A university degree thesis can be a “senior project”—nice, but blue-sky—or it can be meaningful and substantive with far-reaching implications. An example of the latter is Good People, Great Nation by Christian Rau und Lukas Weber from the Fachhochschule in Mainz, Germany. Ambitious in content and size, the publication and website examines “the backgrounds of and motivation for nation branding in the form of a visual journalistic analysis.” Here’s how they describe the project:
“Nation branding” denotes a strategy of utilizing communication techniques known from brand manufacturing to produce an image of a country that is akin to a trademark image. It is meant to increase the prominence of the country as well as its trustworthiness abroad — in order to promote tourism, exports and foreign investment on the one hand, and to be perceived as a positive player in its relations with other states on the other hand.
Since “branding” is the buzzword and “brand narrative” is the be-all and end-all of business these days, it is logical that Nation Branding should emerge as a highly visible tool of mass manipulation. Of course, Nation Branding has been going on since the first coat-of-arms was designed, and it has continued brilliantly throughout the 20th century. But Rau and Weber are looking beyond the obvious. In fact, my favorite feature in their 239-page tome is a visual comparison of dozens of passports, with emphasis on the “propagandistic” design of the U.S. passport and ending with the universal look of the Swiss.
The goal of this project is to identify:
Which historically rooted stereotypical images describe a national identity? How do they correspond to their respective nation brands? In an increasingly mediatized [sic] and interconnected society, what types of identities and images are created beyond the supposedly controllable and consistent images? . . . We are particularly interested in the status the communication designer holds within basic political and societal structures as well as his position between responsibility and profitability.
To read insights and provocations from a group of world-renowned brand consultants, check out Debbie Millman’s Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits. Or download the Become a Branding Expert collection, with presentations by Millman, Sagi Haviv, Joe Duffy, and Marcus Hewitt.