There is no better sign of the importance of image and narrative in the 21st Century global economics and politics than can be found in the quarterly financial statements of the advertising industry.
Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising and media giant WPP, said this week the fastest growing segment in the company’s array of businesses around the world is government spending.
“The positioning of countries will become a more important phenomenon. It’s how you position a country and how you position a city-state,” he said at an American Security Project event on public diplomacy.
His comments underscore how narrative is so important to American competitiveness. Such branding is very important because companies can relocate far easier than ever before.
While diplomats may get the headlines but the private sector often set the tone for public perception around the world. “Companies and products ironically may be the most powerful branding drivers for countries,” he said. A reliable German car or luxury French silk scarf shape national image as much as any campaign, he said. Yet a country can be too tied to one company’s image, such as Finland’s Nokia.
This has big implications for understanding competitiveness. Everything from rankings such as those put out by the World Economic Forum to front-page newspaper stories about political discord to successful sales of commercial jetliners all inform how a country is perceived by its partners, or even rivals, overseas. Much of that is out of the direct hands of top political leaders yet they are, ultimately, held accountable for a nation’s narrative even if its direction really rests in the hands of its citizens.
Narrative or image, however, is nothing without credible offerings, either to the global marketplace or to voters. “The best branding is good policy,” Sir Martin said at the ASP event. “National branding has a hard time overcoming bad policies.”
Check out ASP’s White Paper on American Competitiveness that discusses these issues further:
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