaluated by comprehensively measuring nationalities, government governance, exports, cultural heritage, tourism, and immigration investment.
As the Korean idol group BTS has topped the Oricon chart in Japan and even the Billboard chart in the United States, the world is paying attention to the value of Korea as a nation, including K-pop. Korea’s popularity is also rising through corporate marketing such as the Korean cosmetics brand Sulwhasoo, which led the K-Beauty winds around the world.
However, despite various efforts to improve the nation’s brand, Korea only ranked 31st out of 55 countries in the World’s Most Reputable Countries ranking released by Forbes in 2018. On the other hand, Japan, Korea’s neighbor country, ranked eighth. The Argus looked at the Korea’s “nation brand” and presented the outlook.
The history of Korea’s national image
Since the outbreak of the Korean War, Korea’s image in the 1950s has been represented in a negative light such as being an orphan exporting country, along with being a divided country where the war may break out again. During the 1970s and 1980s, the economy was stabilized as more companies engaged in transactions with foreign countries. In particular, the successful hosting of the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988 served as an occasion for Korea’s national image change.
Since the 2000s, many people have been active in various fields, such as politics and culture, and have made Korea widely known to the world. Ban Ki-moon as the first Korean U.N. Secretary General, professional baseball player Park Chan-ho and figure skater Kim Yu-na are the examples of individuals who raised Korea’s nation brand. In addition, as Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have conducted global marketing based on their outstanding technology, Korea has the image of an IT powerhouse.
Furthermore, Korea successfully hosted the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. It was also nicknamed as the “Peace Olympics” because South and North Korea formed a unified team. This served as a stepping stone to enhance Korea’s reputation around the world by attaining peace and harmony even in the midst of being a divided nation. Currently, Korea is recognized as a small but strong country in Asia that has achieved cultural growth as well as economic development.
Case study of efforts to promote the nation brand of Korea
Activities in the private sector play a big part in enhancing a country’s nation brand. To further revitalize and promote this, the National Assembly co-hosts the “National Brand Awards” with The Institute of Nation Brand Promotion. The National Brand Awards, being celebrated for the third time this year, are designed to recognize the impact of individual and corporate brands on the national image and to promote any activities to spread positive images of Korea around the world.
The government also created an index based on brand recognition and the image of companies called National Brand Competitiveness Index (NBCI) in 2003, by which the level of brand competitiveness within a company’s industry is evaluated. The aim of this is to increase the brand value of domestic companies and serve as a base for further growth on the international stage. This leads companies to remain competitive in order to increase brand value and increase consumer trust. Jeong Suk-mee, a woman in her 50s living in Seoul, said, “I could trust the products when I saw the mark, high-ranking brand reputation. Therefore, I purchase a product with a high brand reputation even if it is more expensive than others.”
Unlike the preceding cases in which a country was striving to improve its brand reputation internally, Korea has gained a good reputation abroad as well through the establishment of special economic zones to attract foreign capital. Songdo International City, a representative economic district, is located in the city of Incheon. Songdo has many attractions such as Songdo Central Park and Songdo Traditional Korean Village. In addition, as part of the project to improve conditions for foreign residents, Songdo selected some stores that would allow foreign currency access since 2012. This is the first time that foreign currency such as the U.S. dollar and the euro have been available in Korea except duty-free shops. This is expected not only to meet the initial purpose of attracting foreign currency capital, but also to increase Korea’s nation brand reputation.
The government has given great attention to the slogan that represents Korea. However, there were some problems such as the lack of consistency in the slogan and the controversy over plagiarism of the text itself. During the 2002 World Cup, the Korean government used the slogan “Dynamic Korea.” 14 years later, in July 2016, the government changed the slogan to “Creative Korea,” though this was officially discarded in June 2017 because the slogan was dogged by suspicions that it was plagiarized from CREATIVE FRANCE, which is France’s national slogan. In addition, there has been a lot of criticism for spending 3.6 billion won (US$3.24 million) of the national budget on making the slogan.
Regarding this, the Korea International Trade Association pointed out in a report released in 2017 that Korea’s brand value in reality has been depreciated due to its inconsistency in the national brand slogan such as “Creative Korea.” Korea’s brand value was US$1.92 trillion in 2015, which was 76 percent of GDP. This indicates that Korea’s brand value is undervalued compared to the size of the economy. The report assessed that the slogan does not reflect Korea’s identity and the credibility of the slogan has declined.
There was also a lack of continuity in policy to enhance national brand competitiveness. For example, the Presidential Council on Nation Branding was established in 2009. Among its major tasks were the discovery and promotion of luxury brands in Korea, the supply of Korean language and Taekwondo. However, in 2013, when the government was replaced, the council was closed down and their projects were stopped.
Kim Ji-young, a professor who lectures Culture and Nation brand at HUFS, said “For Korea’s nation brand, we should pay more attention to inherent identity and core values than the slogan. For example, when a country places a high value on a clean environment, this can directly be seen through clean streets or many bicycles. However, Korea does not have any images that are vividly associated with it, and it is hard to say that citizens have a clear identity as Koreans. Therefore, first of all, finding Korea’s identity and making a concept are the most important things to do.” In other words, it is time to plant reality rather than make a show.
Case studies on the nation brand in the world
Germany, which ranked top in the Anholt-NBI in 2017, received high marks in cultural level, governance, and public affinity. It was in second place on the same index in 2016, but having increased its ranking in particular in the cultural sector.
For example, it has made the German National Tourist Board (GNTB) website, the most reliable site providing information for travelers, which was named the world’s top tourist site in 2017. The GNTB website provides lots of information in 30 languages for travelers from around the world and offers customized services like classifying business trip or travel for relaxation. The GNTB announced, “We will continue to find places that will become world famous and use them to build national brands.”
There is also a good case in Italy, which ranked seventh in the Anholt-NBI in 2017. Italy has many famous luxury brands in various industrial sectors. Not only Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci, but also Maserati are all Italian brands.
In this regard, Italy has gained great economic effects due to its national brand image. This is because people often consider the origin of the product as a standard of quality. Therefore, if there is a mark such as “Made in Italy” on certain clothes or accessories, it gives consumers unlimited trust. That is called the Country of Origin Effect.
Cases of failure
Myanmar is a case in which the political leader’s misdeeds have lowered the national brand reputation. Aung San Suu Kyi has become a symbol of democratization by fighting for democracy in Myanmar. As she was chosen as the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, her efforts were also internationally recognized.
However, she neglected public suppression on the Rohingya people, a minority ethnic group in Myanmar. The Rohingya, as Muslims, have been discriminated against in Myanmar, where the majority are Buddhists. The Rohingya civilian massacre took place in 2016. Many international human rights activists have demanded that Aung San Suu Kyi be a real Buddhist who bans killing and a real leader of a multiracial nation. Myanmar’s national brand reputation has crashed due to the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
Another case is Greece, whose reputation has plummeted. Greece has been one of the world’s top tourist attractions as a country full of beautiful natural landscapes and historical sites. Greece itself has used these resources to build a national brand image that highlights their culture and tourism industry. However, the nation’s economy was at risk of bankruptcy in 2010 as a result of its dependence on tourism and no efforts to reform finance. In August of 2018, Greece managed to free itself from EU bailouts and intensive restructuring. However, it is expected to take a lot of time and effort to regain the national brand reputation.
Prospects for nation brand in Korea
It is already widely known that the national brand has a significant impact on a society as an important soft power asset. Therefore, Korea must build a nation brand that people can both internally and externally relate to. In particular, it is important to develop a nation brand that involves the unique strengths of Korea, such as the Korean Wave and IT, which are familiar to foreigners.
According to the Korea International Trade Association’s report, a system to manage Korea’s national brand policy should also be prepared. In addition, actively utilizing private and national organizations overseas, maximizing the publicity effects through the use of international events, and creating synergies through a virtuous cycle between companies and nation brands are important.
As the nation brand has a very big impact on the country as a whole, young people who will lead Korea should actively participate in nation branding based on their intelligence and creativity. When a fresh and substantial nation brand takes place, Korea, the economic giant represented by the Miracle on the Han River, could make another miracle.
By Kim Tae-young
Staff Reporter of National Section