Branding the Nation in the Digital Era: Why Don’t You Come Over?

Roxana-Elena POPA
University of Bucharest
roxana.melintepr@yahoo.com

 

Abstract:

Country branding cannot be resumed to a logo or a slogan. It is a much more complex concept; it is the image which is being outlined in the mind of the target group. Thus, a branding programme must not be reduced to a communication campaign, while the role of communication in managing country image should not be ignored either.

The current paper is trying to analyse the manner in which the image of a country can be managed through communication: what is the role of communication in the branding process, how it should be instrumented, what is the impact of new online communication techniques on forming or modifying the image of a country and whether it is necessary to include them in a country branding program.

Key-words: online branding, country branding, digital communication, image

 

Introduction: managing the country`s image in the digital communication age

The countries or nations are not products which we can take from a shelf or services which we may acquire. Nevertheless, some of them we consider to be brands. This means that they occupy a position in our mind, that we have formed an image on the respective country or nation.

Within the introduction of his last book, Simon Anholt (2010: 1), the one who almost two decades ago patented the country branding concept, clearly states: ”let me be clear: there is no such thing as nation branding. It is a myth and perhaps a dangerous one”. The theoretician’s argument regarding his hesitation to use the expression which he established refers to the sense attributed by the wide audience to the term of brand. The connotation of the branding notion is probably not a positive one for many of us. We tend to associate the concept with the idea of “wrapping” through publicity or marketing techniques with the purpose to sell a certain product/service: ”branding makes people think of superficial marketing tricks, perhaps even some cynical betrayal of the nation state and other human communities” (Anholt, 2010:1). Should we pass over this barrier of superficial understanding we will ascertain that the benefits of branding are much higher and that talking about country branding in the current context is well justified, moreover since branding is not limited to the commercial area only. Actually, beyond the marketing techniques and the advertising tricks we associate to this domain, branding refers to the posibility to define and to position ourselves differently in relation to the others, to expose our identity. Moreover, the countries can have a reputation just as commercial products have certain images. Branding operates with this type of concepts: reputation and identity. “Countries can usefully be understood as the sum of their identity and reputation” (Future Brand, 2014)..

Beyond the terminology we prefer to use (reputation/country brand), it is important that we are acting influenced by the images we form on the others, the reverse of the situation being just as valid. In the current context, more than ever, the image management does not represent an option, rather a necessity.

Image is a symbolic capital with a decisive role in a world of brands, when people and cultures meet and interact on the world’s global scene, more intense and substantial than in any other historical periods. […] Nowadays, having an image means to exist, to be present in the mind of others through the information flows of a media system. The image has become an ontological indicator (Georgiu, 2010: 93).

Countries, nations, maybe even more than individuals or perhaps just like them, compete on a global market through the images attributed to them. The effect of image, at the level of a country, or a nation, manifests on a political, economical, and social plan. The products which come from a specific country are accepted or not by the consumers also through the image of the country of origin. The political and social relations also depend on the image of the country that individuals belong to. This is why, regardless of the degree of economic and political development of the states, there should be a preoccupation regarding the image attributed to them. From here on results the importance which we must grant to branding and research in this area.

Communication is a process which influences significantly a brand’s formation and lately has suffered a major transformation due to the appearance of new technologies. Probably the most important modification refers to the informational flow and the relation between broadcaster and receiver. The classical monologue has transformed into dialogue or maybe even multilogue[1]. The target group has become a criticizing court that not only receives passively certain messages, but o offers a response to the transmitter, in real time.

The brand is not the result of communication techniques used only by the transmitter. It belongs more to the target audience in whose mind it is shaped. Taking into account the role which the target audience plays in the branding process, the adaptation to trends and its communication needs is important. This fact justifies the need to grant a special attention to studying the manner in which the brand is being built in the digital communication age.

 

Theoretical framework: removing stereotypes through online branding? 

The images of countries are most of the times reduced to simple stereotypes, being extreme simplifications of the reality (Kotler & Gertner, 2002: 251). Likewise, the brands and stereotypes are products of our mind (Lippman, 2009) often not having a positive effect.

The reluctance shown to Romanians by the members of other nations is mostly the result of negative stereotyping. The less pleasant experiences with certain members of the Romanian nation (the case of Romanians who at the beginning of the 1990s ate a swan in Vienna, the Mailat case in Italy) have been sent on a large scale through the media, facilitating the generation of a negative image on Romania, a generic, simplified, stereotyped image. However, such images would get rooted in the collective mentality, thus being hard to change.

Anholt (2010) considers that the change of a perception well anchored in the mind of the target audience could be determined only by a positive action/image with an impact just as strong, and only if the target audience manifests the availability to receive new information. For this reason, the theoretician states that trying to modify the image of a country, the perception of a target audience only through communication tools is as naive as it could be: ”National reputation cannot be constructed; it can only be earned; and imagining that such a deeply rooted phenomenon can be shifted by so weak an instrument as marketing communication is an extravagant delusion” (Anholt, 2010: 6). Projecting a competitive identity, based on a real, practical fundament is a more sure way to influence the images which are being shaped about a certain country. Kotler (Kotler, Haider & Rein, 2001) also mentions the importance of the need to communicate, based on a strong, actual fundament. To communicate without having the profile of a clearly outlined identity can only serve to drawing the attention on certain minuses which the respective country/destination has.

Although the theoreticians highlight in an obvious manner the importance of building and providing competitive products in order to determine a change of perceptions and images, the role of communication should not be ignored. ”Everything a brand does is communication” stated Paul Feldwick (Feldwick, 2003: 127). Truly, we can speak about a branding programme when we combine the two components: the one of providing value with the one of communicating the value. The simple existence of competitive advantages does not guarantee changing or shaping a complex image on a specific country. The communication facilitates the interaction of target audiences with the provided products, thus stimulating the modification of perceptions. Feldwick (2003) mentioned the three concrete directions in which the communication process can act: to provide information on brand, thus determining the target audience to become aware of its existence; to make a brand known and familiar; to create different patterns used to interpreting meanings and realizing association, thus it would bring the brand close to the target audience and make it more attractive.

Communication within a branding programme is not only resumed to the simple display of a logo, to airing certain advertisements, it is a more complex process which means it involves coordination, integration, and an interdisciplinary structure. In this context, online branding (Dinnie, 2009) is a concept which appears to take shape and become valid. The concept brings into foreground the domestic audience, but also the new trends on communicating the values of brands.

Online branding offers smaller, emerging or less-developed nations the opportunity to establish themselves as niche brands in a way that would not be possible through using more conventional branding techniques such as print advertising for example which cost puts it beyond the budget of many less-wealthy nations (Dinnie, 2009: 246-247).

Online branding is a concept that we use to define the activities implemented through digital communication, aiming to influence the shaping of images and perceptions according to a well-designed strategy. This does not imply that the country brand can be formed by using exclusively the online communication tools. Though, the online branding exercise is an extremely important part of the country branding program and its significance arise from the role of communication within a branding campaign and from the need to pay attention to the opportunities offered by the digital environment.

Talking about using the Social Media tools in managing the country image may seem a superficial vision. The online branding is not synonym with just posting a short message on Facebook or Twitter or publishing few articles on various blogs. An online branding campaign can be based on a complex strategy that may address and integrate various tactics of communication conveying them to the digital environment. Often, the poor or partial understanding of how online branding works can cause losing sight of the benefits of online communication, benefits that offer one of the most important reasons of integrating the online branding to a country branding campaign.

Communication in the digital age has its specifics being accessible and permissive both from the point of view of content and message, as well as the roles which the main characters of the communicational act have. The passive receivers of the classic communication flow become the transmitters in the online area. In the context of country branding, the internal audience can intervene by using the tools provided by the online domain, in order to communicate an authentic and real image on its own country, delivering their own message (consumer-generated-media). This involvement of the internal audience in promoting the country’s image is another important benefit of online communication that justifies its use.

Using the digital tools for sending a message can be considered an inadequate manner for transmitting the identity of a nation, of a country due to the informal character of the online communication. But, in the New Media age, the communication’s aim is the closeness between the sender and the receiver, removing barriers between the brand and the target audience, ones that are being imposed by formal communication. After all, the brand belongs to the target audience, thus the receiver is the one which directs the manner of communication, while the sender, whether it is an organization, a public person or a country, can only adapt to it. Besides its non-conformist character, communication through digital tools it is important as it allows the delivery of an authentic, trustable message, the registration of a faster feedback and reaction and, the most important, the collaboration between both instances (transmitter and receiver). Sending a message through Social Media does not mean only having a change of information, but also closeness between the sender and the receiver: ”collaboration is an inherent part of what defines social media – it is the building of relationships, not just the exchange of information” (Doorley & Garcia, 2011: 118).

Even when we talk about a country or a destination, the developments brought by the new technologies should not be considered an impediment or an option that can be ignored, but an opportunity that could be taken advantage of in order to improve the communication with the target audiences.

 

     The local context of the country branding 

Considering only the period after the comedown of the dictatorial government, we notice in Romania a concern for managing the way the country is perceived abroad by an external audience. From Eternal and fascinating Romania to Explore the Carpathian Garden, an important number of projects have been initiated in order to determine a change of the external perception, to remove the label set by the association with the former communist government. An overview of those projects may reveal a common point: the lack of an online communication strategy. It`s true, the use of the online tools and new media became a new trend at least locally, only almost a decade ago. Even so, the last program, Explore the Carpathian Garden, carried out in 2010, presented a slight use of the online tools (the management of a Facebook page and of an website) with a bottom drop out of interactivity.

The Why don’t you come over? campaign that will be analyzed in the current research  is a project carried out by a media representative, Gândul magazine, and proves that media can have also a practical involvement in the management of the country’s image, using tools less conventional specific to the online communication field, and not only having a critical position towards the branding campaigns developed by the government.

 

     Objectives, hypothesis, methods of research: Why don’t you come over? 

The assumption of the current research supports the need to integrate the online component to the communication strategy of the country branding program, betting on a better relationship with the target audiences, on the involvement of the external and internal public in a dialogue, resulting in a better management of a country`s reputation.

The objective of the research is represented by the analysis of how the online communication tools can be integrated to a country branding strategy and its specifics  (the involvement of various actors in the communication act, the structure of  an online communication campaign, the type of message delivered)  and the impact of such tools on a country image, reputation.

The image of Romania and Romanians, as it has been transmitted a long time by the international media, has not been quite a positive one. The situation seems to have become more intense starting January 2013, when the British authorities have expressed their worry regarding the high numbers of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants which were expected to arrive to England starting January 2014, when the restrictions regarding the number of immigrants and the access on the labour market were eliminated. The British authorities express their intention of launching a campaign for discouraging immigration: ”Government ministers are contemplating running a negative ad campaign to put off eastern European immigrants who plan on coming to Britain, reports have claimed” (Williams, The Independent, January, 28, 2013). The Guardian supported this idea[2], inviting their readers to propose messages through which they would determine the immigrants to give up on the idea to coming to Great Britain. Thus, the campaign Don’t come to Britain was shaped and consisted of realizing posters, using an ironical manner, through which British people would try to highlight the negative aspects of Great Britain, with the purpose of discouraging immigration. Such messages were published by The Guardian in its 28th January magazine[3].

The reaction of Romanians was immediate. Gândul and GMP creative agency which was involved in the publication’s brand management launched the campaign Why don’t you come over on January, 29, 2013. The campaign’s slogan was ”We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania. Why don’t you come over? the message being addressed to the British audience with the purpose of combating prejudices against Romanians. The campaign was conceived as a response to the British publication’s impulse to determine Romanians not to come to England.

The campaign was structured in three stages. In the first stage, there were elaborated posters published by Gândul.info, posters through which the British were provided with reasons for coming to Romania. The second stage of the campaign supposed hosting to Romanians’ homes the British citizens who would wish to come to Romania. The last one consisted in launching a section of available jobs on the website www.whydontyoucomeover.co.uk addressed to British people who were interested in Romania. The Romanian employers were granted with the possibility of registering job offers.

The campaign was carried out online, through the website www.whydon’tyoucomeover.co.uk, and today it can be accessed by going to  www.whydontyoucomeover.gandul.info/, through social networks (Facebook, Twitter), online articles published by Gândul.info, and offline (although the presence was significantly lower) through street posters in Bucharest.

The analysis of the campaign Why don’t you come over? was realized on a qualitative level. Combining the rhetoric analysis to interpretive and narrative ones,   we aimed to identify the overall structure of the campaign, starting from the courts involved in the project management, the motivation and the goal of the  actions, the composition of the message the stylistic use and the meanings transmitted. All of this to understand if and how the online communication tools can act to change perceptions.

Apart from the number of posters realized within the campaign, the publications which took over the message, or the number of sharings on the social networks, more important is the under layer of the campaign: the setting of the objective, the campaign’s structure, the communicators, the target audience, the communicated message, the adaptation of the message to the target audience. For identifying these aspects we have analysed the content of the campaign from a qualitative point of view.

The corpus was represented by the main articles published by Gândul.info in order to mark the main stages of the campaign. In these articles, the publication provides information to its readers on the way the campaign will be carried out, on the campaign motivation and objective. The content analysis was also applied to the website www.whydontyoucomeover.gandul.info/ where can be found the posters published during the campaign, as well as the transmitted messages. The analysis of the online platform also allow us to identify the storyline.

Removing stereotypes, changing perceptions, attitudes is a process developed on a long term and is a result of a complex series of factors. The sudden and immediate change of English public’s attitudes about Romania and Romanians is not a realistic expectation. However, actions carried out during the analyzed campaign can have an impacton on a short term period at least in terms of awakening interest and awareness. The short, medium or long term reactions can be best verified by a social investigation. Though, the articles published in newspapers following the implementation of the campaign Why don’t you come over? reflect to some extent the impact of the communication campaign on different target audiences: British citizens and foreign readers of those publications and by default media representatives.

The press monitoring was realized online, with the help of advanced search options made available by Google search engine. The interrogative expression used was represented by the campaign’s title: Why don’t you come over? and the defined search language was English. Twenty articles were selected which appeared in publications such as Time, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Spiegel, The Independent, The Mirror, BBC, Channel 4, The Telegraph, RT News, Examiner. The monitoring period was January 1st 2013 – January 1st 2014.

The grid analysis was represented by the major theme: the issue of Romanian immigrants, the Romanians’ response to British media initiative. In the identified articles we followed the way in which the campaign realized by Gândul was presented, the quality of the reactions (positive, negative or neutral); we also considered the message communicated during the campaign and the way it has determined a change of perception regarding Romanians.

 

     Findings

The online communication campaign management: the internal public involvement

The accessibility of the new media offers the internal audiences (citizens or national media) the opportunity to carry out different communication projects, in this way having a practical contribution to promoting the country image. Why don’t you come over? stands in contrast with the official campaigns implemented overtime, being a project initiated and managed exclusively by representatives of the national media, the private environment (the public relations agency that provides brand management publication) and counting on an real involvement of the ordinary citizens.

The messages composed and delivered by the media or by Romanians through means of mass communication give more authenticity to the dialogue with the target audience (the British or international media, British citizens, British political class), being specific to the online communication.

Developed only in the digital environment using the specific tools, the Why don’t you come over? campaign offers a good example for the integration of the online communication to the branding strategy, giving access to different audiences to generate their own authentic message.

 

The campaign’s motivation and objective

During January 29, 2013 and February 11, 2015 Gândul.info published six main articles where each stage of the campaign was presented and also detailed what was going to happen, what was the objective and not least what was the reason of implementing such a campaign.

The campaign launched by The Guardian is mentioned in each and every one of the six articles. Thus, the reader is being constantly reminded what determined the launching of the project Why don’t you come over?. The action of the British people is being presented as a decisive factor for the programme initiated by the Romanian publication. This action actually reflects the acute issue of the negative image which Romanians have amongst the English citizens and the British authorities. In the article Gândul Campaign Why don’t you come over? – How it all started: how real is the „Romanian danger” in Great Britain  (Popescu, 2013), the situation which determined the launching of Gândul campaign, as well as the British action are widely presented. The author offers details on the situation of immigrants in England, discussing the case of Romanian immigrants, their percentage compared to that of immigrants from other countries, as well as the restrictions imposed to Romanian citizens who immigrated to England. The journalist realizes a complete portrait of the situation, highlighting the negative image of Romanians amongst the British population. Any communication campaign must start from a detailed analysis of the de facto state, moreover a campaign through which it is being tried to manage a country image. The correct establishment of objectives and the shaping of strategies depend on the manner in which this analysis is realized.

The specific objectives of the campaign are being suggested in four of the six articles which mark the beginning of the campaign and every stage of it. These objectives refer to:

  1. Offering an answer to British people’ messages from The Guardian:

Gândul, along with GMP Advertising, invites you to answer to the fear of Great Britain’s authorities regarding the Romanian ‘invaders’. Every day, two new posters within the campaign Why don’t you come over? will be posted here, on the Facebook page of Gândul (Gândul, 2013). From now on you can use the application “Come to Romania” directly on the website of Gândul. Make your own poster through which you can give an answer to the British (Gândul, 2013);

  1. Inviting the British to get to know Romania, having the possibility to be hosted by Romanians:
    a new step through which the British can get even closer to Romania and can get to know better Romanians. The curious British who are tempted by Romania can now have a welcoming place where they can be hosted: Romanians’ sofas (Gândul, 2013);
  1. The possibility to provide a workplace to the British who are interested in Romania:

Your voice was heard by the entire world, helping us to put into practice the incentive given to the British to visit Romania, by putting your sofas at their disposition; from today onwards we launch also a job section for the English who are attracted to or interested in Romania (Gândul, 2013).

The general objective was suggested in each article published by Gândul.info and by every action carried out within the campaign: changing the perception of the British that Romanians are a danger for their country, by arguing that Romania also has competitive advantages, that Romanians are welcoming, creative, contrary to the stereotypes which have been attributed to them.

The detailed presentation of the motivation, a general and clearly expressed objective, a corresponding goal set for each stage of the campaign, the use of the concept of image of the country indicate a complex structure, a communication plan built on a cohesive strategy, on an analysis of state of facts, suggesting that online communication campaign does not involve a random distribution of a message through social media; it can be considered a branding exercise with a strategic plan, integrated to  a comprehensive program for managing the country’s image.

 

The strategy, structure and message of the campaign

Each phase of the campaign appears to be structured on the basis of a coherent strategy, playing an important role in achieving the goals. In the first part of the campaign we may identify the technique of an antithetical response which use elements of the British language in an ironically way of speaking, a response that seems to confirm the claim of the British discourse, communicating in truth an opposite picture of the Romanian people of the one suggested by The Guardian. While the British were urging the immigrants not to come to England as they would not like it, the Romanians are inviting the British citizens to come and visit Romania since they will be pleased by what they will encounter, providing examples which prove this. The examples do not seem to be chosen at random, as they combine the benefits which the potential British tourists could find in Romania with elements which attract the attention of the English public: British personalities (the fact that Romanian women resemble the British Duchess and that Prince Charles has property in Romania), culinary habits (a more diverse cuisine than the well-known British dishes: fish & chips, pies, sausage), the climate (the climate in Romania is warmer than in England), etc.

The project managed by Gândul is not stopping at the communication of some benefits for which the English citizens would like to visit Romania, conveyed as posters, having a second stage in which they are invited to interact with Romanians and know the Romanian reality, practising tourism in couch-surfing system. The choice is not at random, the couch-surfing phenomenon being popular in Great Britain. The advantage of this kind of trip is the possibility of meeting and interacting with the locals, of having an authentic experience instead of one provided by the touristic industry. The strategy implies in this case as well that some recognizable elements are used to draw the attention and the interest of the target group, stimulating closeness. The invitation towards the British tourists also reveals the intention to highlight the elements shared by the British and the Romanians and their welcoming character.

The third stage also starts from a concrete aspect: the migration of the Romanian citizens to Great Britain with the desire of finding better paid jobs and the fear of the English that their jobs are being taken by Romanian immigrants. Thus, the English are encouraged to apply for jobs available in Romania, the Romanians proving their welcoming character, their generosity, and the fact that the labour market in Romania is not in such a critical situation leading to a massive migration of the Romanians to England but, on the contrary, there are opportunities for the British citizens, too.

The campaign is strategically ended by the publishing of a message in the same newspaper which launched the campaign against Romanians, a message for the British Prime Minister. If during the three stages of the project the information was directed towards the British citizens, aiming to stimulate the dialogue between the members of two nations, in the end the political sphere is also targeted, which is actually the author of the hypothesis concerning a mass migration of the Romanians towards England.

The title Why don’t you come over? and the slogan We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania reflect the message in an equal measure, being built in such a way to support the general strategy of the campaign which targets the change of the image of Romanians bringing forward their positive traits – their hospitality, their sense of humour, their creativity (hinted at by the direct speech, the friendly tone inviting to a dialogue, the ironic register).

The building of the online communication platform (the website www.whydontyoucomeover.gandul.info) offers additional importance to the campaign. The articles published by Gândul are important as they exhibit each step in the campaign, but the creation of the website adds more coherence to the message offering a general overview of the campaign. At the same time, the integration of the Social Media tools (Facebook, Twitter, Google +) and of the methods which allows Romanians to confirm their availability to host British citizens in couch-surfing system or to post available jobs, as well as forms which the English can use to apply for a job or book accommodation reveal the interactive character of the communication platform. Resorting to the online communication means, the public (especially the internal public) is motivated to get involved in the campaign. Therefore, the dialogue stimulated in the articles and posters is continued concretely through the website.

The website has a simple structure, reuniting all of the three stages of the campaign. The platform consists of only three tabs: Home, Work and Travel. The first tab, Home, brings to the foreground the invitation directed to the British to come to Romania for a job. At the same time, the Romanians are prompted to support the campaign by posting available jobs. Find employment and Pitch a job are sections dedicated to the two public categories: internal and external audience. The encouragement is not accidental as it is prompted by an affirmation in the campaign held in England stating that the employment market is saturated. The Romanians are not only eager to prove that they are not interested in emigrating to England in order to take their jobs but seem to support the British in handling the problem of the labour market offering them jobs in Romania: “If your job market is overcrowded, come over, there’s plenty of room in Romania” (www.whydontyoucomeover.gandul.info).

The posters created in the first stage of the campaign are also available on the website in the section More reasons to come over (see FIG.1). The 18 posters have a simple structure: on a blue or red background are written in large font messages dedicated to the British. In the bottom of the poster the logo and slogan Why don’t you come over? is incorporated. As mentioned above, the text found in the posters brings to the foreground the differences and the similarities between the British and the Romanians using points of interest for the British public with the aim to draw their attention.

 3  4
FIG.1

 

The second tab of the website, Work, offers tools which allow Romanians or English to post a job or to apply for one. Thus, the internal public can effectively get involved in the activities of the campaign while the external one can benefit from this. The section Find employment displays all the available positions in Romania with the possibility of applying for one: “We really mean it: we want you to come over”, “come on, try for a job in our country!” (whydontyoucomeover.gandul.info/work/find-employment/) Pitch a job is the section addressed to the internal public and it contains a form which can be used to post an available job in Romania directly on the website.

The third section of the website is dedicated to the invitation to get to know the authentic Romania, visiting it and interacting directly with the members of the nation which hosts them.  “We want you to see for yourselves what Romania is about” (whydontyoucomeover.gandul.info/travel/look-for-a-couch/) is the message addressed to the British in the section Look for a couch where they can also find a map, the hosting offered in Romania, published by simple Romanians by accessing Submit a couch. The message conveyed seems to rely on the strategy to change perceptions, attitudes, through authentic experiences provided by the direct interaction with the reality in question.

The communication through Social Media was not ignored in this campaign. Being aware of the role of the Social Media tools have in disseminating information faster to a broader public, the campaign initiators have included a section named “Spread the word” where the visitors can share the message on Facebook, Twitter or Google + in order to deliver the message to a broader audience.

The website is simple from a visual point of view, as well. Using colours reminiscent of the British flag (red, blue and white), straight, simple lines, few sections, the platform attracts attention conveying clarity and coherence.

The analysis of the articles published by Gândul and of the website’s structure www.whydontyoucomeover.gandul.info provides an overview of the campaign’s strategy and of the delivered message. Having started with the publishing of some articles and posters, the action continued and was developed online through the aforementioned website, thus creating a bridge between the communicated image and the promoted reality. The online communication tools not only help the dissemination of the message, but they also support its testing by the public.

At the same time, the use of specific digital communication techniques has a major importance as it offers the internal public the possibility to get involved concretely in promoting a different image of its country. In both the website and the articles published by Gândul the discourse is directed towards the internal public. The message delivered is adapted to each public segment (external or internal) prompting, at the same time, a dialogue between the two categories, a dialogue which could be translated as an authentic experience, the confirmation of the promoted values, which would determine the changing of perceptions and, ultimately, of the attitudes.

Why don`t you come over? effectively combines the tactics of various practices involved in the branding process, converting the advertising discourse from the classic monologue into a dialogue, giving an interactive character, more authenticity and credibility, providing a further argument for integrating the online component to a country branding program.

 

The impact of the message: the reaction to the Romanian campaign

In February 2013, at the end of the campaign, Gândul published an article with information on the impact the online actions had. According to the monitoring they carried out, the results of the activities undertaken comprise: over 5,000,000 reactions in the Romanian media (printed, online, radio, TV); over 100 materials in the international media; over 1,500,000 reactions on Facebook; 49,000 reactions on Twitter; over 17,000 reactions on blogs and comments; over 60,000 comments in the Romanian online media; over 300 Romanians made their couches available for the British who want to visit; 2 British people applied for jobs in Romania (Gândul, 2013).

Those numbers offer an overview of the visibility that the actions undertaken by the Romanians had amongst the different audiences: internal and external, members of Romania and Britain, representatives of the local and international media.

Our research involved an analysis conducted at a smaller scale and oriented towards the content published by representatives of the international media as a reaction to the deployed campaign. 20 articles published only online in English were subjected to the analysis, being identified through a search based on the title of the campaign. The monitored period was January, 1, 2013 – January, 1, 2014.

The interpretive content analysis was ment to identify the tone of presenting the main theme (Romanian immigrants issue, the Why don’t you come over? campaign), particularly aimed to identify the attitude of foreign media (positive, negative or neutral) towards the project carried out in Romania.

The content of the identified articles generally reflects a negative image of Romanians and Romania and a similar attitude. Of all analysed texts, seven present information in a negative way, using a tonality which suggests this fact „No, really?”[4] or reminding the readers of the events in which Romanians were involved and which caused the negative image: ”Romanians acknowledge that some of their citizens have given the country a bad name with ATM scams, begging and pickpocketing” (Evans, 2013). The messages transmitted in the campaign Why don’t you come over? do not seem to have fought the preconceptions and negative attitudes, at least among the media representatives who continue to present Romania as the poorest country, with a high degree of crime. The campaign launched by Gândul is considered daring and offensive: ”cheeky media campaign” (Toomey, 2013); ”stinging campaign” (Morse, 2013). Taking into account the influence of the media on the public opinion, one can legitimately consider that the way in which the message of the Romanian campaign was reflected has caused the amplification of the negative image amongst the British citizens. Moreover, analysing comments on the respective articles we find that, indeed, the riot and negative attitudes fostered by certain publications has been acquired by their readers, although we also find different, positive reactions concerning Romanians:

”How dare they!!! The only reason they think the EU is good for us is because it means they can come over here and claim our benefits. They have no right to say what is or isn’t good for our country. It’s interference like this that makes us want our borders back and our own rule.”[5]; ”Why the hell we would even think of limiting REAL Romanians from my country is beyond me! Ban the religious nutters, the militant terrorists PLEASE! You can screen out the gypsies too, not flookin rocket science!”[6].

An important part of the monitored articles report the facts in a neuter way with no positive or negative remarks of the authors, being restricted to presenting the campaign initiated by Gândul or the critical situation of Romania, balanced  by positive testimonies of young Romanians working in Britain or of British citizens working in Romania.

Like other members of the growing expatriate British community in Romania, he believes outdated stereotypes are holding the country back. “When you say you are going to Romania, people look at you with shock and horror, as if you are going to some place where there is no law and order and bandits roaming in the hills. The reality is something quite different” (Anonymus, 2013).

Remarks on the campaign Why don’t you come over? are mentioned in the articles of Time or Der Spiegel where the response of the Romanians is seen as positive and humorous: ”the Romanians have taken a more positive approach” (Paramaguru, 2013); ”Romania, meanwhile, took a more humorous approach” (Anonymus, 2013). The Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald, although considering the initiative to be daring, appreciates it, seeing it as an intelligent approach: ”These ads are part of a cheeky and clever campaign run by a Romanian newspaper” (Khaicy, 2013). If the British publications considered that the Romanian reply was offensive, the publications outside of Great Britain appreciated the initiative.

Analysing the monitored articles as a whole, one can notice that the positive reports can be found in America, Australia or Germany, while the negative ones belong to the British publications. A single article published by Huffington Post recounts the fact in a different manner than the rest of the newspapers. The author, Tessa Dunlop, appreciates the Romanians: ”Romanians are poor, but they are also well educated. It is a toxic mix. Believe it or not, most don’t want to leave their family, their friends, their culture, they do so because they are frustrated with the lack of opportunities in their homeland.” (Dunlop, 2013) The title of the article (Manners Please! Romania Is a Country Worth Staying Friends With) also suggests the disapproval of the author concerning the campaign launched by The Guardian.

While the messages transmitted through the campaign Why don’t you come over? has created a hostile attitude among the British public and, especially, among the British media representatives, the effect was different in the case of the audience outside Great Britain. Both the publications from other areas/countries and the members of other nations expressed positive remarks for the campaign launched in Romania: ”If Romania is as advertised in this campaign, and most Romanians are this thoughtful and clever, Britain should be BEGGING them to immigrate to their country”[7], stated one of the readers in Maryland, US. Even though it is possible that the objective of the campaign (to change the image of Romania among the British citizens) may not have been fulfilled (if we take into account the negative reactions identified in the monitored articles), we cannot ignore the fact that the action had an echo among other categories of target audiences who were intrigued.

However, the last article published in The Guardian at the end of the year 2013 seems to mark a change in attitude at the level of the British media, on a medium term. The publications which at the beginning of the year 2013 had launched the violent campaign against the Romanian immigrants seems to eventually show openness in knowing more things about Romanians and Romania. ”What is Romania like? Share your experiences” (The Guardian, 2013) is the urge which The Guardian addresses to the Romanians. In order to attract the attention, the text posted includes a paragraph in Romanian: ”Am dori să aflăm mai mult despre România – arătați-ne ce înseamnă să trăiești și să muncești în țara dumneavoastră – împărtășiți cu noi poze, imagini video și experiențe.” (We would like to find out more about Romania – show us how it is like to live and work in your country – share pictures, videos and experiences) (The Guardian, 2013).

The call transmitted through the article can be seen as a response to the message in the campaign Why don`t you come over?  which invited the British citizens to get to know Romania, to visit and to work in this area. The invitation launched by the British newspaper received 2,596 answers, as Romanians posted on the publication’s website pictures in which they captured touristic, cultural attractions, traditional activities from the rural area, etc. The comment section for this last article and the answer of the publication to the images posted by Romanians are not available. Their analysis would have been important to determine if a change regarding the attitude towards the Romanians and Romania has taken place following the posting of those messages.

 

     Conclusions 

As the concept of nation branding or country branding still give rise to controversy, the use of online communication component within a country branding program might as well be questioned. However, the country branding is a process that involves identifying the competitive advantages, promoting them, and also relying on the interaction more or less direct of various audiences with the reality promoted. The promotion of the competitive advantages and the above mentioned interaction relay on a communication act that has to follow the rules of a dialogue and not a monologue. The arise of this type of dialogue may be favored by the implementation of such an online branding exercise that involves the integration of the new media.

The planning and implementation of the Romanian campaign seem to have been based on a mixture of integrated communication techniques, managing to transmit a complex message which takes into account the needs of the target audience and the context of the campaign implementation, having been built on a clear strategy (highlighted by the the coherent structure of the campaign) and according to some well defined objectives.

The use of digital techniques shows an adaptation to the communication tendencies and needs of the target audience. The integration of the social networks tools, the online platforms (websites) or the dissemination of the messages in the campaign Why don’t you come over? illustrate the way in which the online element can be incorporated in the branding process. Furthermore, the creation of the posters with the help of Romanians, the continuous transmitting of messages to the Romanian citizens in order to support the actions of the campaign represent an example of the way in which the internal audience can have a practical involvement, highlighting the role of the internal public in the branding process.

The efficiency of such techniques in the short term, concerning the changing of the images or attitudes attributed to a country, is difficult to measure. Regarding the message dissemination, we notice the efficiency of the messages transmitted in the campaign managed by Gândul: 100 materials in the international media, the viewing, the sharing, the comments on Facebook and Twitter made by approximately 1,600,000 people; 60,000 readers who commented on the articles posted online. The digital communication, the message typology and the involvement of the internal public prompted the delivery of the information towards a broad public. The content analysis of the articles and of the comments does not prove, though, the changing of the attitudes among the British audience following the campaign. However, it highlights the impact on some secondary public categories. In the long term, the messages delivered seem to have stimulated a minimum of openness to knowledge. The last article published by The Guardian at the end of 2013 where they invite the Romanians to explain to the British audience how their country actually is, how they are, represents a testimony regarding this openness.

Why don’t you come over? started as a series of advertising messages delivered through posters, but it was a much more complex programme. It was not considered a branding campaign. It had a strategy suited to a campaign for managing the country image – a concrete example for the way in which the internal audience can get involved in promoting the country image using online communication tools. Incorporated in a complex country branding programme, with a well defined strategy on the long term, the analyzed campaign can prove the efficiency of managing the country’s image in the digital era by online branding exercises.

 

References

Books

ANHOLT, Simon, 2007, Competitive Identity: The New Brand Management for Nations, Cities and Regions. London, Palgrave Macmillan;

ANHOLT, Simon, 2010, Places. Identity, image and reputation. London, Palgrave Macmillan;

CHELCEA, Septimiu, 2001,  Metodologia cercetării sociologice. Metode cantitative și calitative, București, Economica;

DINNIE, Keith, 2009, Nation Branding. Concepts, issues, practice. Oxford, Elsevier;

DOORLEY, John, GARCIA, Helio Fred, 2011, Reputation Management. The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication, Second edition, New York, Roudledge;

FEDLWICK, P., 2003, „Brand communications” in CLIFTON, Rita, SIMMONS, John, Brands and Branding, London, The Economist, pp. 127-142,;

GEORGIU, Grigore, 2010, Comunicare interculturală. București, Comunicare.ro;

KOTLER, Philip, HAIDER, Donald, H., REIN, Irving, 2001, Marketingul locurilor, București, Teora;

LIPPMAN, Walter, 2009, Opinia Publică. București, Comunicare.ro;

OLINS,Wally, 2010, Despre brand, 2nd edition, Bucureşti, Comunicare.ro.

 

Articles in Journals

ANHOLT, Simon, 1998, “Nation-Brands of the Twenty-First Century”, Journal of Brand Management, 5(6), p. 395-406, doi:10.1057/bm.1998.30;

KOTLER, Philip & GERTNER, David, 2002, “Country as a brand, product and beyond: A place marketing and brand management perspective”, Journal of Brand Management, 9(4), p.249-261, doi:10.1057/palgrave.bm.2540076;

OLINS, Wally, 2002, “Branding the nation – the historical context”, The Journal of Brand Management. 9 (4), p. 241-248, doi:10.1057/palgrave.bm.2540075

 

Online newspaper articles (Romanian newspapers)

“WHY DON’T YOU COME OVER?” Răspunsul Gândul la campania britanică “NU VENIŢI ÎN ANGLIA!” [Gandul`s answear to the british campaign: DON`T COME TO BRITAIN] (2013, January 29), Gândul, retrieved October 10, 2015, from http://www.gandul.info/stiri/why-don-t-you-come-over-raspunsul-gandul-la-campania-britanica-nu-veniti-in-anglia-update-10528548 ;

Campania Gândul „WHY DON’T YOU COME OVER?” merge mai departe. Îi invităm pe români SĂ-I PRIMEASCĂ ÎN GAZDĂ PE BRITANICI. Pune-ţi şi tu la bătaie canapeaua pe site-ul campaniei [Gandul`s campaign  „WHY DON’T YOU COME OVER?” goes on. We invite the Romanian people TO OFFER THEIR COUCH TO THE BRITONS. Offer your couch on the website], (2013, February 3),  Gândul, retrieved October 10, 2015, from http://www.gandul.info/stiri/campania-gandul-why-don-t-you-come-over-merge-mai-departe-ii-invitam-pe-romani-sa-i-primeasca-in-gazda-pe-britanici-pune-ti-si-tu-la-bataie-canapeaua-pe-site-ul-campaniei-10540236

Campania Gândul „Why don’t you come over?” De unde a început totul: cât de real este “pericolul românesc” în Marea Britanie [„Why don’t you come over?” campaign. Where everything started: how real is the `Romanian danger` for the Great Britain],  (2013, February 3), Gândul, retrieved October 10, 2015, from  http://www.gandul.info/stiri/campania-gandul-why-don-t-you-come-over-de-unde-a-inceput-totul-cat-de-real-este-pericolul-romanesc-in-marea-britanie-10538667

De acum poţi folosi aplicaţia “Come to Romania” direct pe site-ul Gândul. Fă-ţi singur afişul prin care le răspunzi britanicilor[From now on you can use the app “Come to Romania”  directly on Gandu website. Make your own post to answer the Britons], (2013, February 4), Gândul, retrieved October 10, 2015, from http://www.gandul.info/stiri/de-acum-poti-folosi-aplicatia-come-to-romania-direct-pe-site-ul-gandul-fa-ti-singur-afisul-prin-care-le-raspunzi-britanicilor-10542676?utm_source=Gandul&utm_medium=Click%252BCitesteSi&utm_campaign=CitesteSi%252Bgandul

Campania “Why don’t you come over?” continuă. Din această seară le oferim britanicilor şi slujbe în România [“Why don’t you come over?” campaign goes on. Starting with tonight we can offer the Britons jobs in our country], (2013, February 7), Gândul, retrieved October 10, 2015, from  http://www.gandul.info/stiri/campania-why-don-t-you-come-over-continua-din-aceasta-seara-le-oferim-britanicilor-si-slujbe-in-romania-10549297

Pagina 8 din The Guardian. MESAJUL ROMÂNILOR către premierul David Cameron [The eight page in the The Guardian. Romanians message to David Cameron Prime Minister], (2013, February 11), Gândul, retrieved October 10, 2015, from http://www.gandul.info/stiri/astazi-pagina-8-din-the-guardian-mesajul-romanilor-catre-premierul-david-cameron-10554022/

 

Online newspaper articles (International newspapers)

Dhumieres, Marie,  (2013, January 31). Worried about immigration? Then come to Romania – all our women look like Kate and Pippa . The Indepdent.  Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/worried-about-immigration-then-come-to-romania-all-our-women-look-like-kate-and-pippa-8476016.html

Dunlop, Tessa, (2013, February 3). Manners Please! Romania Is a Country Worth Staying Friends With . Huffington Post. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tessa-dunlop/romania-is-a-country-worth-staying-friends-with_b_2598362.html

Evans, Natalie,  (2013, February 1st).’Come to Romania, our women look like Kate and Pippa’: Newspaper launches campaign against UK portrayal of immigrants. Mirror.  Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/kate-middleton-gandul-romanian-newspaper-1569564

Hurel, Quentin,  (2013, Feburary 27). The funny Romanian response. West Info. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from  http://www.west-info.eu/the-funny-romanian-response/

Khaicy, Gemma, (2013, September 15). Cheeky Romanians stick it to the Brits. The Sydney Morning Herlad. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.smh.com.au/world/cheeky-romanians-stick-it-to-the-brits-20130915-2tt6c.html

Morse, Felictiy,  (2013, January 31). Half Our Women ‘Look Like Kate Middleton’ Romanian Newspaper Says In ‘Anti-Britain’ Ads. Huffington Post. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from  http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/01/31/immigration-romania-eu-anti-britain_n_2588012.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

Ollie, John,  (2013, January 31). Britain’s New Slogan: Don’t Come to the U.K.! Time.Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/01/30/britains-new-slogan-dont-come-to-the-u-k/

Paramaguru, Kharunya, (2013, February 5). Romania Responds to Britain’s Campaign: ‘We May Not Like Britain, but You Will Love Romania’. Time. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/02/05/romania-responds-to-britains-anti-tourism-campaign-we-may-not-like-britain-but-you-will-love-romania/

Taylor, Jerome,  (2013, February 12). British expats in Romania: They come over here, taking our jobs… The Independent. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/british-expats-in-romania-they-come-over-here-taking-our-jobs-8492393.html

Toomey, Alyssa,  (2013, February 6). Kate and Pippa Middleton Featured in Romanian Ad Campaign: All Our Women Look Like Royal Sisters . UK Online. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from  http://uk.eonline.com/news/385558/kate-and-pippa-middleton-featured-in-romanian-ad-campaign-all-our-women-look-like-royal-sisters

Walsh, James, (2013, January 29). Putting people off coming to Britain: your pictures The Guardian. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.theguardian.com/uk/gallery/2013/jan/29/immigration-britain-ministers-gallery#/?picture=403153052&index=0

 

Articles with anonymous author

Awful weather, poor cuisine: Romanian newspaper launches prank anti-UK ad campaign. (2013, February 2). RT News. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from https://www.rt.com/news/anti-uk-campaign-romania-295/

Brilliant Award-Winning Romanian Tourism Campaign. (2013, September 4). Buzz Feed. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.buzzfeed.com/copyranter/brilliant-award-winning-romania-tourism-campaign#.qqqX9MxQB

Come to Romania! Our women look like Kate. (2013, January 30). Channel 4. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.channel4.com/news/come-to-romania-our-women-all-look-like-kate

EXCLUSIVE: Romania launches ad campaign AGAINST Ukip after European election success. (2013, January 30). Express. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/478751/EXCLUSIVE-Romania-launches-ad-campaign-against-Ukip-after-European-election-success

Influx from the Southeast: German Cities Complain of High Immigration. (2013, February 4). Spiegel. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-cities-worried-about-high-immigration-from-romania-and-bulgaria-a-881409.html

Romania campaign mocks UK anxiety about worker influx. (2013, February 1st). BBC News. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21291847

Romanian ads mock UK, claim ‘all our women look like Kate and Pippa Middleton . (2013, February 7). Examiner. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from  http://www.examiner.com/article/romanian-ads-mock-uk-claim-all-our-women-look-like-kate-and-pippa-middleton

Why has Romania got such a bad public image?(2013, February 25).BBC News. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21550768

What is Romania like? Share your experiences. 2013, September 15). The Guardian. Retrieved October 12, 2015 from https://witness.theguardian.com/assignment/5280f883e4b0b9c05d8a3396

 

Web refrences

Future Brand. (2014). Country brand index 2014-15. London, Retrieved October 13, 2015 from http://www.futurebrand.com/cbi/2014

http://whydontyoucomeover.gandul.info/ retrieved October 18, 2015

 

[1] Multilogue is a term used to express the change of the communication process between the transmitter and the receiver and the involvement of several instances (the information is sent from one receiver to another and to transmitter again). The term was mentionned in McMahon, Timothy, P. (2011). „Integrated communication” in John Doorley and Helio Fred Garcia, Reputation management. The key to successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication, Second edition, p. 264. New York: Routledge

[2] The Guardian informed about the Governement’s intention on and supported the idea in the article published on January 27, 2013: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jan/27/uk-immigration-romania-bulgaria-ministers Two days after, they started the Don’t come to Britain campaign

[3] All the posters and messages published by The Guardian can be accessed on http://www.theguardian.com/uk/gallery/2013/jan/29/immigration-britain-ministers-gallery

[4] Comment of the author of the article Kate and Pippa Middleton Featured in Romanian Ad Campaign: All Our Women Look Like Royal Sisters published on 06.02.2013, in UK Online, retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://uk.eonline.com/news/385558/kate-and-pippa-middleton-featured-in-romanian-ad-campaign-all-our-women-look-like-royal-sisters

[5] Comment of a reader on the article EXCLUSIVE: Romania launches ad campaign AGAINST Ukip after European election success, retrieved October 12, 2015 from  http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/478751/EXCLUSIVE-Romania-launches-ad-campaign-against-Ukip-after-European-election-success

[6] Ibidem

[7] Comment on the article Brilliant Award-Winning Romanian Tourism Campaign published on 04.09.2013 in Buzz Feed, Retrieved October 12, 2015 from http://www.buzzfeed.com/copyranter/brilliant-award-winning-romania-tourism-campaign#.qqqX9MxQB