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Brand Ireland: A Practical Opportunity to Revitalise our Economy - By Mary Lambkin©, Professor of Marketing, Smurfit Business School, University College Dublin

Brand Ireland: A Practical Opportunity to Revitalise our Economy - By Mary Lambkin©, Professor of Marketing, Smurfit Business School, University College Dublin
March 2010

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0 Brand Ireland: A Practical Opportunity to Revitalise our Economy 0 Brand Ireland: A Practical Opportunity to Revitalise our Economy Document Transcript

  • Brand Ireland: A Practical Opportunity to Revitalise our Economy Mary Lambkin© Professor of Marketing Smurfit Business School University College Dublin March 2010 0
  • Brand Ireland: A Practical Opportunity to Revitalise our Economy Mary Lambkin© March 2010IntroductionThe top theme to emerge from the Global Irish Economic Forum last September was the strongneed to refocus and refine the brand or proposition that Ireland projects to the world market. Anew ‗playbook for the 21st Century‘ is required according to the report from that forum.What exactly that brand or ‗playbook‘ should be is quite another story. The Farmleigh reportwent on to offer various recommendations, most of which were sector specific. It said that ourtourism proposition should be clearer and more consistent and should recognise the importanceof culture in promoting Ireland abroad and developing a unique brand for the country in newmarkets.It also suggested that we develop Ireland as a leading location for intellectual propertyprotection and as a test bed for clinical trials. It suggested that we appoint an ―IFSC Tsar‖ torestore confidence in the finance sector and to actively promote Ireland as a centre for globalasset management activity. It recommended that we create a ‗Gateway Ireland‘ website toproject Irish business, culture, sport etc to the wider world.The recently published Innovation Task Force report picked up on many of the same themes,summarised in a vision for the future in which Ireland becomes an international hub forinnovation, re-branded as ―The Innovation Island‖. It proposed that a single national brandidentity based on the concept of innovation should be developed and used consistently byrelevant agencies in all of their promotional efforts.Their report mentions that the enterprise agencies are in the process of designing anddeveloping a common brand for the national enterprise and research agenda that is to becompelling, future focused, and likely to generate awareness of Ireland at home and abroad asa vibrant, innovation-led, modern enterprise economy. The first stage in this process wascompleted by December 2009 and will shortly be rolled out and used across a range ofcommunications materials in support of the various communications strategies of the enterpriseagencies and other stakeholders involved in branding Ireland.The acceptance of the importance of a single, clear brand identity is to be welcomed as is theacknowledged importance of an active, integrated marketing campaign. Even the briefest reviewof the points just mentioned, however, suggests that the concept of Brand Ireland means a lot of 1
  • different things to different people and sectors, and that we are a long way from a single,coherent, unified brand in the sense implied by the Farmleigh participants.Ironically, the latest incarnation of Brand Ireland is Nama which proudly launched a new logoand brand identity on February 10 last. It is a stylised representation of the harp that has beenat the core of the Irish national identity since the foundation of the State. There is nothing wrongwith this per se but it does raise questions as to how it fits in with other national symbols andwhether it does or should tie in with a bigger agenda for managing the national brand.This paper sets out some of the issues that branding and marketing professionals mighttypically consider in the context of nation or country branding, and tries to offer a freshperspective to contribute to the debate on the future direction of Brand Ireland.The Concept of Nation BrandsThe idea of treating countries or nations as brands is not new but has been gaining currency inrecent years as competition for tourism and foreign direct investment (FDI) has intensifiedamong the developed nations and, even more so, as emerging nations such as India and Chinahave become serious challengers in the global market. That‘s why terms such as ‗nation brand‘,‗country brand‘ and ‗place brand‘ are now heard so often, and a minor industry has grown up indesigning, managing and measuring nation brands.So what is meant by the concept of a brand and is it appropriate to apply it in the context ofcountries and nations, just as it is to commercial products and services? In marketing terms, abrand is a name, sign, symbol, slogan or anything that is used to identify and distinguish aspecific product, service, or business. A brand‘s visual identity is the overall look of itscommunications and at the core of every brand identity is a brand mark, or logo. An effectivebrand visual identity is achieved by the use of a strong, attractive design appropriate to theparticular product, and consistent application of that design through elements such as colours,typefaces, and graphic elements.This name and symbol stands for the sum total of what that brand means to all relevantaudiences, and the term brand equity is used to signify the value-- both reputational andcommercial --that it represents. This value derives from the name recognition and goodwill that 2
  • the brand has earned over time, which translates into higher sales revenue and profits thancompeting brands. In principle, branding a country or nation should be the same or similar to a product orservice. Its all about identifying, developing and communicating the parts of the identity that arefavorable to specified target audiences. But the analysis of identity and of multiple applicationsand target audiences, makes the brand building activities are much more complex for countriesthan for products.A nation brand must accommodate sectors as diverse as government, culture and heritage,international trade, tourism, capital investment, and people (public opinion and migration). It isdifficult to conceive of a single brand that can represent all of these sectors simultaneously andequally well. It is also far more difficult to achieve a fully integrated communication mix in nationbranding because of the number of diverse audiences that must be reached.The fact is, however, that every nation has an international image whether it manages it or not,based on a mixture of perceptions and experiences among the viewing public. There is nodoubt, either, that having a positive image can make a world of difference to a country, city orregion, just as it does for companies and their products. An imprimatur like “German engineering”or “Made in the USA” can boost exports, investment and tourism. Labels can also be influential:Consider the connotation of ―Third World‖ country versus ―Emerging Market.‖In the past, nation brands tended to develop spontaneously without any intervention from stateor other sources, based on the ebb and flow of news and events that occurred in that countryand in its external transactions. For example, if you look at what is happening in India today,and the perceptions about India, none of these are controlled. India has emerged in the last fiveyears in terms of perceptions in a quite different way from the way it was perceived ten or fifteenyears ago. It was spirituality and poverty, and now it‘s software; it‘s highly educated people. Andin some countries, Indian clothing — textiles and fabrics, are fashionable.… None of this ismanaged. It‘s all spontaneous.1Nowadays, however, most countries are trying to manage their brands in a planned, deliberateway with varying degrees of success. One of the countries that has been most active in brandbuilding is New Zealand which has been so successful in its efforts that it has become a rolemodel for other countries. Starting in 1999, it launched a campaign with the slogan ``100%Pure in all of its key markets for trade and consumer events, advertising and marketing. Theoriginal target for ``100% Pure campaign was the tourism, farming and dairy industries, but thegovernment soon realised its shortcomings in marketing the local information technology andnext-generation industries, which gave birth to the follow-up slogan ``New Thinking NewZealand in 2003.1 Wally Olins, Chairman of the branding consultancy Saffron in London and Madrid, quoted in InterbrandWhite Paper on Country Branding. 3
  • The success of this campaign can be seen in the results: incoming visitors increased 53 percentsince the ``100% Pure campaign kicked off and the ``New Thinking New Zealand effortssubstantially increased exports. New Zealand achieved a ranking of 4th place in the FuturebrandTop 10 nation brands last year, behind major players including the US, Canada and Australia.Commenting on this ranking, The NewZealand.com website says ―The world is in love with NewZealand. People want to holiday here, live here, consume our primary produce and wine, andeven watch our movies. Were seen as a peaceful backwater in a harsh world of terrorism andfinancial instability‖.Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and many other countries have sought to replicate thesuccess of the New Zealand branding model. For example, the Korean government is currentlycampaigning its vision for ― Brand Power Korea 2010, which aims to have 70 percent of totalKorean exports come from brand name companies and to place more than 10 Korean brandson the worlds 100 most recognized names list by 2010.According to Futurebrand which publishes an annual ranking of nation brands, the best countrybrands are those which have the most attractive perception through a whole mix of economic,political and social activity. They propose that countries have the potential to become some ofthe world‘s strongest brands, rivaling Nike, Sony and IBM. They say that "well-brandedcountries can better promote economic value and export products; attract inbound investment,tourists and talent, redress stereotypes or cliches and build competitive advantage".All of this suggests the conclusion that there is much to be gained for this country by investingconsiderable time and effort in developing Brand Ireland, and more to be lost if our competitorsaround the world steal a march on us in this regard.How Does Brand Ireland Stand Right Now?The first step in brand building is to establish where the product currently stands and thisbaseline information can then be used to identify key attributes upon which to focus—strengthsto build upon, weaknesses to be corrected, and knowledge gaps to be filled. This stage shouldalso help to set objectives to be pursued and metrics that can be used to gauge achievementsover time.Many of our state agencies conduct their own research to find how Ireland is viewed by relevantaudiences in other countries. There are also several well-regarded annual surveys of country ornation brands such as the Futurebrand Country Brand Index (CBI), the Anholt GfkRoper NationBrands Index, the Gallup Country Favorability Ratings and the Reputation Institute‘s CountryReputation Index (CRI). Each of these rankings is based on a large international survey thatasks questions about a long list of topics that have a bearing on a country‘s image or reputation.The Futurebrand CBI, for example, tracks the perceptions of approximately 3,000 internationalbusiness and leisure travelers from nine countries—the US, the UK, China, Australia, Japan,Brazil, the UAE, Germany and Russia. They combine the results of that survey with insights 4
  • from an expert panel of 47 tourism, development, policy and academic professionals to compiletheir index.Ireland has not featured in the overall Top 10 countries which has tended to be dominated bythe very large countries, with the exception of New Zealand, which ranked 4th last year. TheUSA topped the list in 2009 with Germany entering the Top 10 for the first time.Table 1 Futurebrand Country Brand IndexRank 2009 20081 USA Australia2 Canada Canada3 Australia USA4 New Zealand Italy5 France Switzerland6 Italy France7 Japan New Zealand8 UK UK9 Germany Japan10 Spain SwedenWe have featured, however, in the top 10 for about a quarter of the individual variablesmeasured in this survey. For example, Ireland features in the top 10 for 6 out of 16 variablesunder the tourism heading which is just one less than the UK and our rankings are very similar,as shown in Table 2 below. 5
  • Futurebrand Detailed Nation Brand Rankings 2008 Table 2 Tourism VariablesTop 10 Number 1 UK IrelandAuthenticity New ZealandNatural Beauty New Zealand 6History Egypt 6Rest/ Maldives 10RelaxationBeaches MaldivesOutdoor Australia 1 10 ScotlandActivities New Zealand 2Fine Dining ItalyHoliday Options UAENightlife Japan 9Safety NorwayEase of Travel Netherlands 6Friendly Locals New Zealand 6 Scotland 2Families Canada 9Value for Money ThailandDesire to New Zealand 7 6Visit/AgainMost Like to Australia 1 10 8Live In New Zealand 2Predictably enough, the highest ranking is for the friendliness of our people (2), but we also dowell on natural beauty (6), desire to visit or visit again(6), like to live there (8),families (9), andrest/relaxation (10). In contrast, we do not feature at all on variables such as fine dining, outdooractivities, nightlife or, more surprisingly, history or arts/culture.In terms of business, we feature in the top 10 for 4 out of 12 variables compared to the UKwhich features in 5. Our best scores are for being easy to business with (5), a good place toextend a business trip (5), and a preferred destination for conferences. Interestingly, we rank10th as a new country with which to do business perhaps suggesting that we are not yet thoughtof spontaneously as a business location. 6
  • We do not feature at all on advanced technology or high quality products suggesting that thereis much work to be done if we are to build our brand as an ―Innovation Island‖. This finding isconsistent with the European Innovation Scoreboard in which we ranked 9th among the EU27countries last year and the year before. Futurebrand Detailed Nation Brand Rankings 2008 Table 3 Business VariablesTop 10 Number 1 UK IrelandIdeal for Business USA 3Easy to Do Canada 6 5BusinessNew Country for Japan 10BusinessRising Star ChinaQuality Products Japan 6Advanced Japan 3TechnologyBest Performance Chinalast YearStandard of Sweden 1Living Norway 2Preferred Japan 8Destination forConferencesExtend a Australia 1 5Business Trip New Zealand 2Environmentalism Sweden 1 Norway 2Political Freedom Netherlands 10These rankings are merely a small illustration of the kind of data that is available to inform ourthinking about where Ireland is currently positioned relative to our competitor countries andrelative to those against which we may wish to benchmark ourselves for the future. 7
  • The task for our government is to use research data of this type cleverly and imaginatively tochart an overall direction for Brand Ireland, to decide on our desired positioning with regard toindividual variables, and to choose objectives and measures so as to monitor progress. Ideally,we should have one summary message that transcends all the individual sectoral interests, butone which can accommodate the individual sectors such as tourism and business in such away that they compliment and reinforce each other and generate positive synergies rather thanacting completely separately.For example, there seems to be an obvious complimentarity between our rankings as friendlypeople and as being easy to do business with. Also, the desire to visit and/or live here seemspositively related with attending conferences and extending business trips. These ―people‖variables seem to offer one strong and unique platform upon which Brand Ireland could be built.Undoubtedly, there are other alternatives also, but this example serves to illustrate the type ofbuilding block approach that any branding effort should follow. Another critical issue to consideris whether we wish to build our brand around what we are or have currently –such as our peoplestrengths, or whether we wish to build a brand to reflect our aspirations and to use it to lead usforward in the desired direction. The concept of Innovation Ireland is a case of the latter—itreflects what we would like to be seen as rather than where we currently stand.As explained by Interbrand, one of the best known international branding consultancies, ―somecountries focus on what they believe is an asset currently and therefore a credible claim tomake. These countries feature a call to action that is immediate. Other countries, usually thosewhich are less developed, focus on the transformation that is occurring and emphasise thepotential for the future‖2.Interbrand goes on to say that Ireland and Scotland are widely acknowledged as having createdcountry brands that punch far above their natural weight. They are seen as small, cocky fighterswho use the illusion of an enduring enemy to create a strong brand identity for themselves asthe underdog. Ireland has also enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity on the back of multipleEurovision Song Contest wins and shows such as River Dance and U2. Guinness helps too asthe quintessentially Irish Brand that at once feeds the reputation of Ireland, as Ireland-thecountry brand- feeds it.Undoubtedly these positive images and reputation have been dented in recent times due to oureconomic and social problems, but we still have a strong base of awareness and visibilityaround the world and it should be possible to refresh and recover our reputation with attractivebranding and communications.2 Interbrand, White Paper on Branding a Country, London. 8
  • Brand ArchitectureTalking about Brand Ireland or any other country brand implies that it is a single entity but that isclearly an over-simplification because countries have so many constituent parts. There areusually different geographical regions—cities and provinces, different ethnic groups, and a greatvariety of activities and sectoral interests, both public and private. There are all of thegovernment departments and state agencies, for example, representing everything fromagriculture to education and environment, to arts and culture, and investment. There are alsomany companies selling goods and services from the country, some of which are closelyidentified with their country-of-origin (eg Guinness and Baileys), while others are globalbusinesses that just happen to be located here.It would be easy to conclude that it is impossible for one single brand to capture all of thisdiversity. On the contrary, however, a strong umbrella brand for the country can actually play avery useful role in communicating a higher level vision and in uniting diverse activities towards acommon goal. There can also be economies of scale in a common branding strategy,eliminating duplication of effort and leveraging benefits from marketing across sectors. That isthe ideal and is well worth striving for. New Zealand, already mentioned above, has shown how its generic brand can be applied in acoordinated way across many sectors. Although the principal tag line is ``100% Pure NewZealand, the government allowed private corporations to extend the campaign to fit theirbusinesses, such as ``100% Romance and ``100% Pure Adventure. This catch phrase is nowused by 170 exporting and services companies.Very large business corporations face similar problems of how to organize and brand theirbusinesses which typically include many products and markets. They make this complexitymanageable by considering their products and markets in terms of a hierarchical structureknown as a brand architecture. At the top of this hierarchical structure is the parent corporationand below it reside all of the subsidiaries, divisions and products in an expanding tree structure.By structuring their business in this way, they can see all of the connections andinterconnections both horizontally and vertically, and this helps to decide how to evolve thebrand structure over time.The general approach followed by many of the world‘s leading service businesses is referred toas a ―branded house‖ which means that they try to unite all of their businesses and marketsunder a single master brand over time. This allows them to concentrate their marketinginvestment on a single brand, getting a scale advantage, rather than dissipating spendingacross a large number of small individual brands, with no synergistic benefits.Citigroup and HSBC are two examples of this strategy which is now being copied by many othercompanies with aspirations to become global brands. These companies manage their masterbrands in a highly structured way with detailed manuals guiding all manifestations of the brand 9
  • across businesses, markets and applications. No deviation is allowed so as to ensure absolutestandardization of their brand across the world.A similar approach could easily be envisaged for a nation brand as shown below. Centralgovernment is at the top of the hierarchy with the master brand, and this brand is replicated in aconsistent way down through the hierarchy of government departments, state and semi-stateagencies, all the way down to the simplest and smallest application. Such a vision is a long way from the current situation in which the Irish State is represented bya kaleidoscope of images and logos with no common thread among them, and a highly variablestandard of design and execution, as shown in the chart below.Current Irish Brand ArchitectureOffice of The President At the top of the hierarchy for Brand Ireland currently is thePresidential Standard, which is a gold harp on a blue background as shown below. This is theimage that was registered with the Chief Herald as the official coat of arms of the State inNovember 1945, and which is the sole property of the State ever since. The emblem isprotected internationally as a state emblem under the Paris Convention for the Protection ofIndustrial Property 1883.For some reason, this official version has been changed in recent times and a newinterpretation shown below now appears on the Presidential website. There may be goodreason for this but, visually, it is a far weaker representation than the original and is introducingcolours that do not have any particular connection to Ireland. 10
  • Presidential Standard for Ireland Current Logo on President’s WebsiteThe Oireachtas, the Irish Parliament introduced a new corporate identity in 2008, shownbelow. This new identity was presented as an update of the traditional symbol of the state--theharp-- with a more stylised version set within concentric circles. According to the announcementaccompanying its introduction, the harp was ―specially drawn‖ in gold ink ―which best representsthe stature and position of the legislature‖. Furthermore, the green circles are in ―a lighter,fresher colour which adds a modern quality to our new modern identity‖. The stated objectivewas that ―Our new identity system expresses a suitably confident and engaging appearance forthe Houses of the Oireachtas.‖ 11
  • The first thing to observe about this new identity is that it bears no relationship to the nationalstandard, either in colour or form. Furthermore, this new identity is rather weak and spideryand does not demonstrate the strength or depth that would be desirable for a nation‘s identity.Arguably, it would have been much better to use the national standard (gold on a solid bluebackground) as a guide for the evolution of this new identity.It is also curious to observe that this new identity does not seem to have been carried throughon the official government website which has the harp but uses a different colour scheme styleand colour scheme. Government Departments This is where the brand architecture really breaks down. Eachdepartment has a different visual identity, varying in colour, style, language (Irish versusEnglish) and every other aspect, and collectively, looking like total chaos.The harp, which has been a central symbol of Irish nationhood since the foundation of the state,features in the identities of some departments but has disappeared from many others. TheDepartments of Health and Social and Family have abandoned the Harp completely andadopted entirely new symbols with no obvious national resonance. Those that have kept theharp have re-interpreted it in all sorts of ways, with no consistency among them. See, forexample, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and the Department of Enterprise,Trade and Employment. 12
  • Government Department Identities Finance 13
  • Government Department Identities ContinuedEach department has also adopted its own colour scheme, with no two similar. It is alsonoteworthy that the role of the Irish language varies across departments. In some cases, Irish isuppermost while in others it is presented only as sub-text.State and Semi-State Agencies. This same looseness has carried forward into the variousstate and semi-state agencies which have played fast and loose with the harp and shamrock inevolving their own individual identities.The IDA and Enterprise Ireland have completely different logos and identities, neither of whichhas any obvious connection to Ireland or to each other. 14
  • The IDA logo is tired and faded in appearance with a clash between the angular emblemsuggesting something about scientific activity and the typeface used for the word Ireland whichis traditional and old-fashioned. In fact, it seems like a very unnecessary complication to havetwo separate agencies with unconnected identities representing the single subject ofenterprise/business.Similarly, having two different organizations with separate and dissimilar identities representingtourism is difficult to understand. In both cases, the shamrock is used as the core image but it istreated quite differently in each case.Similar observations could be made about many of the other state and semi-state agenciesoperating in this country. It is not necessary to review every one in order to arrive at the generalconclusion that our national branding is in a pretty chaotic state.In fact, our Defence Forces Logo—another version of the harp—has actually been the butt ofjokes among an international audience. It seems the Irish Military have won the latest "whosucks" opinion poll which invited internet users to compare 23 Armed forces logos from acrossthe world. And a quick look at the ―who sucks‖ website will tell you why. Whereas other armieshave gone for traditional crosses or swords, the Irish have settled for a swishy sort of harp thingmeets a pregnant lady holding a spear3.3 http://www.who-sucks.com/politics/17-fearsome-defense-m...world 15
  • What Should be Done about Brand Ireland?Marketing and branding people would be inclined to look in dismay at the current array ofidentities within the Irish state sector. This represents a missed opportunity to build a reallyclear, strong identity for the Irish State to represent the essence of how we want to be seen inthe world. This master brand would also provide leadership and coordination for themanagement of the identities of all the constituent organizations that come under the State‘sstewardship, ensuring a clear, coherent presentation of all facets of our communications.It seems entirely unacceptable that core symbols such as the harp can be interpreted any whichway, as they are at present, and I believe that some investment of effort to decide on how wewish to use these symbols in a unified way would repay itself in spades. In fact, the upside ofour current mess is that there is huge scope to make things better and to use a renewal ofBrand Ireland as a rallying cry to renew our whole economy.It is interesting and inspiring that our literary and artistic communities are beginning to engage indebate right now concerning how we want to redefine ourselves as a nation following thetrauma of the economic crisis. Articles published in the Renewing Ireland series in the IrishTimes over the last few weeks are an example of how adversity can be harnessed to generatesome good, unleashing fresh thinking from unlikely quarters that may well crystallise into somestrong ideas to refresh our vision of ourselves and thereby provide a new platform for ournational identity. 16
  • For example, in the first article in the Renewing Ireland series, my colleague Professor DeclanKiberd expressed the issues thus4:Before the Tiger years, Irish people understood that the real quality of life lies in those thingswhich cannot be quantified. The notion that market forces are vital is plain common sense, butthe idea that money should determine everything is a rather recent and barbarous development.So is the proposition that people can express individuality through designer labels. For most oftheir history, Irish people have felt connected to traditions of compassion for the young and old,for the poor and infirm, and money has been subordinate. Our grandparents understoodEinstein’s maxim that “what counts can’t always be counted and what can be counted doesn’talways count”. There is no point therefore in seeking to return to the spirit of Tiger Ireland. Thecountry needs to make not just a single step forward but a series of quantum leaps. These willbe based on new ideas, propounded mainly by those who work outside our sclerotic politicalsystem.In fact, it almost seems like history repeating itself because it was to the artistic establishmentthat the first Irish government turned in the early 1920s to advise on the symbols and design forthe coins to be issued by the new Irish State. A committee was formed, headed by Senator W.B. Yeats, and with Thomas Bodkin, Dermot OBrien, Lucius OCallaghan and Barry Egan asmembers.This committee decided at the outset that the harp, an age old symbol of Irish heritage, was tobe on most if not all coins, and all lettering would be in Irish. They decided that peopleassociated with "the present time" should not feature in any designs, probably due to thepolitical divisions which had led to the Irish Civil War. They also decided that religious or culturalthemes should be avoided in case coins became relics or medals. Since agriculture wasessential to the economy of Ireland, this theme was chosen for the coins, which used designsfeaturing animals and birds. Finally, the harp and the words "Saorstát Éireann" were chosen forthe obverse side of coins. A competition was held to generate design options and to choose a final design for the Irishcoins. Three Irish artists-- Jerome Connor, Albert Power and Oliver Sheppard --were invited tosubmit designs, and also several foreign artists of whom four submitted designs ( Paul Manship(American), Percy Metcalfe (English), Carl Milles (Swedish) and Publio Morbiducci (Italian)).Each artist was paid and allowed to produce designs in plaster or metal, with a prize for thewinner. Images of animals and birds were presented to the chosen artists to design the reverseand they were also given pictures of the Galway harp and Trinity College harp for guidance.Identifying marks were removed from the designs so the committee did not know whose designswere being judged.Percy Metcalfes designs were chosen and design modifications were added with assistancefrom civil servants at the Department of Agriculture. The first coins were struck in 1928 and4 ―Renewing the Republic‖ series in the Irish Times edited by Peter Murtagh, which began with Declan Kiberd, thWeekend Review, March 13 , 2010. 17
  • were minted at the Royal Mint in London. Following the introduction of the Constitution ofIreland in 1937, the obverse of the coins was modified with the Irish language name of theState, "Éire", and the harp was also modified so that it wore better. The description of the stateas the "Republic of Ireland" did not require any change in the name on coins issued after 1948.This little piece of history has important lessons for us almost one hundred years later. First ofall, there is the importance of involving creative thinkers who see the world in terms of imagesand symbols that are at the centre of the Irish psyche. Second is the fact that they returned tocore values –the harp as part of our heritage and agriculture as a way of life. They were notswayed by current events or political issues but sought to focus on enduring values that reflectIrish life and culture. Thirdly, they were not afraid to look internationally for the best designs and,ironically perhaps, the winning design came from an English artist.It seems to me that we would do well to follow a similar approach now to come up with a newidentity for the Irish nation. It would be fascinating to conduct an international competition tounearth the best ideas on how Brand Ireland might best be portrayed to the wider world for thenext phase of our development. The brief for participants in such a competition would includesome background on the two symbols that have been part of our culture and promotion sincetime began—the harp and the shamrock.Core Symbols of IrelandThe Celtic harp, often called "Brian Borus Harp", is the primary symbol for Ireland. It wasselected as the state emblem on the establishment of the Irish Free State, and one of its earliesttreatments was on the Great Seal of the Irish Free State. It continued to be a state emblem afterthe Constitution of Ireland was adopted. The image of the harp is used on coins, passports, andofficial documents of the state; it is also the official seals of the President, Taoiseach, Tánaiste,Ministers of the Government and other officials.The Coat of arms of Ireland is blazoned as Azure a harp Or, stringed argent — a gold harpwith silver strings on a St. Patricks blue background. The harp, and specifically the Cláirseach(or Gaelic harp) appears on the coat of arms which were officially registered as the arms of thestate of Ireland on 9 November 1945. It is registered with the World Intellectual PropertyOrganization as a symbol of Ireland.The Presidential Standard is the flag of the President of Ireland. It was instituted on February13, 1945.] Its design consists of a golden Cláirseach (Gaelic harp) with silver strings on abackground of St. Patricks Blue. The design is the same, except for shape, as the Coat of Armsof Ireland. 18
  • These instructions are very clear and explicit and it is astonishing to see the amount of freedomthat state organizations have in using the harp symbol in modern day identities, as shownabove. At the very minimum, the government should revisit this issue and develop a tight set ofrules as to how and in what way the official state symbol may or may not be used.The shamrock is the second, widely used symbol of Ireland. It is a three-leafed old whiteclover. It is sometimes of the variety Trifolium repens (a white clover, known in Irish as seamairbhán) but today usually Trifolium dubium (a lesser clover, Irish: seamair bhuí). According towhat the Oxford English Dictionary calls "a late tradition" (first recorded in 1726), the plant wassupposed to have been used by Saint Patrick to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity although thislegend is somewhat .The shamrock has been registered as a trademark by the Government of Ireland.[1] In NorthernIreland, it is also used by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Aer Lingus and Failte Ireland haveused the shamrock as their trademark since their foundation so that it has become the mostvisible symbol of Ireland even though ti does not have the official standing of the harp. An Aer Lingus aircraft with a shamrock on its tail fin.Again, for such a fundamentally important symbol of Irishness, it is amazing to see how it canbe used and abused at will by a multitude of organisations and situations. It pops up all over theplace and no two applications are the same—even our two state tourism bodies have twodifferent versions. 19
  • The Bord Bia Quality Food marks shown below also demonstrates the variation in approachand, to add to the confusion, the Guaranteed Irish symbol has no visible link to the food mark.It seems unarguable that such variation in style and quality of execution is a sub-optimal use ofa key symbol and that much effort needs to be expended in considering how, where and whenwe wish to use the shamrock in the future. The next question is who should take on this taskand how should it be tackled.Managing Brand Ireland for the FutureThe benefits of a consistent and professional country brand such as Brand Ireland are clear andobvious - they include the ability to attract more tourists and to win more investment, as well asthe more intangible benefits of an improvement in national pride and wellbeing, and aheightened status and visibility in the international political arena. The problem is a morepractical one--how to motivate and coordinate the myriad stakeholders involved so as to end upwith a unique but consistent identity that transcends all sectors and applications.Creating a branding program for a country demands an integration policy that most countries donot possess- the ability to act and speak in a coordinated and consistent way about themes thatare the most inspirational and differentiating a country can make. The identification of keythemes and symbols is an emotionally charged debate which runs the risk of being dominatedby sectoral interests. There is also the question of who leads and pays for the project --designwork, market research, and media communications. 20
  • It would be easy to be discouraged by the extent of the difficulties but there are some modelsfrom other countries that may be helpful. The first principle is that a national or country brandingscheme must be instigated and led from the top—by the government of the day. Without suchleadership nothing will happen.A growing trend is for governments to establish an Brand Steering Group or Brand Council tomanage the national brand. These groups act as champions and custodians of the brand,manage investment in branding and communication and supervise integration. They also act aschampions for brand development and promotion both to national and international audiences.For example, South Africa set up an International Branding Council in 2000 to coordinate effortsto develop a consistent, positive and compelling message for South Africa. Its mission is toestablish Brand South Africa, create an integrated approach within public and private sectorstowards the marketing of South Africa, and to cultivate national support for the brand within thecommunity.Similarly, Finland has a Country Branding Committee which made a presentation recently on itsfindings about country branding. It portrayed the country brand as something that needs to lie“close to the country’s DNA”, to be pure, honest and typical for the country. Additionally, acountry needs to have something unique to differentiate itself from the others – preferablysomething with a ―wow‖ factor. Having a unique symbol like the ―Eiffel Tower‖, ―Little Mermaidstatue‖ or ―Big Ben‖, is a good way to create uniqueness for a country. They also advocate thatcountries need to invest in continuous feeding of “brand material”. The social media ( Twitter,Facebook, YouTube and blogging) are an efficient and cost effective tool for spreading thecountry image in the modern world: a small effort can create a big effect.It should be perfectly feasible for the Irish government to set up a Brand Ireland Steering Groupwith representatives from central government, the organisations with responsibility for promotingIreland abroad and the arts. This group would be given the task of developing a new brandstrategy and visual identity system for the country. They would also have responsibility forcoordinating the range of applications for this new identity and for evolving the system over timeas conditions change. This would be an interesting challenge with a great opportunity to make acontribution to our nation‘s economic and cultural wellbeing.Summary and ConclusionsThis paper was prompted by recent suggestions that Brand Ireland needs to be re-imagined andre-designed so as to play a part in leading the renewal of the Irish economy following the recenteconomic crisis. The objective was to examine the topic as a case study in country branding, toinvestigate relevant issues, and to outline an approach that could be followed to realize theconcept of a new, unified brand to represent our country.The first step was to describe what is meant by brands and brand identities, and to debatewhether it is feasible or appropriate to talk of countries as brands. The conclusion reached is 21
  • that, for better or for worse, most countries are now conscious of the importance of their imageor reputation abroad and are investing time and money in trying to manage this in a positive wayto enhance their economic performance.Country brands are necessarily multi-faceted so some consideration was given to the concept ofbrand architecture as a useful organizing framework for mapping and evaluating the levels andconnections among the constituent elements of a country‘s brand. The brand architecture of theIrish government sector was then identified and examined to assess the extent of its coherenceand integration. This painted a very unflattering picture with an astonishing diversity of brandidentities with absolutely no consistency or possibility of synergy. Having multiple organizationswith different identities to represent the same activity –such as in tourism promotion (FailteIreland and Tourism Ireland) and industrial development (IDA and Enterprise Ireland) is theextreme case but is representative of a general tendency to favour fragmentation overintegration.A particular problem is the flagrant disregard for the importance or value of core symbols,particularly the harp and the shamrock. These are both central to our sense of nationhood aswell as official state symbols. Yet the evidence suggests that individuals and organizations canuse these symbols when and how they like and the result is a sorry collection of topics andapplications. This is very unfortunate and should be corrected as a matter of urgency. No self-respecting commercial company would allow its visual identity to be used and abused in theway the Irish State has allowed its core identity to be applied.It is easy to say what should happen but less easy to know how it might be done. A recourse tohistory suggested one interesting possibility. That is to hold a major international competition tocome up with a new visual identity for the Irish nation similar to the competition that the first Irishgovernment ran to design the new Irish coinage. It would be fascinating to conduct aninternational competition to unearth the best ideas on how Brand Ireland might best beportrayed to the wider world for the next phase of our development. The brief for participants insuch a competition would include some background on the two symbols that have been part ofour culture and promotion since time began—the harp and the shamrock.No such thing can happen, however, without enthusiastic leadership and management. BrandIreland is necessarily a national concern so the initiative and leadership must come from thegovernment. Responsibility for implementation can rest with a task force or steering group aslong as it has a clear mandate and some reasonable level of resources. Ideally such a groupshould draw widely from the artistic as well as business communities and should includemarketing and branding expertise. It would also be desirable if the general public could bedrawn into the process to engage interest and support. The best case scenario would be the creation of an entirely new, visually strong and confidentidentity that would symbolize a major renewal of the Irish nation both economically and culturallyand that would endure for a long time into the future. This would be rolled out in a consistentway throughout the state and semi-state sector resulting in an integrated presentation of all 22
  • constituent elements so that the sum seems greater than the parts. Hopefully, this highlyorganized visual impression would be mirrored in practice by integrated service deliveryreflecting the ―joined up‖ thinking that we often mention as the ideal. 23