Branding Africa not slogans and national colours but real success stories

Tuesday April 06 2010

As Nigeria spruces up her image by way of having airlines, negative developments, such as the recent sectarian violence in Jos tend to mar the marketing of the country as a brand. Picture/FILE

Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa and Chad, are not just countries, but brands like Coca-Cola, CNN, Carlsberg, Campari or Nike. But what, for instance, is Brand Kenya?

For a glimpse, consider FutureBrand, a global branding company that publishes the annual Country Brand Index, which captures visitors’ perceptions and experiences of a country.

In 2006, Kenya was ranked globally among the top 10 in three categories: Sixth in natural beauty, with third places in Off-the-beaten Track/Exotic, and Outdoor Sports Categories, courtesy of our all round weather conditions.

A survey by InterbrandSampsons at the time indicated that Kenya contributed roughly 12 per cent of Africa’s brand identity.

But all went south when Kenya’s brand value weakened after the post-election violence following the disputed polls in 2007.

And Kenya, which had prided itself as the “Island of Peace” was no longer the “Safari Country” of “Hakuna Matata.”


To reverse this state of affairs, the Kenya government enacted a law resulting in the formation of the Brand Kenya Board in 2008 and allocated it a $2.7 million (Sh203 million) war chest.

This parastatal was mandated to “enhance our national image and identity, the focal point of harnessing our energy, warmth and entrepreneurial spirit,” to quote CEO, Mary Kimonye, besides creating an integrated national brand, pride, and fostering international confidence among investors, visitors, tourists and development partners

Big business

But why re-brand a country? Well, a nation’s brand identity is a strategy to improve its image as desirable place to visit, invest and do business. It also comes in handy in international politics.

How a country brands itself, and is thus perceived by outsiders and citizens has ripple-effects. It can seriously boost or damage foreign direct investments, stall business opportunities and determine the way its citizens are treated abroad.

Country branding is big business running into billions of dollars annually. In 2004, for instance, former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s spear headed the Nigeria Image Project dubbed the “Heart of Africa” campaign that cost 600 million Naira.

“We need to re-brand Nigeria so that we Nigerians will appreciate ourselves and our country, which will put us in a position to present ourselves positively to the outside world,” Minister for Information Professor Dora Akunyili said at the time. This campaign was followed with the “Giant of Africa,” campaign that rode on Nigeria’s image as the continental leader in not only human resources emanating from its huge population, but also its stake in the world of sport.

But it was later thought to depict Nigerians as inherently arrogant, and was shortly replaced with the current, “Good people, great Nation.” “Every Nigerian is literally seen as a fraudster or criminal until you prove otherwise. And even in this country we do not believe in ourselves. We have been so battered (psychologically) that many of us believe we are no good,” Professor Akunyili told New African in 2009.

Inadvertent marketing

And while the achievements of Brand Kenya Board, are yet to be measured against set objectives, inadvertent marketing of Kenya happens when the national Rugby Sevens team and athletes sport country colours anywhere in the world.

The same happens when passengers appreciate the world class services of Kenya Airways, “The Pride of Africa.”

But African countries have a lot to learn about the ABC of country branding beyond slogans, mottos, national flags, country symbols, rites, anthems and taglines like, “Magical Kenya,” Uganda’s “Gifted by nature” and “Destination Egypt.”

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has overtaken Egypt, as the number one holiday destination in the Middle East, without boasting any pyramids, a rich history or the world’s most inviting beaches by branding itself as the business and holiday destination one “should” visit.

The USA could be a global superpower, but powerful as Brand America is, “Big Brother” still competes for global attention to attract business and talent.

In 2001, former Secretary of State Collin Powel poached Charlotte Beers from advertising agency, Ogilvy&Mather to become “Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy” to help improve America’s image abroad.

Indeed, many countries now have Brand Boards, which hire consultants to craft marketing strategies, with South Africa as the ultimate African example.

The Rainbow Nation has grabbed the forthcoming 2010 Fifa World Cup in June-July, as its global re-branding platform to boost its rapidly growing tourism, trade and economic sectors by tapping into the imagination of over two billion viewers who will be following the football fiesta through various forms of the mass media.

Towards that end, South Africa has established a new GeoBranding Centre in collaboration with the International Council for South Africa. The two bodies will monitor, on a monthly basis, how South Africa is perceived by tracking the tone, sentiments, social media conversations, commentary and news about their country throughout the world until the first World Cup in Africa kicks off in June.

To augment this survey, the two councils launched a global advertising competition on internet advertising website, dubbed, “Get wildly creative about South Africa” encouraging creatives, media buffs and citizens to muse novel, stirring and inspiring messages to convey the spirit of a nation “that has gone from tragedy to triumph.”

The “Brand South Africa” contest encompasses best print campaign, best online banner and best video commercial segment, and carries with it among other perks, a top prize on each category carrying cash rewards and a paid-for trip.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held in New York, in early June.

And since hosting, and winning the rugby World Cup trophy in 1995, South Africa has continuously put in place internal and global re-branding strategies by employing people-centric “touch –and-feel-our-warmth-and-rhythm” campaigns, which have helped shift realities. The campaigns, beginning with “Alive with Possibilities” and “It’s Possible” slogans, have gradually improved its image of an apartheid state, to Africa’s first world; the xenophobia of two years ago, aside.

In Nation brands of the 21st Century, country branding expert, Simon Anholt notes that successful brands come from countries which are successful in their own right. Buyers of German cars buy into its long held tradition for efficiency and reliability, and the tag “Made in Timbuktu” can make all the difference between a sale and a miss.

As it so happens with social phenomena, branding around a country’s flag ship products has its downside.

It could be Kenya and its amazing wildlife, Brazil and Samba, Jamaica and reggae, mysticism in Tibet, or Nigeria’s $450 million “juju” film industry.

Reliability and discipline

Recently the Toyota Motor Corporation had to recall a million cars, thus slamming the brakes onto Japan’s perception of reliability and discipline.

Branding too is more than piping about tourism, culture, sports, exports and international relations through sassy logos, catchy slogans and placing expensive advertisements on global television, without a strategy. It takes ages to change deeply embedded perceptions.

India and China have more people who trim the edges of honesty, but it’s probably Nigerians who takes gold for the most suave con men, drug peddlers, and creators of crazy financial con schemes in Africa.

This long-held belief means that Nigerians have to work harder at their re-branding as their campaign can be mistaken as another attempt at whitewashing people, further aggravating their image as masters of deception.

Saving grace

“The brand story has to be true to the changes the country is trying to make. It shouldn’t be a cosmetic project for foreigners, but a long term project rooted in truth and honesty,” notes Anholt, adding that branding is not advertising a country on its tourism website.

Rather, a branding campaign should of the kind that creates, delivers, and communicates the values and sustaining tangible perceptions.

“A country brand is its identity in proactively distilling, interpreting and internalizing projected image to gain international recognition and favourable national image.

“It harmonizes national policies, values and behaviours of its citizens with culture, sports and other aspects of its nationhood. And the challenge of a country’s brand is realigning its vision, core values with its reason for being.”

And branding starts with the people, “I’m proud to be a Kenyan” from the office of the government spokesman, and Brand Kenya Board’s 2009 Wakati ni Sasa (Time is Now) media campaigns targeting the youth, for instance.

But re-branding any African country is compounded by the continent’s perception as a place of drought, war, death, HIV/Aids, malaria, hunger and impoverished basket case-despite countries like Botswana being among the fastest growing, stable economies of the past decade.

The image of Africa as a needy brand has been given credence by “Charity Branding”: The 1985 live Aid for Ethiopia’s famine victims and the 2005 Live 8 “Make Poverty History” for instance.

While the charities’ positive face includes pressurising governments to change, in the long run, they reinforce the perception of Africa as a “dark continent” beyond redemption.

The saving grace is that even as Zimbabwe’s inflation hits stratospheric heights, Victoria Falls still attracts tourists, South Africa too, despite having one of the highest crime rates anywhere. Mozambique is a port of call for backpack tourists, decades of civil war, notwithstanding, while Angola rolled out “Angola, I believe” campaign during the Africa Cup of Nations to showcase its post-conflict recovering bill of health.

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Africa Insight is an initiative of the Nation Media Group’s Africa Media Network Project