Defend Truth


Simon Anholt’s view on Brand South Africa is, well, wrong

After a distinguished career in advertising, Yvonne was appointed as the CEO of the International Marketing Council of SA, responsible for creating and managing Brand South Africa, which she did for 7 years. She now a Marketer-at-Large specialising in creating communication solutions and strategy. She is a renowned public speaker, talking the country up at any opportunity.

Building a nation’s reputation as a realistic investment and tourism destination is not pie in the sky nor is it simple nor is it one-dimensional. But successes should feature prominently in the national display cabinet as well.

In a recent article in The Daily Maverick, Simon Anholt said, “I am dumbstruck by the naïveté of governments who think that people are going to change their minds about a country they are totally indifferent to just because of some crap advertisement.”

Simon Anholt and I agree on many issues and vehemently disagree on a few others. It is a healthy relationship where debate, discussion and mutual respect always move us forward. On the basic principles of building a nation’s brand, we don’t disagree. Yes, policy is fundamental. Yes, you can’t rely on a crap advertisement to showcase your country. Yes, it is what you do that really makes a difference, not what you say. And, yes, some countries do waste a massive amount of taxpayers’ money.

But, at least in my time running Brand South Africa, we didn’t have crap advertisements – we had beautiful pieces of communication that conveyed the essence of what makes South Africa different. We conveyed to the world why their perceptions of us may not be quite up to date or correct.  There is no point in making fundamental changes to your country’s policies (as per his Korean example) and then not telling anyone about it. There is no point in not alerting your potential tourists and investors to the new opportunities that abound. There is no point in not showcasing your successes.

Indeed, it is the country’s responsibility to change the narrative about the country – I say the same about Africa – it is up to us Africans to change the narrative on Africa. The external media aren’t going to do it of their own accord. It is up to us to market our successes. It is up to us to position our innovations. If we don’t do it, who the hell is going to do so? That is where I fundamentally differ with Simon.

Advertising, expensive though it is, is just one of the channels that the International Marketing Council used to position South Africa. We also used investment missions inbound and outbound, the Internet, email, booklets of facts about South Africa, direct interfaces with thousands of people, highly targeted newspaper profiles and a consistent PR campaign. We wrote key messaging for government and ambassadors, we lobbied and influenced speeches, we supported events that would inspire patriotism and a sense of ownership and belonging, we created special moments in which the soul of South Africa came alive and showed our best face to the world.  We also inspired and motivated South Africans to become a part of the marketing machinery – after all, what is the point of talking the country down? – all you do is put off potential investors and visitors. We need these people – they will create jobs and help alleviate poverty – the principle aim of our government.

The recent “Football Fridays” campaign conceived by Brand South Africa for the World Cup was a huge success – just look at the atmosphere and unity it inspired. Who would have missed out on that?

The IMC reports into the presidency, and yes, it should influence policy – if the organisation that has synthesised the nation’s brand, has defined the essence as “Alive With Possibility” is not reflected back into the way the leadership governs, then the disconnect will surely destroy the brand.  (Sadly I do not think that positioning was exploited during the World Cup – but that is another article altogether – any good brand builder knows that you do not chop and change your positioning and pay-off line – only consistency works.)

Another point on which I completely agree with Simon is that effectiveness needs to be measured and Brand South Africa did put measures in place. A  benchmarking study was done in 2003 with Professor Roger Sinclair. He measured the Brand Equity at R379,5 billion. Three years later, the figure had risen to R516 billion. Place-of-origin effect in 2003 was measured at 16%. Three years later at 21%. That is the effect of Brand South Africa’s marketing efforts.

Simon dismisses Brand South Africa’s desire to see the after effects of the World Cup being measured on his nation branding index … and why should we not? He demonstrated to us that after the last World Cup Germany’s rankings moved from position seven in the world to position two. That was a direct result of the changing perceptions created by the German event.

So yes, we must inspire the world to take note of us by creating reasons for them to do so – democratic elections, demonstration of our Constitution in action, demonstrations that we are dealing with our negative issues, events that make the world sit up and take notice. Yes, our policies must be modern, relevant and consistent, but we must also inspire our citizens to take responsibility for what is said about our country and our continent and we must trumpet our good news for the world to see. DM

Yvonne Johnston has consulted to an equally long list of countries as has Simon Anholt. She has spoken at Harvard on changing the perceptions about Africa.


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