THE EUROPEAN UNION
Which brand image?
Pierre Hagen – Cristina Nicoleta Burcă
I. One image for a brand? One image for a country?......................................................................... 4
II. A positive and strong brand image: an identity for Europe............................................................ 6
III. Assessment of the EU’s brand image .............................................................................................. 7
IV. The European Union: which brand image?.................................................................................... 11
V. Three countries, three brand images: China, USA, Switzerland ................................................... 12
VI. EU’s objective values: Geography, History and Capital................................................................. 18
VII. EU’s attributive and associative values......................................................................................... 22
VIII. Necessity of choosing well its message transmitters.................................................................... 25
IX. European President: what associative values? ............................................................................. 28
In conclusion.......................................................................................................................................... 32
National brand image has become an important criteria to differentiate countries on the
international stage. It influences the ranking of nations worldwide, in particular as regards
their reputation - positive or negative. The way a country is perceived can make a critical
difference to the success of its business, trade and tourism efforts, as well as its diplomatic
and cultural relations with other nations.
In case of products, the success of the brands – its «Success Story» – is built around the
image that they have developed. The success of this image could be extrapolated to the
success of the national brand, like the USA, China or Switzerland.
Therefore, building a positive brand image or reinforcing the existing one (rebranding) has
become an outmost necessity. Setting objectives for the elements that create the brand
identity of Europe is a real opportunity.
Its history and values are top assets that give Europe all the chances of succeeding in
(re)building its image.
It is beyond doubt the Europe’s «Success Story» that will empower the European Union to
(re)build its image – its brand image.
I. One image for a brand? One image for a country?
It is impossible to think of a product without attaching a name to it, a brand – the image that it has
developed. It is the same for a country; anyone of us attaches the image that corresponds to it.
This image is being built continuously, through the messages that it communicates. The image of a
person, of a product, of a country, they are all being built every day. Consciously or not, the brand
image finds its roots in the history and in the differences that sets it apart.
Adapting or not to changes, succeeding or not, they are all elements that contribute to the creation
of a brand image, of a powerful or not «Success Story».
However, a brand is slowly vanishing if it does not adapt to changes around it. How many brands
have we come across in the last twenty years? How many and which of them have survived? It is only
the ones that have embraced the change (such as Chanel, Porsche, etc.). The other ones have
disappeared or have been replaced by new ones that would, most certainly, have the same fate.
Unless, they continuously work on their image and have in mind the fact that competition is a
permanent reality for nations, as it is for the big corporations.
Usually what makes the difference is the existence or not of a «Success Story» linked to the brand.
Sometimes a brand can be so present and powerful that it coincides with the product, to the extent
that it becomes a generic term. A McDonald or a Quick for a hamburger, a Jeep for a 4X4, a Bic for a
ball point pen, an Esquimau for a chocolate covered ice cream bar, a K-way, a Thermos or a Caddie.
Sometimes a brand lasts over time and is part of our daily associations (Chanel, Citroën, Airbus, Coca
Cola, Marlboro, Mars, Lu, Lacoste, Kellog’s, etc.).
Brands are, therefore, part of our everyday life consciously, but most often unconsciously: they are
often associated to an image – in general positive. Big brands and implicitly the products to which
they gave their names last over time.
In case of countries, it’s their History which supports them in building an image that reflects their
Be they small, like Switzerland, or big, such as the USA or China, their national brands are built in
different ways and through different spans of time: over the last two centuries for the USA, over the
last thirty years for China and over time, in general, for Switzerland,
Each country has its own image – like a DNA – that gives it a certain ranking on the international
stage. It gives a certain colour to the country, reflecting all its social, economic, political aspects.
Having an international ranking means having an international reputation. And this is being built
through the values and differences that the country holds. Reputation expands through the nation’s
capacity to do so, but sometimes, also through the weakness of other nations: it is never a
permanent state, but in a continuous evolution and it survives only if the country adapts its
communication to the global changes.
Actually, brand image decreases rapidly when communication is slow or unclear.
For the European Union, the slowness in responses and the diversity of speeches during the August
2011 crisis led to blurring its image. Only by adapting its messages to the changes and to the others
will allow Europe to achieve a clear brand image and a clear place on the international ranking.
Adaptation to the others – especially to the emerging countries and their growing economic powers
– will offer the possibility to build a strong and positive brand image, based on the identity of the
brand “European Union”.
II. A positive and strong brand image: an identity for Europe
A strong brand image gives the ability to compete with other national powers and to
position oneself on the international stage.
A positive brand image is a crucial necessity for nations. It’s a response to the ones that have already
built their national brand and keep on developing it. Emerging nations, such as Brazil, India or China,
have well understood it.
Building – or rebuilding – a brand image can be done in three stages:
- Image assessment
- A «Success Story»
- Communication plan.
III. Assessment of the EU’s brand image
Assessing EU’s image starts with assessing EU’s ranking in the Nation Brands Index for the last couple
of years (2008/2009/2010/2011)1
and identifying the countries’ standings over time.
2008 2009 2010 2011
1. Germany United States (+6) United States (=) United States (=)
2. France France (=) Germany (+1) Germany (=)
3. United Kingdom Germany (-2) France (-1) United Kingdom (+1)
4. Canada United Kingdom (-1) United Kingdom (=) France (-1)
5. Japan Japan (=) Japan (=) Japan (=)
6. Italy Italy (=) Canada (+1) Canada (=)
7. United States Canada (-3) Italy (-1) Italy (=)
8. Switzerland Switzerland (=) Switzerland (=) Australia (+1)
9. Australia Australia (=) Australia (=) Switzerland (-1)
10. Sweden Spain, Sweden (=) Sweden (=) Sweden (=)
18. Finland Belgium (+2)
The index shows several significant evolutions:
USA: After an important shift from the 7th
place in 2008 to the 1st
one in 2009, the
United States continues to lead the world in global image for the last three
years. Is this important rise in global ranking linked to the personality or
image of Barack Obama?
France: Fall from the 2nd
place (in 2008 and 2009) to the 3rd
(2010) and respectively
place in 2011.
Source: Anholt-Gfk Roper Nation Brands Index™. Based on surveys in 20 developed and developing countries,
the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (released since 2005) measures the power and quality of 50
countries 'brand image' by combining the following six dimensions: exports, governance, culture and heritage,
people, tourism and investment and immigration.
Germany: Kept its ranking in top 3 worldwide: after a fall of two positions, from the top
leading country in 2008 to the 3rd
one in 2009, Germany revives to the 2nd
place in 2010 and holds the position in 2011.
United kingdom: Shift from the 3rd
place (2008) to the 4th
one (2009 and 2010) and back to the
Italy: Fall from the 6th
place to the 7th
one in 2010 and 2011.
Among the first four big European countries present in the index only Germany and United Kingdom
moved up in the world ranking. We could therefore question whether the brand image of a nation is
linked to the personality or to the brand image of its leaders.
Does the Nation Brand Index show any stability?
Japan (5th) and Sweden (10th). These countries hold the same position over the last four years. Is
this stability linked to a weak personalisation of power?
As regards the developing nations – Brazil, China, India – ranked beyond the 20th
in 2008, recorded
significant gains during the last four years.
However, in the light of this index, a conclusive statement shows up: the European Union does not
appear as a general entity. And, consequently, it is not seen as a nation brand on the world stage.
Or, if an index can clarify the assessment of nation brands, the absence of the European Union as an
entity – while being the world leader in terms of GDP (17,9 mil $) before the USA (15,06 mil $)2
also a conclusive evidence.
Exactly as a virtual group lacking any links to reality, which shows its limits sooner or later. The virtual
tool Facebook, for instance, has understood this and, therefore, passed rapidly to real field
operations. The humanoid robot of Honda, Asimo, has also become an example of conviviality and of
shift from the virtual to the real world, by shaking the hands of various heads of states. These two
examples – Facebook and Asimo – which success among the public had no precedent, prove the
necessity to go out of a virtual, self-contained world, which lost the contact with the real world.
In case of the European Union, don’t we face the same problem: shifting from the virtual to the real
world in order to revitalise the European sentiment?
Source : International Monetary Fund – 2011 data; www.imf.org
The European civil servants
They have clearly expressed the need of a pragmatic approach of the European Union, as revealed by
a recent survey3
At the question: “What possible measures to revitalise the European sentiment?”
82% answer: “common position on foreign policies”.
European Union should adopt more coherent positions on international conflicts such as those
recently in North Africa.
At the question: “The European sentiment; Rise or fall?”
62% admit that there is a negative evolution.
The European citizens
When assessing Europe’s brand image, the opinions of its citizens are a salient point. The following
covers several areas on which the European Union should work in order to improve the
European integration sentiment among its citizens.
‘Freedom to travel, study and work within the EU’ is at the top of associations with the EU (45%),
ahead of the ‘euro’ (38%). They are followed by: ‘waste of money’ (24%), ‘peace’ (22%), ‘an
important voice in the world’ (21%), ‘bureaucracy’ (21%).
The list is interesting to be analyzed. Particularly it concerns the image of the EU, as seen by its
citizens: democracy is, for example, associated with the EU by 1 in 5 Europeans, a fall by 3 points
since spring 2010.
For both European civil servants and European citizens, the brand image assessment of the European
Union is clear:
- An Europe associated mostly with negative aspects
Waste of money (24%)
Not so much democracy (20%), nor peace (22%)
- An Europe which “doesn’t listen to its citizens»5
Barely 3 in 10 Europeans fell their voice counts in the EU.
Survey realised for the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), July 2011, among 231 EU civil
Source : Eurobarometer 75, spring 2011 (Public opinion in the European Union);
EB 75 (QA21a.2-4 : ‘My voice counts in the EU’ : 30% tend to agree, 62% tend to disagree, 8% don’t know).
- An Europe misunderstood in its way of functioning6
Almost one in two Europeans does not understand how the EU works.
- An Europe which doesn’t inform enough its citizens7
7 in 10 Europeans don’t feel well informed about the European matters.
An Europe with less and less accredited journalists8
(to inform more than 500 million Europeans and the rest of the world)
1300 in 2005
752 in 2010
- An Europe with a single European media (EuroparlTV)
Available only online
900 TV viewers per day on average, for 500 million citizens; that is 1 in 500.000
- An Europe without a strong identity10
3 in 5 Europeans think of themselves as citizens of the EU, but less than a quarter is
definitely sure about that (23%).
Associated with negative aspects, not listening to its citizens and not informing them enough,
misunderstood in the way it works, with less and less accredited journalist and only one European
media, Europe’s image reveals as rather negative from this assessment.
EB 75 (QA21a.1.: ‘I understand how the EU works’: 45% tend to agree; 49% tend to disagree; 6% don’t know).
EB 74, autumn 2010 (QD2 : two thirds of Europeans, 66%, don’t fell informed about European matters, while
32% feel well informed).
Source : International Press Organisation ; www.api-ipa.eu
Source: Draft report, Committee of Budgetary Control, European Parliament, 3 February 2011.
EB 75 (QD4: ‘You feel you are a citizen of the EU’ : total Yes - 62% ; total No – 36%; ‘Yes, definitely’ – 23% ).
IV. The European Union: which brand image?
The ambiguity of the EU image problem is that every member state out of the 27 builds its own
image. And further on, inside the countries, regions, communities, cantons, towns etc., they develop
their image very often. At every level of power, everyone tries to make a difference and gain its
reputation. This state of play would not be a problem if the EU was the common denominator.
The USA, with its 50 states, has shown that a global image can cover the differences. This Union of all
its States is reinforced by a single spokesperson, the President of the United States: he is the
common denominator which supports the brand image of the entire nation.
On the contrary, in case of the European Union, the image role of a spokesperson as well as his/her
mission as common denominator are not clearly defined. Moreover, this function seems to be
bypassed by the big nations which have a historical role in the development of the European Union.
Aren’t we hearing more often about Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel than about Herman Van
Therefore, we could ask ourselves whether the European Union is identified or distinguished under
these circumstances: it seems sometimes drowned in the vagueness, due to the slowness of
responses and the depersonalisation of power. Developing the European brand image rises as a clear
question for our leaders. And real capacities of doing it exist. The EU can actually rely on its objective
values, such as its geography or its history. It can also rely on its attributive values developed over
time. All together, these values – objective and attributive – give to the European Union the means
of an authentic «Success Story», the key of building its brand image.
While there are plenty of success stories worldwide, nations – big or small – devote resources which
differ quite often. Three examples of nation branding: China, USA and Switzerland.
V. Three countries, three brand images: China, USA,
Country brand image can be analysed through three concrete examples - a small country :
Switzerland; two big countries: the USA and China – by considering three non-restrictive criteria:
geography, history, nation branding process.
Three ways to communicate a brand image
CHINA USA SWITZERLAND
9.64 mil km2
place in the world)
9.63 mil km2
place in the world)
place in the world)
State creation 221 BC
(foundation of a united
empire within China,
under the Qin dynasty)
(creation of the USA as a
confederation of states;
adoption of the Articles
of Confederation by the
13 founding states)
(creation of the Swiss
Confederation; adoption of
the Swiss Federal
(since 2008 –
The Olympic Games
(rebuilding since 2008
(since 2001 –
creation of PRESENCE
organisation in charge of the
nation brand image abroad)
It can be seen that being small or big, or having a long or short history as a state, are not in
themselves decisive criteria of building the nation brand image.
Source : Statistiques mondiales (http://www.statistiques-mondiales.com)
According to the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brand Index
According to the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brand Index
Source : Presence Switzerland on http://www.image-switzerland.ch/index.php?id=5&L=1
The recent events organised in China - Shanghai World Expo 2010, Beijing 2008 Olympic Games –
stand as proof of exemplary success stories of event organisation and country image promotion.
Although a fast nation branding finds its roots in the historical past of the nation, the main focus is on
the success of its present and, among others, on the organisation of big events with global media
coverage. This refers to the importance of the event communication when building a nation brand
image. It should, therefore, be taken into account when developing the communication plan.
Shanghai World Expo and Beijing Olympic Games are structured as events, or as a multitude of
events. The 2008 Olympic Games show, for instance, that the successful organisation and its global
visibility are major factors in developing a positive brand image for China. For the Olympic Games,
succeeding – inter alia, in 16 days, bringing together 204 countries, more than 11.000 athletes and 2
- to stay within a fixed budget and to reap financial profits (non-contested), is a
major achievement for any country, especially if its development is recent.
However, aside from this economic performance, it’s the media coverage in terms of image that
should be commended. The strategy developed for the brand “China”, during the Beijing Olympic
Games, is not arbitrary. Many elements have contributed to it, such as the slogan “One world, one
dream”, the mascot for visibility, the anthem etc.
China has therefore implemented – through the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and the Shanghai
World Expo 2010 – a specific strategy of brand image, which brought an enormous success due to
the global, outstanding, media coverage.
Source : http://en.beijing2008.cn/
The «Success Story» of the candidate Obama contributed significantly to his election in 2008, and the
usage of the event communication through meetings played a major role. Moreover, the electoral
campaign run helped to gradually give a new image to the country, different than the one given by
his predecessors. The personalisation of the new image developed by the successor of George W.
Bush was decisive for his election. It has also contributed to the global image of the country, via a
media coverage without precedent.
It needs to be recognised that these two administrations, Obama and Bush, have two different
visions of governing:
Obama administration proposed a rigorous, open debate on all issues, promoting different opinions.
Bush administration was proposing consensus.
The choice of the spokesperson and his personal aura play also an important role. The electors were
not mistaken, and therefore this personal «Success Story» - Obama – allowed to revive the belief in
a nation «Success Story».
However, what is without any doubt the most remarkable about this, is the number of persons who
formed the team of Obama: three – not more - ensured the management, built the strategy and led
the communication campaign in 2007 and 2008.
The same goes for 2012: the number stays unchanged for the forthcoming presidential elections.
The electoral campaign
Electoral campaign 2008 Electoral campaign 2012
ONE TEAM – 3 PERSONS ONE TEAM – 3 PERSONS
1. David Plouffe – Campaign manager 1. Jim Messina – Campaign manager
2. David Axelrod – Strategist 2. David Plouffe - Strategist
3. Robert Gibbs – Communication manager 3. Robert Gibbs – Communication manager
It is therefore possible to succeed with a small, complementary team, motivated and efficient, which
gives the right answers on the communication strategy involved in an electoral campaign.
Obama’s team has built the image of the future president during the whole campaign, through many
meetings which made that the «Success Story» of a man become the «Success Story» of the entire
US nation. The abilities of adaptation and response to changes have been direct and omnipresent.
Without any complex, clumsy speech or action, which are incompatible with the citizens’
expectations: a clear answer to their questions and expectations.
Switzerland’s brand - slow but steady building process - is based on 3 elements: the
accomplishments, the values and the appearances16
The Accomplishments: its stability, associated by everyone with the country, but also its corollary: a
secure future and the impression of equilibrium that emerges. It is not surprisingly that Switzerland is
a renowned international hub, which future is reassured by the self-determination of the Swiss
people to shape their country over time. The permanent concern for efficiency gives to Switzerland
the image of a nation with many accomplishments.
The Values that built Switzerland over time are based on the authenticity of the country which gives
credibility and a discrete superiority. The openness to the others and the positive curiosity – proof of
freshness, according to the analyses – make Swiss values trustworthy.
The Appearances - in the positive sense of the term – are what the country shows: a beautiful alpine
habitat, a kind people and a Swiss cross on its flag/ logo, which inspired the Red Cross – another
positive entity – by switching the colours.
Source : Presence Switzerland’s webpage/ Brand Switzerland : http://www.image-switzerland.ch
Nation brand image is therefore being built differently every time, but always around a «Success
- For the USA: one of a person: President Obama;
- For China: one of its accomplishments, largely covered by the media: the Olympic Games and
the Shanghai Expo;
- For Switzerland: one of the country’s personality developed over time.
For the European Union the ideal would be to put together all these three elements.
However a good start would be to analyse what already exists. For example identifying the values –
objective and attributive – that the EU has in order to build its own «Success Story».
VI. EU’s objective values: Geography, History and Capital
EU’s geography, a space for 500 million Europeans, EU’s history covering already
three generations, EU’s capital – Brussels – are unquestionable objective values for
building a «Success Story».
1. A space for 500 million Europeans
With more than 4.3 million km2
for more than 500 million inhabitants17
, the 27 member states are, in
themselves, already a proof of success. The success of a strong European Union - a single entity
which brought together 27 states – that answers to the need of joining in order to become stronger.
Even if the country is one of the world’s largest powers – like Germany, France, United Kingdom,
Spain or Italy - with an important role in the world over time, the History of the last five years proves
the need to join in order to play a role amid other large nations on the international stage.
With respect to the surface, population and number of members states18
, let’s take a look on the
world’s map and see the place of the European Union compared to USA and the BRIC countries
(Brazil, Russia, India and China).
SURFACE POPULATION NUMBER OF MEMBER
EU 4.300.000 km2
(5) 502.400.000 (3) 27 national states
USA 9.630.000 km2
(3) 313.200.000 (4) 50 federal states
BRAZIL 8.500.000 km2
(4) 203.400.000 (5) 26 federal states
RUSSIA 17.070.000 km2
(1) 138.700.000 (6) 21 federal republics
INDIA 3.200.000 km2
(6) 1.180.000.000 (2) 28 federal states
CHINA 9.640.000 km2
(2) 1.330.000.000 (1) 2 large states
Thus, it can be seen that, compared to major world powers such as USA or China, EU’s surface is
barely half of theirs. But its population, even if it surpasses the USA’s, doesn’t reach the size of the
large emerging powers such as China or India.
Source : Eurostat
Source : www.statistiques-mondiales.com (July 2011)
2. A history for three generations
Back in 1950, 6 European countries started the foundation of a European Union19
- Belgium, France,
Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – driven by remarkable persons such as: Jean
Monnet, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi, Paul-Henri Spaak or Jean Rey.
But it’s in 1971 that the EMS (European Monetary System) is created. And in 1973 the 6 members
states become 9, with the arrival of Denmark, Ireland and United Kingdom. The European Union
shows at that time an important rise in terms of power and becomes a real challenger at
international level. This first stage of the EU’s history has taken 23 years – one generation.
The second stage lasts 22 years, from 1973 to 1995. It’s the stage of rising and development. From 9
members states the European Union passes to 15, with the arrival of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria,
Finland and Sweden. Schengen space is created (in 1985) and the European Monetary System
becomes the European Monetary Union (EMU) in 1991. However the first clouds appear during this
phase marred by a first rejection of the Maastricht Treaty (1992).
Is it therefore this aspect that made the EU lose face as a challenger and marred the image of a
leader in progress? An image built throughout more than a generation.
The third stage can be considered to start as of 1995. The European Union enters a maturity phase in
which, quite often, the accomplishments take over the capacities of adapting to change. This stage,
lasting for a decade, sees the number of member states growing from 15 to 25 in 2004, with the
accession of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and
Slovenia, and reaching 27 in 2007 with Bulgaria and Romania. The European Central Bank is created
in 1998, the Euro in 1999 and, as of 2002, the European currency becomes the single currency used
by 12 member states. It reaches 17 in 2011.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t impede that more and more clouds arrive over the European sky, despite a
general refrain to see them or to measure their importance. The delays in ratifying the Nice Treaty
(2001-2002), the rejection of the European Constitution (2005) or the refusal of Euro by 3 out of 15
Eurozone members states (at its launching) are the visible side of a far deeper problem: the weak
support for the EU membership.
As a logical consequence, after maturity, then comes ageing. The same goes for the European Union
which seems to enter, as of 2005, an ageing phase, or at least of stagnation: confirming the passage
from challenger-leader to follower. Europe seems to shut itself from the rest of the world, withdrawn
on its accomplishments but also on its heavy and complex body.
What would the next stage be in 2012? The one of a choice: either continuing as a follower, or
becoming again the leader that it was.
Many elements come into play. Among them, the rebuilding of its brand image.
Called at that time the European Coal and Steel Community; www.europa.eu
3. A capital. Brussels
In every big country the capital plays a major role and is often the element that we keep in mind:
Washington, Brasilia, New Delhi, Moscow are windows of visibility for their respective nations. The
same rule applies for the EU as well: the capital is its window.
In Brussels more than 85.000 people hover around EU (out of one million inhabitants). Capital of
Belgium first of all, since 1830; Brussels has developed as a multicultural city-region which became
the European capital in 1958, but officially in 1992.
The region of Brussels-Capital is a real international hub for the institutions located here and for the
geographical proximity that it offers with respect to other large European cities such as London,
Paris, Amsterdam or Bonn. Second largest lobby centre in the world (after Washington) and the most
coveted by the diplomats, the capital of Europe is a real multicultural metropolis whose figures speak
- 555 diplomatic missions
- 5.415 diplomats
- 15.000 to 20.000 lobbyists
- 4.000 NATO employees
- 1.319 foreign journalists
- 5 European institutions:
Council of the European Union
European Economic and Social
Committee of the Regions
- Around 50.000 European civil servants and
agents (temporary, contract, interim, national
Total number of staff More than 80.000
Population (Brussels) 1.142.000 inhabitants22
, out of which 50% have
The reality in Brussels speaks for itself: more than 80.000 people work in European or international
organisations, out of slightly more than one million inhabitants.
Source: Study of the Brussels-Europe Liaison Office (November 2011); www.blbe.be
Source : European institutions’ WebPages.
Source : Belgian National Register (November 2011 data).
But the main characteristic of Brussels is that it hosts more than 50% foreigners, thus making it a
multicultural and multilingual city. Lying on the division line between the Latin and German cultures,
Brussels could enjoy the benefit of being the bridge between these two worlds and the image of
their coexistence. This should be an opportunity to show to the entire world that the European
capital is an example of cohesion. However, there might be a drawback as Brussels is showing
sometimes a complete different image: the capital of a country without government during more
than one year and whose two communities are in opposition. The contrary of the image that EU
The «Success Story» of Europe must be built around a capital: the brand image of Europe passes
through the brand image of its capital. Therefore Brussels deserves a great attention.
The Geography, the History and the Capital of the EU are there to create a «Success Story» around
the objective values they embody.
VII. EU’s attributive and associative values
A brand or a product becomes an idea by associating, attributing values to it. And the
idea is often an image that we attach to it. This image is, at its turn, attached to codes
that help expressing it in different ways. These codes relate sometimes or quite
often, among other things, to the past or History that are inherent to us consciously
Values like courage or heroism can be associated to a person, a group or a brand in order to build
their «Success Story». For instance, the association with the pilots of Royal Air Force is obvious for
the Breitling watches, as the pilots used them.
Other associations can be recalled as well, such as:
- The suffering by the high-level athletes and their respective country : China;
- The idea of freedom and Apple;
- The idea of a democratic comfort and Ikea;
- The beauty and L’Oreal.
Among the associative values, the “emotional brands” are without any doubt the most significant in
a brand strategy. As we have seen, they can relate to the heroism in the History, thus contributing to
the «Success Story» of the brand.
The choice of colours and stars for the European flag is part of these “emotional brands» and
answers, in a certain way, to the expectations, desires and dreams of the European citizens: it is
therefore one of the associative values of Europe.
However strategists should be cautious when choosing the best way of representing this answer to
expectations, as the associative values can take different shapes, positive or negative. For example,
there should be an adequate answer to the human concern towards the technological progress: a
humanoid robot could be the image of such a reconciliation of man with technology.
The humanoid robot Asimo, developed by Honda, was designed as a technological tool with human
appearance in order to give it some associative values. It could have stayed as a research object and
be presented as such to the scientists or students. But it wasn’t the case.
Among the associative values embodied by Asimo, we can recall the conviviality. It was represented
by associating the robot with the world’s great leaders (kings/presidents/ spokespersons/ prime-
ministers etc.) whose hands he was shaking. The gesture attracted a large media coverage, making
the robot the main actor of a «Success Story».
Henceforth, the robot - technological tool since then - became humanoid by associating its notoriety
with the one of various State authorities: the King of Spain (Juan Carlos), the Queen of Denmark
(Margrethe II), the German counsellor (Schröder), or different Prime ministers: Turkish (Erdogan),
Japanese (Koizumi), Belgian (Verhofdstadt).
The Head of States – vested with power and reputation in their countries – associated their names to
the robot’s and showed their interest in research and development, as well as in the reconciliation of
man with technology. By doing this, they offered new associative values to their country’s brand.
It is therefore obvious that the associative values that can be attributed to a product, a region, a
state or a place can take various shapes.
Other examples: the smell, the taste; they play an important role in the memorisation process, by
acting on our feelings. For instance, some of us may associate the lavender fragrance with the region
of Provence and its values; some others may associate the clothes well-ordered in a wardrobe with
memories from their childhood.
The importance of the smell can be subtly used in a branding strategy which involves associative
values, such as Nescafé, for example. It uses the image of roasting coffee injected in capsules, thus
associating the taste with the smell of coffee for the whole brand.
Do the same rules apply in case of nations? Can we associate the image of a nation (USA) with the
taste of a product (Coca-Cola), the image of France with the taste of wine, Italy with their pastas?
However the smell or the taste are not the single values that can be associated to a product or a
nation. The sight, the hearing or the touch allow also to shape the image that we have of a product
or country, and possibly to build or rebuild one.
On the basis of these elements we can ask ourselves what values could be associated with the
European Union. The starting point could be to decode what already exists, to draw up a state-of-
play of the current situation of the EU, a sort of DNA of its image.
- Seeing the Blue European flag with its twelve yellow stars in a circle creates a quick and
direct link with Europe. Unlike the USA, whose number of stars on the flag has been adapted
to the number of states, the European flag kept the twelve stars for its 27 members states. It
symbolises the ideals of solidarity and unity. Nonetheless, the EU uses some other logos as
well, which could perpetuate risks of confusion: logos for each institution or service (see the
European Anti-Fraud Office -OLAF, the Publication Office – OP etc. ). This situation creates
doubt on the internal and interinstitutional cooperation within EU.
It is important to remember that what characterises a brand is the clarity of the visual
message that it displays: the colours have to be the same no matter the media, and to
respect the codes. The same goes for the fonts. Brand visibility is partly based on these
- Hearing the European anthem: listening to a certain music allows to identify, to associate it
to a person, a product, a radio station, a broadcast, a country. The length, the musical flow,
its repetitive broadcasting (e.g. jingle of a popular news broadcast) can quickly create or not
the association with the brand, and contribute to the building of the brand image. The choice
of Europe was the “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony of Ludwig Van Beethoven.
- Touching the Euro is a daily practice for a large number of Europeans, thus representing
their membership/ attachment to a single economic area with a single currency. More than
to its monetary value, it is what the euro represents – an identity, a name - to which the
European is attached. But the euro acts also as a brand image vector, such as the dollar or
the Swiss franc.
- Coming together during the European Day means associating the celebration with the birth
of the EU. Every nation has its own national day (4th
July in the USA, 14th
July in France, 21st
July in Belgium, 1st
August in Switzerland etc.), often a summertime one, but always linked to
the history of the country. For the EU, 9th
May was chosen in relation with Robert Schuman,
who launched for the first time, in 1950, the idea of a united Europe...
- An official motto :“United in diversity” is part of this set of images. Every country has its own
motto which contributes to its image: for Belgium, “Unity Makes Strength”.
As it can be seen, an associative value is not always obvious, however it can be built around
the «Success Story».
All these elements – visual with the flag, hearing with the anthem, touching with the Euro,
conviviality with the European Day, Unity in diversity with the motto – are fundamental for the
European brand image. They might lack coherence and visibility for some people, but they should be
considered in the assessment of the EU’s brand image, as associative values. Surely they are
peripheral compared to the major image problem of the European Union: its physical representation
and therefore, who is its spokesperson?
VIII. Necessity of choosing well its message transmitters
Who is the spokesperson of the EU?
A strong image, conveyor of identity, chooses a spokesperson commensurate with its ambitions. And
preferably a single and unique spokesperson.
In the USA, there is no doubt; the unquestionable spokesperson is the president (Barack Obama).
In the European Union, things are less clear.
Who is the voice of the EU? Whom do we associate with its image?
And by reference with the USA, who is going to shake the hand of the president Obama?
Who speaks on behalf of the EU?
Who is the spokesperson of the EU and plays on the same level with the world’s great
Who will have the adequate representativeness and charisma?
The question has been raised, as in the EU there are currently 5 names:
1) The European President: Herman Van Rompuy (nominated for two years and a half)
2) The President of the Council of Ministers (position changes every six months)
3) The President of the European Commission: José Manuel Barroso
4) The President of the European Parliament: Martin Schulz
5) The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy: Catherine
In addition to these 5 names, 2 others can be added:
6) The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy
7) The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel
And the list could go on if we consider other names as well, such as:
?) The 27 European commissioners (one for each member state)
?) The EU ‘ambassadors’
?) The European civil servants sent in diplomatic missions to speak about EU in their home
This gives a large number of message transmitters for the EU and generates real communication
The situation gets even more complicated if we consider other recurrent elements:
- The Eurojargon which, far from helping, locks up both the transmitters and their messages in
a sort of a vacuum; therefore they do not reach their addressees.
- The bureaucratic character of the communication, which makes it appear austere.
- The institutional labyrinth, misunderstood by the most part of those to whom the messages
All these elements contribute to a deficient communication policy.
Seen from outside, we have the impression of watching a huge ship that sinks slowly. Everyone
sticks to their post, convinced that they do well what they should do, that they transmit the good
message, but without any shared vision. The effect is obvious: the receivers don’t perceive any
consistent message in the end, but only a hubbub coming from a diffuse group, with no real leader.
Nevertheless, the addressees are numerous, interested and demanding. But, already hard-pressed,
they turn away from the EU.
Finally, to whom does the EU speak? Which is its internal public? Which is its external public?
The internal public
- The European citizens are undoubtedly the most numerous and therefore, the most
concerned. It’s especially for them that the EU must rebuild its image, draw a new
communication policy and instill a true belief.
- The European journalists are the main channel for disseminating the messages. They act as
the main media relay between the EU and its citizens. However this media relay can’t exist
without good working relations with the entire profession.
- The European civil servants are at the same time message receivers, information relays and
message transmitters. Each of them is therefore an image ambassador of the EU.
The external public
- The foreign citizens, living or not in Europe, are the consumers whom, behind an image, will
buy a product. This product will be European if the image of Europe is positive an its message
is clearly transmitted and received.
- The foreign journalists – all over the world – are message relays for Europe. The message
must not only be attractive and interesting, but it should also be credible and informative.
- The other heads of states have to find the advantages of sharing the same media scene as
the European Union; this would only be possible if the brand image of the EU is attractive.
It is therefore by identifying the message transmitters – actors of the Europe’s image – and the
message receivers, that we could give a first answer to the question:
How can we build a positive image of the EU?
IX. European President: what associative values?
The main transmitter of the message plays a crucial role for the image of the product,
the country, or the entity that he represents. He/ she acts as the spokesperson for
The spokesperson will be associated with the country. And this is done almost
automatically by those who receive the message.
If the number of transmitters may cause confusions, as we have seen, separating the
country image from its spokesperson can lead to the same consequences.
Far from the person to the related issue, the opinion of the Europeans – civil
servants, citizens, journalists - should be considered in order to assess their
The European civil servants23
“A more charismatic leader elected by universal suffrage»
Two proposals are presented concerning the possible measures to revitalize the European sentiment
among EU citizens. The chart below shows the opinion of the European civil servants in this respect:
the stated measures could certainly (++), probably (+), probably (-), certainly not (--) help to achieve
The European citizens24
“EU needs High Profile Figure»
Survey realised for the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), July 2011.
Survey Harris Interactive/ Financial Times (March 2008) conducted in DE, ES, FR, IT, UK.
“A strong personality (Angela Merkel) and a charismatic one (Tony Blair)»
A survey conducted before the election (appointment) of the President Herman Van Rompuy was
informing on the expectations of the European citizens25
“A popular leader (Prodi, Junker, Zapatero etc.)»
The absence of the European president Herman Van Rompuy from the ‘World Leaders’ barometer26
is a significant element. Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Tony Blair are among the most popular
leaders quoted by the European and American citizens surveyed.
Survey Harris Interactive/ France24 (November 2009)conducted in DE, ES, FR, IT, UK and USA; the chart
shows the ranking evolution between November 2008 and November 2009.
By extension, doesn’t this absence of the European President tie up with the absence of the
European Union as entity from the Nation Brand Index?
The European journalists
They looked at the profile of the President Herman Van Rompuy27
: a former Belgian Prime Minister
(as of 2008), skilled mediator and troubleshooter at national level, but far from being a charismatic
communicator and with no international prominence.
Finally, what would the Europeans - citizens, civil servants and journalists – require to their
A charismatic personality, with a high profile and reputation on international level. But first and
foremost, a good communicator!
This choice is part of the brand image strategy of the European Union, as one of the important pillars.
Source : Euractiv online media, 28 November 2009.
The image reflected by a certain brand has consequences at all levels. Among others, at the
Brand image is crucial not only for a product, a person, a community, a city, a country, but also for a
group of countries. Such as the European Union, which has to show a clear identity on the
international stage. A strong and positive brand image will determine how the next phase will be for
the European Union after having passed through several: launch (1950 - 1973), growth (1973 - 1995),
maturity (1995 - 2005), stagnation (2005 - 2011).
What would the next stage be for the European Union in 2012?
A continuity of the stagnation?
Or a trend reversal based on its History – which is a real «Success Story» – and its unquestionable
values: a real European area for more than 500 million citizens, a unique currency in the colours of a
These values have contributed to build the brand USA. They stand as proof for the EU that it can also
(re)build its brand around these elements and an adequate communication. The meetings, big or
small, organised for the American electoral campaign have shown the importance of the event
communication, as well as the role played by the brand image and «Success Story» of a personality -
associated with the country - in promoting the nation brand.
A three member team (not more) was responsible for the branding plan, field operations and the
overall communication strategy during the 2008 US electoral campaign. By building the image of the
future President, it has (re)built the image of the whole nation: its own true brand image.
The European Union can make use of similar resources in order to answer to the critical question:
The European Union. Which brand image?