Nation Branding: How Countries Approach the Global Competition

Written by Abhishek Varma


Branding as an exercise is developing new potentials as practised by various companies, organizations, individuals, and so on. The nation branding evolution for regions, cities, and countries has emerged as young and complex fields. Several countries practice nation branding in order to develop their image in the international arena, and to increase their tourism, exports, investments, etc.

Nation branding also contributes to creating positive images of the nation’s people, culture, and products. Nation branding is considered an emerging field as the level of competition is continuously increasing due to globalization and industrial revolutions.

This article presents examples of how countries from four different continents with different economic backgrounds and cultural and demographic differences have initiated national branding successfully. While some countries have implanted a nation branding board to serve the purpose, some countries have approached the brand building by other means.

1. India

India is a country known for its culture, food, yoga, and other elements by travellers. The country does not have a dedicated body for brand building, however, the marketing campaign by the Ministry of Tourism (MOT), however the Government of India launched a campaign called “Incredible India” which has credibly contributed to the brand building of India in an international setting.

The Incredible India campaign was initiated in 2002 by MOT. The key driver of the campaign was Amitabh Kant, the Joint Secretary of the MOT at that time. The campaign was focused on persuading international tourist travellers to visit India. The marketing campaign reached a phenomenal extent of success in increasing tourism for India and is widely regarded in the global marketing sphere as well as the global tourism sphere.

The campaign consisted of banners, posters, and images at international events mainly in Europe and the United States. It was active from 2002 to 2007, when digital media marketing was not fully used for marketing purposes. Most of the advertisements were print or television. Ads were also placed on cars, buses, metro/tube stations, and on other out of home channels. The campaign was widely used in cities like New York, London, and Berlin.

MOT signed a contract with Ogilvy & Mather to create the marketing campaign, with the TV ads from them creating a high level of recognition and recall. The campaign overall was able to bring tourism in India to a new peak during a period where the global tourism industry was facing decline due to events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the rise of Taliban operations in Afghanistan, and the increase in airplane hijacking.

2. South Korea

The government of South Korea created a nation branding board called the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, Korea which had many objectives. The aim of the council is to promote Korea’s image globally, rectify the misconceptions, and to increase Korea’s international business. The board also aims at developing a new image of Korean people, culture and products.

The board was established in 2009 and can be considered as an early bloomer in the sphere of nation branding boards. The board operates directly under the control and authority of the President of South Korea and consists of politicians, bureaucrats and experts from the corporate arena. A notable person on the board is the CEO of Samsung. The board has worked in association with Samsung to develop a nation branding index, which helped the country move from the 20th spot to the 17th between 2009 to 2012.

Two interesting factors which contributed to the brand-building were the integration of Samsung and the Gangnam style video; the most-watched Youtube video during the time. The board was able to successfully develop Korea’s national brand and overtake the positions of Spain, Finland, and Ireland in the rankings. “Korea, A Loving Embrace” serves as the motto for the board.

3. South Africa

The Government of South Africa created a noteworthy nation branding board in 2009 called the International Marketing Council (IMC). The prime goal for the board was to create a positive and united image of the country. The objectives of the board were to increase tourism, exports, and investments in South Africa and to develop international relations.

The IMC after its creation was witnessing a range of opportunities and challenges. South Africa is a country with unique wildlife, beautiful beaches, ecotourism attractions, and cultural attractions. At the same time, the challenges were to rebrand the country and decrease its associations with poverty and crime.

The IMC board in the following years was able to work with various inter-governmental departments to create impactful nation branding exercises. Along with the country’s tourism board, IMC was able to create noteworthy tourism marketing campaigns; increasing South Africa’s tourism.  Some of the taglines used during the campaign were “Surprises that you have never seen before” and “Leave Ordinary Behind” which emphasized the wildlife tourism available in the country. 

4. Finland

Finland’s nation branding approach is unique, fascinating and definitely not worth ignoring. The Government of Finland initiated a nation branding board called “Mission Finland”. The Mission was planned not only to build the country brand by means of marketing, but also by aiming to make the people of Finland major stakeholders in the brand building. This was done by bringing internal changes within the country.

The planning of the strategy was chaired by the CEO of the renowned Finnish company NOKIA. The overall aim of the Mission stated by the government report was to “convince the world to turn to us more often and more effectively”.  To develop the strategy, the government also included Simon Anholt which is one of the founding fathers of nation branding.

The brand-building team, apart from distinguishing itself from other Nordic countries, also consisted of other goals to make internal transformations in the country. Some of these included to account organic farming as half of Finland’s agricultural production by 2023, to purify all of Finland’s lake water and make it drinkable, and to establish a peace mediation convention dedicated to Nobel Laureate Martti Ahtisaari.

Interestingly, the Mission also called the Finns to be part of the brand building. The government asks the generation of grandparents to pass their skills such as manual crafting skills and local dishes to the next generations. Apart from the public, the Mission also created 50 aims distributed to several politicians, political bodies, celebrities, companies, and organizations to create individualistic actions contributing to the collective impact.


The integration of individuals, communities, companies, organizations, and government bodies are always that counties can begin to create a nation branding. As shown above, there are various ways for nations to create better images of their lands yet it is clearly vital for nations to take part in branding themselves.

If a country is able to show the world that they are welcoming, friendly, and safe places, then tourists will come and the trust will build. In this day in age, without a strong brand, nations will see a decline in tourism; making nation branding strategies something that all countries should consider.

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