Nations and Cities as “Brands”

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published April 1, 2006

Prof. Sid Levy of Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management was the first to develop the “broadening concept” of marketing. Levy saw a relationship between the marketing of commercial goods and services to the non-profit world. Heretofore marketing was considered a discipline only for companies and organizations that were trying to appeal to potential customers and clients.

The “broadening concept” opened marketing to a myriad of applications. Political candidates used the principles of marketing to develop sophisticated strategies to obtain votes and funds. Travel and tourist destinations use marketing to attract vacationers and conventioneers. Institutions, colleges, zoos, hospitals and orchestras and opera companies engage in marketing activities to attract students, patients, subscribers, members and donors. Finally, charities and movements use the principles of marketing to attract attention to their causes.

An equally fascinating extension of marketing lies in the work of author and advisor Simon Anholt. This insightful consultant has researched the concept of nation’s and cities as “brands.” Anholt’s logical “leap” sees branding as providing real benefits to a country, city or region as it competes in the global community. Competition can take the form of customers for products produced in those countries, for visitors, for attracting businesses, investors and talented people as well as for plain old attention and respect.

Clearly, there are places where tourists and businesses would seek to avoid such as Bosnia, Lebanon or Cartagena, Colombia and other places that tourists and businesses find very attractive such as Denmark, Canada or Paris, France.

“Having a brand strategy means knowing exactly what those talents or qualities or assets are, knowing how to use them, knowing how to show the world that you have them and knowing how they add up to a whole that is unique, truthful, distinctive and attractive,” writes Anholt on his Web site:

A country or city brand is a function of a number of qualities: history, geographic location, ease of traveling to and from the destination, interesting tourist sites, people, infrastructure and economic power.

So who are the winners. Here are Anholt’s top 10 country “brands:”

  1. United Kingdom
  2. Switzerland
  3. Canada
  4. Italy
  5. Sweden
  6. Germany
  7. Japan
  8. France
  9. Australia
  10. United States

As cities, here are Anholt’s top 10 city “brands:”

  1. London
  2. Paris
  3. Sydney
  4. Rome
  5. Barcelona
  6. Amsterdam
  7. New York
  8. Los Angeles
  9. Madrid
  10. Berlin

In an article for Change Agent, published for Synovate Ltd., Anholt provides added perspective when commenting on how country brands can change and how strong nation brands cause people to overlook and disregard obvious flaws.

In commenting on South Africa, Anholt writes: “…there are suggestions that South may be starting to pull away from the gravitational pull of its continent.”

As for a country with a traditionally high brand score — Sweden — Arnolt points out how people are willing to overlook obvious flaws: “Many Swedes expressed surprise at the international perception of their country as a kind of Utopia, and asked me how a country where ministers are assassinated in broad daylight, a country of racial tensions and welfare crises, can possibly be considered a good brand….The fact is that Sweden’s brand, like those of other highly-rated countries, appears to have obtained positive critical mass, to the extent that people simply delete from their minds anything negative that contradicts the overwhelmingly positive brand story.”

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About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.