Why nation branding? Ask a Kazakh

Israeli diplomat Ido Aharoni told an Austin Hall audience that if a nation doesn't brand itself, someone else will.
Israeli diplomat Ido Aharoni told an Austin Hall audience that if a nation doesn’t brand itself, someone else will.

If anyone wonders what can happen when a nation doesn’t consciously, strategically and actively brand itself, just take a look at Kazakhstan, Israeli diplomat Ido Aharoni said.

Aharoni, speaking April 28 in Austin Hall’s Robert Family Events Room, noted how Kazakhstan’s brand is linked not to any actual aspects of the country but to British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and his 2006 movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

“Borat is a Turkish name,” said Aharoni, Israel’s consul general for the New York City area. “The language he spoke was not Kazakh – it was half Hebrew, half gibberish. The movie was shot in Romania. Sacha Baron Cohen has never set foot in Kazakhstan, yet he’s the most famous person from the country.”

His visit sponsored by the Jewish National Fund and Oregon Hillel, a campus organization for Jewish people, Aharoni told the audience that branding is the ability to create and then manage a personality.

“A brand is a promise. A strong brand is a promise delivered,” said Aharoni, who contrasted his country with Brazil, which has gotten the world to associate it with fun.

“Brand Brazil is very strong, very powerful, very attractive,” he said. “Brazil the place is a little inferior to the brand, and the gap between the two is worth billions and billions to Brazil’s economy.

“Israel is exactly the opposite. The product is very attractive, very much fun, but the brand is so inferior to the product that it creates a huge deficit. The brand is about conflict; that is what defines brand Israel.”

Aharoni noted that each year 300,000 American students study abroad but only 1,500 of those land in Israel.

“The number should be in the tens of thousands,” he said. “We offer courses in English and have some of the best universities in the world, but there are more American students in Cairo than in Israel.”

Israel is working hard at rebranding itself with a focus on its creative energy – “vibrant diversity, building the future, entrepreneurial zeal,” said Aharoni.

“Creative energy is not a campaign, not a slogan – it’s the essence of who we are,” he said. “It’s a basic right of every place in the world to promote itself. And it’s not just about tourism – not every person can afford to travel, and if you can’t, then my goal is to develop a healthy curiosity about Israel.”


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