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Sunday, December 3, 2006

Israel: Spinning Branding and Opinion Poll Results

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2006/12/israel-spinning-branding-and-opinion.html

Whom to believe about Israeli image and when? Here are two articles about branding featuring the very same results with two different opinions. In one, Mr. Anholt says that public relations campaigns cannot change the image of a country. In the other, he says Israel will need to work very hard to change its image. Anholt never tells us what countries were panelists, and never gives us the raw scores of the different countries. He never explains how the panelists were chosen.
 
In one report he tells us:
 
Nothing less than a sustained and comprehensive change of political, social, economic and cultural direction will ultimately result in a changed reputation. Therefore, it is no surprise if most governments feel that unpopularity is the lesser cost of the two (some even find a grim sense of vindication in their very unpopularity). It is also unsurprising that, like the Israelis, so many governments are tempted against all logic, experience or common sense to pursue the chimerical third option of directly manipulating international public opinion. But it is clear that propaganda can only work well in closed and controlled societies, and in our massively interconnected, media-literate and healthily sceptical globalised world, it is a currency whose value has fallen virtually to zero.
 
In the other: report, it seems as though he is endorsing Israel's branding campaign.
 
 
 
The Anholt Nation Brands Index Special Report Israel's International Image Q3 2006 www.insightcafe.com/reports/NBI_Q3_2006.pdf

 . The Israeli Government is certainly right to be concerned as the international image of the country is in very poor shape indeed. Israel's brand is, by a considerable margin, the most negative we have ever measured in the NBI, and comes in at the bottom of the ranking on almost every question. In response to one of the questions in this section of the survey, "how strongly do you agree with the statement that this country behaves responsibly in the areas of international peace and security?", Israel scores lowest of all the 36 countries in the NBI. Even the U.S. panel, otherwise one of the more positive panels towards Israel, places Israel 35th out of 36 on this question (China is last). Russia gives Israel its highest rankings, and the views of the Russian panel are noticeably out of kilter with those of the other 35 countries polled (the only bottom ranking given to Israel by the Russian panel is for the country's natural beauty). On the question of international peace and security, Russia ranks Israel 20th overall. One of the most significant questions in the NBI, that over the last two years we have found to be one of the best indicators of generally positive or negative feelings about countries, is the one that asks people how willing they would be to live and work for an extended period in the country. Changes in responses to this question also reflect overall changes in perceptions of the country more accurately than any other question in the survey. Here, Israel is ranked last by every panel including the Americans, and even the Russians only give it a 28th ranking. For the related tourism question about the likelihood of a respondent visiting the country if money were no object, Israel is ranked bottom overall at 35th amongst Americans and 32nd amongst Russians. When we ask whether respondents believe that the people of the country would make them feel welcome if they visited, Israel again comes bottom of the list, 29th amongst Americans and 32nd amongst Russians. Israel's intention is, as the Foreign Minister says, to promote itself as a desirable place to live and invest in, the challenge appears to be a steep one. Israel would seem to be in a lonely position too, as far as public opinion goes. Despite the fact that official government policy towards Israel is supportive amongst its allies, public opinion in these countries is considerably less warm. Israel ranks at or near the bottom of the Index for all the European and North American panels. Palestine is not included in the NBI, but it seems likely that public opinion amongst its allies and supporters would more closely reflect the official position of their governments than is the case with Israel. The country panel least positive about Israel in the NBI is Egypt. It ranks Israel 36th on every question in the survey, apart from a 29th position on the question "How strongly do you agree with the statement that this country makes a major contribution to innovation in science and technology?" – the question on which Israel typically receives its best marks (Russia gives Israel 12th position here). But even a country like Germany, where views on Israel amongst the general population are likely to be more balanced, seldom ranks Israel above the bottom 10 places in the survey. The highest ranking given to Israel by the German panel is a mere 23rd place on the question that asks whether respondents agree with the statement that 'this country has a rich cultural 'heritage', a ranking which is arguably very much lower than the country objectively deserves. The political aspects of the country's image appear to be contaminating perceptions of other areas of national interest which, in theory, should be entirely unrelated. However much one might disapprove of the policies of a country's government or even of successive governments, this shouldn't really have any impact on one's views of its natural landscape or its past cultural achievements. Yet the case of Israel shows that there is no absolutely impenetrable barrier between the world's perceptions of national politics and its perceptions of national culture, society, economics, history or even geography, and if the politics create sufficient disapproval, no area of national interest is safe from contamination. America should take note. As I mentioned earlier, Israel appears to recognise the problem, and is determined to do something about it. But as regular readers of the NBI and my other work will know, I find it inconceivable that any country can change the way the world views it as a whole purely through marketing communications and forms of deliberate propaganda. Products, such as tourist destinations, exports, investment opportunities or even cultural attractions, can certainly be marketed by conventional means through the media. Indeed, in these areas, countries have no choice because their competitors are doing the same. But these are well-defined products being sold to a well-defined audience, and marketing communications play a clear role. There is no evidence whatsoever from the mass of data in the Nation Brands Index and City Brands Index over the last two years that national 'branding campaigns', where governments attempt to alter international perceptions of their country as a whole, have the slightest effect on the images of any countries that undertake them. This is surely because all countries, at some level, get the reputation they deserve – either by things they have done, or by things they have failed to do – and it is astonishingly naive to imagine that the deeply rooted beliefs of entire populations can possibly be affected by advertising or public relations campaigns unless these campaigns truthfully reflect a real change in the country itself. With questions of national image, both the problem and the solution always have far more to do with the product than with the packaging. The NBI and much other research confirm that national image is a phenomenon that changes very slowly if it changes at all. A country's brand is like a truck without wheels, and many national stereotypes, both positive and negative, seem positively rusted into place. Sometimes, national image can take a severe knock from a catastrophic piece of behaviour: the Danish cartoon incident is a case in point, but as we shall see later in this report, the impact was by no means universal nor permanent, and after a time, people almost always seem to revert to their previous beliefs about countries. The only thing that can permanently change a country's image is a change in the country and in the way it behaves. As I have often said, a reputation cannot be constructed: it has to be earned. Unfortunately for places like Israel, it is virtually impossible for a country to argue with public opinion. If Israel feels, as it clearly does, that it is misunderstood and misrepresented, simply repeating its own side of the argument is unlikely to achieve very much, no matter how creatively, loudly or persuasively it does so, and no matter how much it spends on media to reinforce the argument. Fighting negative perceptions with commercial communications techniques is akin to fighting terrorism with conventional weapons: no matter how vast the defense budget or how sophisticated the weaponry, the 'enemy' is simply too diffuse, too mobile and too committed for such measures to have any real effect. Public opinion on such matters tends to be largely immovable except where it is very lightly held, and this is clearly not the case with Israel. As the NBI data confirms, people's views about Israel are notably passionate. Indeed, major publicity or propaganda campaigns like those Israel seems to be contemplating are likely to be counter-productive in such circumstances. The more people suspect that a foreign power is trying to make them change their minds about something, the more firmly they will believe that it is attempting to deny or conceal the truth, and the more fiercely they will maintain their views. The Israeli Government's idea that improving people's understanding of its position and broadening knowledge of the non-military facets of their country will alter people's view of the country is a common one in such situations. As I have often commented before, 'to know us is to love us' is also a long-standing American fixation. Sadly for the United States, it is becoming clear that for the populations that like America least, the opposite is true: the more they know about the USA, the less they like it, and the same may well be true for Israel. The fact that the pendulum of popular opinion within the United States now appears to be moving strongly against George W. Bush and Republican politics is far more likely to restore international acceptance of American power and American values than any amount of State Department public diplomacy, and a similar dynamic likely applies to Israel as well. Countries are judged by what they do, not by what they say. As America is discovering to its cost, when public opinion is strongly against a country, even its most praiseworthy and disinterested actions are likely to be ignored or interpreted in a negative light. Nothing less than a sustained and comprehensive change of political, social, economic and cultural direction will ultimately result in a changed reputation. Therefore, it is no surprise if most governments feel that unpopularity is the lesser cost of the two (some even find a grim sense of vindication in their very unpopularity). It is also unsurprising that, like the Israelis, so many governments are tempted against all logic, experience or common sense to pursue the chimerical third option of directly manipulating international public opinion. But it is clear that propaganda can only work well in closed and controlled societies, and in our massively interconnected, media-literate and healthily sceptical globalised world, it is a currency whose value has fallen virtually to zero.
 

Consumers give thumbs down to Israel's brand

Tovah Lazaroff, THE JERUSALEM POST Dec. 3, 2006

 

It could take Israel 30 years to change its brand image, after it placed last in a study of 36 countries, one of the leaders in the field of nation branding warned Saturday.

Simon Anholt spoke with The Jerusalem Post on the heels of a recent survey he released in which 25,000 consumers were asked to rank 36 countries on issues of tourism, exports, governance, investment, immigration, cultural heritage and people.

According to the study, known as the Nation Brands Index, which has been published four times a year since 2005, "Israel's brand is, by a considerable margin, the most negative we have ever measured in the NBI, and comes in at the bottom of the ranking on almost every question."

Israel is not typically included in the survey, which looks at such as places as the US, Germany, Mexico, South Korea, China and Singapore. Britain came in first in the survey and the US was ninth.

It was included in the third quarter survey of 2006 because there is a guest slot in each survey.

"Only Bhutan, the first guest country we included in the NBI, achieved a similarly low score," said the study. But in the case of Bhutan the study attributed its poor score to the fact that few people had heard of it, according to the study.

"Israel's poor scores are clearly not the result of anonymity; it is one of the most known countries in the world," said the study.

The Foreign Ministry's Director of Public Affairs Amir Gissin said the survey underscored for him the importance of the new nation-branding drive Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni launched this fall.

"We see Anholt's research as an opportunity to increase the awareness of decision makers in Israel to the image problem that Israel has in order to make us more determined to deal with the image problem," Gissin told the Post.

As part of that drive, the ministry is looking for ways to focus international public attention away from the country's conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizbullah in favor of more positive images such as the country's technical innovations as well as musical, cultural and historical attractions.

But Anholt warned on Saturday that the Foreign Ministry would have to be very patient before it benefits from its labors.

While his 30-year prediction is not set in stone, Anholt said, he warned that changing people's attitudes and prejudice was so difficult and time-consuming that it often took decades. It took Japan and Ireland 30 years to change their public image, Anholt added.

"There are no quick fixes to this," said Anholt, who added that he hoped the Israelis "are very patient."

It was for this reason that he did not believe his study was significantly impacted by the fact that it was conducted during the war with Hizbullah in Lebanon over the summer. Israel was often in a state of conflict, Anholt said. It had been his experience, he said, that the survey measured long-seated opinions that were not greatly swayed by current events.

Still, he said, just to be certain he planned to include Israel for a second time in the survey during a quiet period, "just to ascertain that the results were not skewed."

Anholt said that his study differed from that of other surveys, in that this was not a politically-based public opinion poll. It did not measure people's ideas about the conflict with the Palestinians or Hizbullah, but rather it examined people's instinctive associations with the country that would impact their decisions outside the political arena, such as whether they would buy a product from Israel, visit the country, or hire an Israeli.

"Israel is famous for all the wrong reasons," Anholt said. People have a negative opinion of it based on a "bewildering variety" of factors that were strengthened with the continual negative images of the conflict that often dominated the news regarding Israel, he said.

Most people did not bother to form a balanced opinion about other countries, he said, preferring to find a simple shorthand for every country. They weaved simple and na ve narratives around the facts that were most interesting to them, he added.

The most persuasive and memorable facts, unfortunately for Israel, were about the conflict, so the image of Israel as a bully was more likely to stick in people's minds rather than the idea of Israel as an expert in solar energy, Anholt said. These images are "so negative and powerful that they contaminated everything else in the index," Anholt said.

"It is harder for Israeli citizens to work abroad or to get students or other talented people to come to Israel," he said.

"Having a weak or negative brand image is incredibly important to every country," he said.

In Israel's case, for example, the respondents placed it last on the list of countries they would want to visit or whom they regarded as having a cultural heritage, Anholt said.

To the question of how willing people would be to live and work in the country, Israel ranked last in every panel, the study said. It fared slightly better on consumer products but was still toward the bottom, he said.

Overall, he said, a negative brand image made it difficult for Israel to conduct its normal affairs such as selling an Israeli item, engaging in cultural relations or swaying tourists to visit the country.

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1164881803879&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2006/12/israel-spinning-branding-and-opinion.html. Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.

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