The concept of Nation Branding as a public diplomacy tool at the disposal of governments is relatively new to the foreign ministry cadre of tools. Nation branding grows out of and possibly consists of a complex outgrowing of the country of origin, place branding, public diplomacy, and national identity. What all of these concepts – and the academic literature – skirt around but never really attribute is the place of culture in nation branding. As culture grows out of the country of origin, much of the value of a place rests in the culture of its people, a primary goal of public diplomacy is explaining culture, and national identity is created by culture, nation branding must be seen as both an outgrowing of culture, and as an indicator of cultural context and values.
Using the “GREAT” Britain nation branding campaign of 2012 as a case study, nation branding efforts are most successful when they combine deep domestic political buy-in, an appropriation of existing brands that combine both an accepted piece of the national identity and a widely-held association in international audiences, tight internal or interagency governmental coordination, and buy-in and integration by all level of participants. A key factor that touches all of these areas is the existing culture, as felt and celebrated internally and sought-after from outside of the nation. The GREAT campaign achieved all of these marks exceptionally well, one could argue, by presenting a Britain that more British – a Britain centered on itself, and coming from itself; British self-interest, British cultural products, British goals for British people using British historic lines of accomplishment. Rather than bringing the world a message of ‘Britain – we are like you,’ Prime Minister Cameron’s government focused on ‘Britain – we achieve high British standards for the British first.’ And in terms of ability to execute from within the British government apparatus, the approach worked.
I argue two things from this example: 1) That ideals of exemplary achievement and a higher-than-others order of cultural, ideological, and performance ‘place’ in the world was a preexisting British cultural trait that was the underlying reason for the campaign’s success. 2) That this example of the state co-opting aspects of national interest, cultural products, history, and underlying national identity into a state-’organized’ or ‘orchestrated’ nation brand is perhaps a new legitimate use of power privy only to a legitimate state. Like Weber’s definition of the state as having the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, perhaps a state can likewise now be defined as having a monopoly on the legitimate use of culture as its identification. In a kind of soft power turned inward while it grandstands for the the international stage, nation branding may become an evolved and subtly unilateral form of cultural export.