In what should certainly come as a big shock to Koreans, but has been royally ignored by the local media, the latest Nation Branding Index produced by East West Communications ranked South Korea in 167th place globally in its second-quarter results, which is down from the 3rd place in the first quarter of this year.
The East West Nation Brand Perception Index is based on analyzing millions of mentions of countries in hundreds of thousands of news articles, every quarter. As pointed out by the agency, it is difficult for countries to address their branding and communications problems if they don't know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Until now, it has been possible to make only an educated guess as to how a country is viewed by the world, based on news clippings, surveys, focus groups and the like. That is why East West Communications has teamed up with Perception Metrics to create a scientific basis for analyzing international perceptions of a country's brand.
So, what this research shows is that South Korea's perception within international media , in recent times has been pretty bad. Korea's international image is less than clear and by and large very narrowly defined by its ties with North Korea. For this reason, it can be easily assumed that the 'Cheonan' distaster is largely to blame for this slip in the rankings!
While that may well be the case, it is certainly not very inspiring for the government officials, who have for several years now been trying to improve the country's international reputation with overseas investors and tourists by adopting various branding strategies.
As any long-time observer of the country will tell you, so far, they have failed to come up with anything that seems to work.
As Mr. Michael Breen, a public relations consultant who has lived in Seoul for 28 years, points out: We have seen slogans and logos attached to the Korea 'brand' in the same way as taglines and imagery are linked to commercial products. However, none of them have clicked.”
A former correspondent for The Washington Times and The Guardian newspapers, he is currently the chairman of Insight Communications, a public relations firm.
Since entering public relations in 1999, he has been engaged in a number of large projects in Korea, including the World Cup in 2002, and promotional programs for Seoul City, Incheon International Airport and the Korea Exchange, as well as for numerous multinationals. He is the author of The Koreans (1999) and Kim Jong-il: North Korea's Dear Leader (2004) and was made an honorary citizen of Seoul in 2001.
He said, one of the main problems of the 'Korea brand image' is that there is no unique message about Korea that is sent out to visitors. Different government departments have their own promotions and the message often lacks consistency. Each organization seems to try to promote itself, with its own objectives, egos and stakes.
“Instead of having different organizations bringing their own expertise and skills to the National Branding effort in a coordinated manner, independent initiatives are taken, often adding confusion and difficulty to the already extremely complex debate.”
Starting this year, Korea's tourism attractions are being promoted through a new English slogan, "Korea Be Inspired" which emphasizes the hope that foreign tourists will gain new inspiration by visiting the country. The Korea Tourism Organization is aiming to attract 8.5 million foreign tourists in 2010. This year also marks the beginning of the 2010-2012 "Visit Korea Campaign," aimed at generating $10 billion in annual tourism revenue and advancing Korea's stature as a tourism power.
Previously, the slogan "Korea Sparkling" was used in various promotional materials at home and abroad since 2007. However, it had been criticized for lacking identity and relevance to tourism.
The country is also sold to investors as Dynamic Korea and the Hub of Asia, or a combined version. We've also had the less familiar Korea's IT.
“These brands are not bad or wrong, but they do not appear to have lifted the country or made an impact in the way that was hoped,Mr. Breen said.
Not that this disappointment has stopped provinces and cities from following suit. Many of the different local governments have their own promotion campaigns and logos, which are equally confusing and at cross-purposes.
They include- Hi Seoul: Soul of Asia; Dynamic Busan: City of Tomorrow; Fly Incheon; Colorful Daegu; Beautiful Gyeongju; Happy Suwon; Jeonju City: City of Culture; Cheongju, the happy city worth living in; It's Daejeon; Green Land JeollaNamdo; and GyeongGi-Do: Global Inspiration.
Busan's 'dynamic' is a straight copy of Dynamic Korea, which was developed in the Kim Dae-jung administration. A smaller city could get away with hitching its wagon to the national brand, but Busan is a very important place and, with four million people, is bigger than a lot of countries. It needs something original, he said.
Of all of the various brands, the one that does sound apt is ``Fly Incheon.'' Although it sounds like ``Fly United,'' whatever else Incheon wants to be, it is now identified with the airport. As such, the logo fits the brand.
All the examples do represent an effort in the right direction, which is to find a way to boost the economy. It suggests that the branding effort is part of a broader effort to promote and communicate, which is appreciated, but more though needs to go into the process, he said.
What government needs to do is recognize that the design and the tagline should come at the end of a process of research and strategizing that may take some time and cost some money, especially if international opinion surveys are required.
“At the heart of the process is a decision as to how to ``position'' the country or city, in other words, exactly how we want investors, tourists and other audiences, including citizens themselves, to think about us.
They also need to be extremely careful not to copy others because the whole point is to identify what is special and fitting about their place. For this reason he thinks that the new slogan- 'Korea, Be Inspired' is unique and sends the right message.
“Some say that you cant really brand a country of South Korea's size. However, a lot of us can relate to the new slogan. You find yourself walkign faster here, the shamanism, gi, feng- shui, all make up for an inspiring stay.”
'Dynamic Korea' didn't work because it sounded like a copy of 'Incredible India' and 'Amazing Thailand'. But with adjective and noun reversed, 'Korea, Sparkling' sounded original, wlthough it did not last.
The goal of making the logo fit the brand involves describing a place in a way that is acceptable and which highlights something distinct, or in a way that captures an aspiration, how the city or country would like to be.
He also noted that as awareness of South Korea spreads around the world with the country's growing importance, so too do negative perceptions. The problem arises when the negative associations outweigh the good. In this case, the dangerous antics of the North Korean rulers.
There is much more to South Korea and this has be highlighted in the various campaigns.
The country is good at knowing what physical infrastructure is needed, but what needs improvement is communicating about what they have acquired. People who are responsible for the communication side need to be alert. There is also a need to have thorough audit of the communication system.
As an example, he pointed out that the story telling at various temples and palaces need to be more interesting. What one gets told now is the most boring version.
Mr. Breen also mentioned that So much that the officials could learn about tourism, identifyign and developing tourism attractions and promotions from EU countries. The key is not to oversell oneself.