MAPping the FutureColumn in INQUIRER
Getting the youth involved in nation brandingwritten by Mr. JUNIE S. DEL MUNDO - February 20, 2023
Last February 8, I had the honor of giving a talk at Far East University’s (FEU) Alejandro Roces Professorial Lecture to an audience of around 75 students, plus more who joined through the livestream. The topic was the necessity of nation branding, something I’ve been advocating for in recent years. In particular, I discussed the role of arts and culture in building a nation brand.
Some may wonder if it’s an appropriate subject to discuss among college students. After all, don’t they have academic matters to attend to? Aren’t they too young to grasp the concept and importance of having a nation brand?
On one hand, yes. Cultural organizations, branding professionals, and government agencies would be more fitting since they’re better positioned to take action and start the work on developing the Philippine brand.
However, studying the strategies of two Asian superpowers presents a great reason why young Filipinos are worthy participants in this endeavor. Since social media is so ingrained into our lives, from personal connections to discussions of national socio-political issues, those who know how to command and steer online conversations must also get involved.
Besides, our youth will be the country’s eventual decision-makers. They’ll be the ones to benefit from the advantages of having a strong Philippine brand—and the ones who’ll experience the repercussions of being an insignificant presence in the international arena. I presented my lecture to FEU students in hopes that they get inspired to create a bigger and louder discussion on why nation branding is necessary and why we must work on it now.
As I explained, a nation brand is an idea that government leaders can work on to manage their respective country’s international reputation so it doesn’t remain anonymous or irrelevant in a globalized community. A strong, well-established international image makes a country trustworthy in the eyes of investors and visitors and, in turn, makes it easier for its government to weather unexpected and dire crises such as a pandemic.
Multiple factors contribute to an effective nation brand—exactly six, according to the Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brand Index, the authoritative ranking of nation brands that governments use to determine their strengths and weaknesses. These factors are exports, governance, culture, people, tourism, and immigration and investment.
Investing in all factors is necessary, of course, not just for a strong nation brand but for overall progress. Certain countries, however, had the vision to build on particular dimensions they knew would help strengthen their international image and eventually became soft-power superpowers that hold massive global influence through their capacity to entertain and inspire.
When I presented the arts and culture-based branding strategies of Japan and Korea, my young audience understood their appeal very well. They came of age already well-exposed to Japanese animation and manga, and aware of how older generations of Filipinos would go crazy over the latest K-drama. Thus, when streaming services became available, seeking out Japanese and Korean content online was natural for them.
I pointed out that both countries not only leveraged their culture but also geared their cultural exports to be more reflective of their youth. From a rigid and demanding impression, Japan cultivated a cool and kawaii image that felt more relatable and appealing to foreign audiences. With Korea, lifting its travel ban resulted in having well-traveled and globally connected citizens, particularly younger ones. This helped bring a more worldly perspective to various industries, including entertainment and technology. Both sectors also received plenty of government support, paving the way for better products and seamless integration of pop culture and sleek technology.
As much as the Philippines can take notes from what these countries did, I reminded my young audience that we can’t simply duplicate their strategies. A nation brand is effective only when it’s authentic to the reality and potential of its country. It requires a deep understanding of the past, how it affects the present, and a collective long-term vision of progress for the future.
What we can do is make an example of how Japan and Korea nurture their respective arts and culture scene through both government and private sector support. They laid the groundwork for the development of their cultural products decades before enjoying the benefits, and they’ve continued to invest in their creative industries to keep up with their audiences.
It shouldn’t be difficult for Filipino creatives to garner support to strengthen our nation brand. As I told the students, arts and culture are integral to our lives not just as sources of entertainment, inspiration, and information but also as agents of social change. Even when we have pressing financial concerns to worry about, we still appreciate a good TV show, a thought-provoking movie, an emotive song. Culture is a dimension of nation branding that’s easy to cultivate given how much we resonate with it. It’s the one that authentically reflects our identity and soul.
It isn’t the youth’s job to work on the Philippine brand, but young Filipinos already have the capacity to enact change. Given how passionate, tech-savvy, and globally aware they are, we must empower them as citizens, creatives, and stakeholders in the nation-branding process so they can unlock their potential as the country’s future leaders.
(The author is Chair of the Tourism Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and Chair and CEO of The EON Group. Feedback at <firstname.lastname@example.org> and <email@example.com>.)