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Published 30 July 2012 05:49, Updated 31 July 2012 06:21
And the winner is … London? You would hope that for a country sliding even deeper into recession than many expected, and facing a crisis over the fixing of wholesale interest rates by its banks, the Olympic games would give a much-needed boost. ‘Brand UK’ desperately needs some polishing.
It’s likely to get it, too – at least in the short term. After all, China’s brand – as measured by consultancy FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index, got a great lift from the Beijing Olympics. In 2009, the year after the Games, China’s ranking jumped eight places, to 48th, out of 101 country brands listed.
It may seem odd to think of countries as having a brand, but they do. Like any given product, a country has a personality or a character that gives outsiders a stronger or weaker personal connection with it. If you can do it with washing powder, you can do it with nation states. For countries, brand matters, FutureBrand says, as it is proportionate to the power of its people, its leadership and sense of purpose in the world.
In China’s case, the Beijing Olympics improved perceptions about the country’s infrastructure, business environment and living conditions. In 2010, Canada’s successful hosting of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver – and its feat of winning the most gold medals at a Winter Games ever – helped the country push the US off the pedestal as top-ranked country brand.
The US brand ranking, meanwhile slipped as the “Obama-effect” weakened (as did his popularity scores), the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster happened and the world’s largest economy struggled to emerge from recession.
Similar issues have plagued Britain, which last year fell out of FutureBrand’s top-10 country brand list for the first time in the index’s (admittedly short) history. Not even Wills & Kate’s Royal Wedding in April could keep the image that polished. Or rather, perhaps, the undue focus on the nuptials made people wonder what other substance there was to the country.
“As the United Kingdom looks ahead to 2012, it will surely be hoping that the Olympic effect starts to improve low scores in the Tourism dimension, delivering promised legacy social improvements and business growth, while reversing a downward trend in perceptions across the dimensions,” the latest index report states. “Hopefully, the county can start to tell a new story about its future, counterbalancing an increasing dependence on pageantry and nostalgia to maintain its position in the rankings.”
But beware. Any boost can be fickle. In 2010, China slid eight places to 56th. Last year, it fell a further nine places to 65th. It doesn’t take much to tarnish an Olympic halo. In fact, the greater awareness people may have of a country, the more willingness they also have to see its shortcomings.
And in Britain, if the transport doesn’t work, it rains constantly, the food is bad and a lack of thorough planning is evident, as Mitt Romney suggested it might be – the 11 million event ticket holders and associated hangers-on, will be aware of it.
Familiarity, after all, can breed contempt.