Skip to content

Comparing Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding

by on April 2, 2012

The concept of nation branding , which was developed in 1990’s by Simon Anholt, is based on assumption that states can be branded in the same way as products .  Nation branding can be defined as  applying branding and marketing communication techniques to promote nation’s image(Szondi,2008,4). Thus,  nation branding   and public diplomacy have a common ultimate goal- to promote state’s image .

However , concepts of nation branding and public diplomacy have a few significant differences . Public diplomacy seeks to promote political interest  and is mainly targeted at active foreign citizens and elites who may influence the decisions of foreign governments; the main actors are governmental organisations, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs , etc. . Meanwhile, nation branding seeks to promote economic interest , it is targeted at general masses ( domestic and foreign) and is mainly exercised by such actors as trade and tourism boards, chambers of commerce ,etc.(Szondi,2008,17).  As a result , nation branding largely remains in marketing discipline while public diplomacy is related to international relations.

In a word, the main difference between public diplomacy and nation branding is that the former regards the society as the community of citizens , while the latter perceive the society as the community of consumers. Public diplomacy involves cultural, educational and information exchanges in order to encourage mutual understanding  and dialogue and puts a great emphasis on the content of the message. Nation branding is more concerned with the image rather than content of the message and therefore heavily relies on visuals and symbols which are sent through the mass media. Moreover, as G.Szondi notices ,  nation branding  tries to identify unique elements and separate “us” from “them”, while  public diplomacy tries to identify unifying elements. (Szondi,2008,16).  The different strategies are dictated by the different goals. Because public diplomacy primarily seeks to promote the political interest- to create receptive environment to its foreign policy goals – it has to identify common values in order to unify  and attract people. On the other hand, because nation branding is concerned with economic interest- to attract foreign investment and tourists- it has to emphasize the uniqueness of the state in order to enhance state’s competitiveness in a global market.

In fact, nation branding may have a number of positive effects. First , successful  nation branding campaign does attract foreign investment , tourists and inhabitants , which contributes to the economic development and modernisation of the state. For example, Spain’s branding campaign “Everything Under The Sun” has made the state  the second most popular tourist destination in the world and has contributed to the modernization of the state( . Second , branding helps to combat negative perceptions and stereotypes. The city of Berlin is a story of success.  The Berlin Partner, a private-public company established in the early 1990’s, through several image campaigns, advertisements in the media  , communicating advantages , has created the image of the  “City of Culture and Creativity” to Berlin. Today Berlin is perceived as modern and safe city and is no more associated with Nazi’s past by the world audience.( Stober, 2007,170-176)Even though nation branding is a broader concept than city branding regarding more complicated identity of the state which involves not just territory, but also culture, language, history , etc. , city branding and nation branding are relative concepts. Finally, nation branding is as a way of fighting the trend towards modernisation, which has a tendency to produce   global uniformity, homogenising cultural, political and economic factors around the world.(Freire,2005,357).In short , globalization leads to universal standardization and  disappearance of traditional local cultures, customs and identities. Because nation branding is based on emphasis on one’s uniqueness the worldwide diversity is maintained. It is doubtful whether in the Buckingham  Palace  in London the changing of the guard ceremony would be continued if there were no tourists. If Roman ruins and the medieval castles around the Europe would be preserved? Even if those cultural practises are highly commercialised today it does not make the fact that they have been preserved less valuable.

The role of nation branding, however, should not be overestimated. For example , the change in the national image of Spain is the result of fundamental changes in its political, economic and social systems ,not the direct result of   nation branding campaigns. Nation branding just helped to highlight and to show to the world the achievements of the state. In another words, a successful nation branding campaign requires the economic basis and favourable domestic environment .In this respect, nation branding is similar to public diplomacy which can also be successful only when words are backed by real actions and policies.

On the whole, public diplomacy  and nation branding  should be seen as complementary rather than competitive concepts. First , nation branding is a perfect choice to states who are successful domestically but are too small to be visible worldwide, because public diplomacy requires more resources. Second, even bigger states which have successful public diplomacy should engage in nation branding as the one helps to maintain distinctive identity and cultural heritage in the globalised world . Third, as the modern society is more and more influenced by the mass media and consumption ( of images, products, etc.) nation branding by selling images may become even more effective tool than public diplomacy in the future.  The quotation below shows what the EU needs in order to be a high – profile actor in the global arena ( and this can be applied to  every state):

Europe’s task is to find a new, post-modern raison d’etre which inspires its own populace and appeals to the wider world as well. But please do not send us another glossy leaflet with “facts and figures” about the EU; we can no longer stand them. Branding Europe is less about knowing the EU than it is about loving it.”


(van Ham,2005,122-123)


  • Fraire,J.(2005), “Geo-Branding: Are We Talking Nonsense? A Theoretical Reflection on Brands Applied to Places”, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, vol.1, no4
  • Stober, B.(2007), “Place Branding: How the Private Creates the Public”, in  Krause Hansen,H. and Slaskov-Iverson, D.,(eds.)  Critical Perspectives on Private Authority in Global Politics, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Van Ham, P. (2005),” Opinion Peace: Branding Europe Power” , Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, vol.1, no2
  • Person,A.,(2005), “Analysis”, viewed on:01/04/2012
  • Szondi,G.,(2008), “Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding: Conceptual Similarities and Differences”, viewed on: 01/04/2012 ,

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: