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    Branding, a deceitful word - Simon Anholt

    Nation branding expert Simon Anholt told delegates attending last week's Brand Africa 2010 Forum in Johannesburg that branding is the most deceitful word in the English language. Anholt, who defined branding as the process of putting a lipstick on a pin, said brand is a toxic word that has taken a strongly negative connotation because everybody knows the perception but nobody knows anything about reality.

    Addressing core issues

    Anholt's rebuttal of the branding concept refers to the fact that many African governments embark on futile, expensive branding exercises to 'remake' their countries' image and reputation without addressing the core issues that are at the centre of their nations' demise.

    Anholt believes that instead of spending too much resources and energy on 'branding', a country should be developing systems, strategies and structures to build constant and dramatic evidence to acquire a reputation it deserves.

    Value public opinion

    Anholt said it is not about branding, but about the way a brand approaches public opinion with great humility because, as he put it, public opinion has the power of a volcano or an earthquake.

    "A country's most valuable asset is its name. If you have a good name it benefits every single sector of society," he explained. Every president of a country has the duty to care about the image of his or her country, jealously protect it and hand it over to the successor in good condition, like Mandela did."

    Anholt, who praised South Africa for its 'fantastic image', said this country should not be mirroring itself to developed countries, but should be looking behind its back - at developing countries - to provide leadership because with leadership comes reputation and image.

    "South Africa should lead rather than follow or measure itself to other top countries."

    Brand identity vs image

    While he defined brand identity as a design and packaging of the product, he said brand image is none other than the context in which the message of the brand is received.

    "You have no control of the image because it is in a secure location where you have no access to it."

    Anholt echoed Trevor Ncube's sentiments that the good and the bad of a country - image politicians do not want to see splashed in newspapers or broadcast on TV - should be told by the media, and not be swept under the carpet.

    "If governments of the world could be as careful as the corporate care about their brand, the world would be a safer place. I would have loved to ask Tony Blair the morning he decided to invade Iraq: what do you think about the UK brand?"

    Politicians are boring

    Anholt concurred with London-based Zambian economist Dr Dambisa Moyo, who believes that the concept of aid puts a huge shame on Africa. He said: "The image of an African country that gets aid is incompatible with a country that needs investment. I feel sorry about that."

    Lastly, he said politicians, who often confuse seriousness with boring-ness, need to be told that they are boring, adding that stakeholders, including the media, need to always hold government and business accountable for their actions. And it is an exercise that needs to be measured and monitored, he insisted.

    The Brand Africa 2010 Forum took place on Thursday, 16 September 2010, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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    About Issa Sikiti da Silva

    Issa Sikiti da Silva is a winner of the 2010 SADC Media Awards (print category). He freelances for various media outlets, local and foreign, and has travelled extensively across Africa. His work has been published both in French and English. He used to contribute to as a senior news writer.
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