Denmark´s International Image

Af Simon Anholt, government advicer
Publiceret torsdag 4. december 2008

Nation brand is an important concept in today’s world. Globalisation means that countries compete with each other for the attention, respect and trust of investors, tourists, consumers, donors, immigrants, the media, and the governments of other nations: so a powerful and positive nation brand provides a crucial competitive advantage. It is essential for countries to understand how they are seen by publics around the world; how their achievements and failures, their assets and their liabilities, their people and their products are reflected in their brand image.

The Anholt Nation Brands Index is the first analytical ranking of the world’s nation brands. Each quarter, we poll our worldwide panel of over 25,000 consumers on their perceptions of the cultural, political, commercial and human assets, investment potential and tourist appeal of 35 developed and developing countries. This adds up to a clear index of national brand power, a unique barometer of global opinion.

How it works
The Anholt Nation Brands Index measures the power and appeal of a nation’s brand image, and tells us how consumers around the world see the character and personality of the brand. The nation brand is the sum of people’s perceptions of a country and its people across six areas of national assets, characteristics and competence. Together, these areas make the Nation Brand Hexagon:

Fig 1: The Nation Brand Hexagon © Simon Anholt 2002

Tourism is often the most visibly promoted aspect of the nation brand, since most tourist boards spend lots of money on ‘selling’ the country around the world. Blue skies and golden sands or snow-capped mountains are only a tiny part of the reality of a country, but because these images are often so aggressively promoted, they have a disproportionate effect on people’s perceptions of the country as a whole.

In this point of the hexagon, we ask consumers about their tendency to actively seek out or actively avoid products from each country, what marketers call the country of origin effect: the power of the “Made In…” label to add value to products and services. We also ask what kinds of products people would expect to be produced in each country, and whether they think the country has particular strengths in science and technology.

Whether we like it or not, commercial brands are increasingly performing the role of transmitting national culture: they have become one of the primary vectors of national image, and are more and more often the means by which people form their views about national identity.

Here, we ask respondents to rank countries according to how competently and fairly they believe them to be governed and how far they would trust their governments to make responsible decisions which uphold international peace and security; we also explore people’s perceptions of the government’s sense of responsibility towards poverty reduction and the global environment. We also ask for an adjective which best describes the government in each country.

Investment and Immigration
This point of the hexagon looks at the ‘business-to- business’ aspect of the nation brand, asking respondents about their personal willingness to live and work in each country for a substantial period; we also ask them how much value they would ascribe to an educational qualification gained in the country. Finally, we ask for an adjective which best describes the country’s current economic and social condition.

Culture and Heritage
In this point of the hexagon, we ask questions that are designed to measure perceptions of the country’s cultural heritage as well as people’s appreciation of or intention to consume its popular, more commercial cultural products and activities. We also ask about the country’s sporting excellence. In addition, we ask respondents to name what kind of cultural activity they most expect to find in each country.

To understand how the ‘human capital’ of each country is viewed, we ask a ‘business-to-business’ question (“Imagine you are a manager and need to make an important hiring. Please rank the following countries in order of your preference for the nationality of your candidate”) and a ‘non-business’ question (“How much would you like to have a close friend from the following countries”). Respondents are also asked to select the adjective that best describes the people in each country.

When Denmark and Norway were included in the Nation Brands Index for the first time in the last quarter of 2005, I wasn’t sure how they would perform in relation to Sweden, which had proved over the previous year to be a highly and almost universally admired nation brand.

I had a suspicion that when respondents from outside Europe answered questions about Sweden in previous editions, many of them had a kind of pan-Scandinavian or Nordic composite in their minds and were really thinking of the whole region when they answered questions about Sweden. But once our panellists were given the opportunity to score these three countries separately, it turned out that most of them were quite clear about Denmark and Norway being different brands than Sweden – and relatively weaker ones, too.

The Q4 study
In the Q4 study, Norway and Denmark remained in level positions almost throughout the index, suggesting that many people, especially beyond Northern Europe, don’t have a strong sense of the differences between these two countries, even when it comes to distinguishing between their exports (this despite the fact that Danish brands like Lego, Bang and Olufsen, Carlsberg and several others are associated with Denmark, while Norway produces no famous global brands).

The strongest component of both countries’ brands was in governance, where both ranked within the top five on every governance question (with Norway consistently a shade ahead of Denmark). This fitted in with a fairly well-established traditional perception – rooted, like most perceptions, in reality – that Northern European and especially Scandinavian countries are fairly, efficiently and liberally governed, with a strong tradition of social welfare, and a good record in international relations and

the Prophet Muhammad drawings
Shortly after the results of the Q4 study were collected, the international furore broke over the publication of satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten and other newspapers, which eventually resulted in rioting and numerous deaths, not to mention widespread boycotting of Danish and other Scandinavian goods in shops all over the Muslim world. A serious rift appears to have opened up between the values of Islam and some aspects of secular liberal Western democracy.

Enormous amounts of commentary have been published on the subject, ranging from highly valuable and thoughtful contributions about the nature of freedom, to deliberate misinformation, political opportunism and rabble-rousing by all parties in the debate.

The first Quarter survey of the 2006 Nation Brands Index gave us an opportunity to test public feelings in the immediate aftermath of these events, and above all to see how far the overall national reputations of Denmark and other countries implicated in the cartoons controversy had shifted as a

The NBI’s coverage in Muslim countries is unfortunately not yet very extensive, although it will continue to develop: at the time of the Q1 survey, only four predominantly Muslim countries were
included in the global panel. These are Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey (Turkey, although the majority of its citizens are Muslims, is of course a secular state).

Although the panellists in the survey are drawn as far as possible from all ages, income groups and levels of education, it is an online survey, so all respondents have access to the internet, and, it is reasonable to assume, are to some degree internationally-minded. This means that we are not reporting the opinions of the entire spectrum of society, but a fair cross-section of literate people.

The Q1 Results
The three tables below compare the rankings of Denmark between the last Quarter of 2005 (right hand column) and the first Quarter of 2006 (left-hand column). The first table shows Denmark’s average rankings according to the complete global panel of 35 countries, first as overall rankings, and then by each ‘point of the hexagon’.

As can be seen, both Denmark’s and Norway’s overall positions in the global ranking remain unaffected, but Denmark’s ranking in Governance, Culture, People, Tourism and Investment have all slipped. This movement is primarily caused by the dramatically lowered scores from the Muslim country panels in general and Egypt in particular. Scores from some non-Muslim countries were also
affected although not on anything like the same scale.

The second table shows the same data taken from the Egyptian panel only: Denmark has been relegated by the Egyptian respondents to overall last place in the survey (35th out of 35). There has been a steep decline in the Egyptian panel’s ranking of Danish products (a 39% drop), their association of the Danish government with the promotion of peace and security (a 34% drop), their view of the Danish government’s respect for the human rights and fair treatment of its own population (a 32% drop), their belief that they would be made welcome if they visited Denmark (a 30% drop).

Even their perceptions of Danish cultural heritage (which was put in as a neutral factor), declined by 16%. One can only speculate whether these responses are typical of Arab Muslim opinion, but it seems likely that they are to some degree.

The next table shows the results from the Turkish panel, where as can be seen, the reaction is less pronounced – this is partly because the ranking for Denmark in several areas was rather low in the first place, except in the ‘Governance’ dimension, where a steep drop has occurred. The Turkish results in the Nation Brands Index tend to show a somewhat anti-Western bias even under normal circumstances.

The Indonesian and Malaysian panels show the next strongest reaction against Denmark, with a decline from their previous scores that is smaller but still very significant by the standards of the usually very stable NBI. Overall, the four Muslim countries show an average drop of around 12% or so on key questions such as “do you think you would be made to feel welcome in this country” and “do you think this country’s government makes a contribution to global peace and security”.

Elsewhere in the world, Denmark’s scores have remained more stable, although there is a slight depression in the scoring from the panellists in Central Europe (Hungary, Poland, Estonia and the Czech Republic) for example on key questions about people’s interest in Danish products and services, their expectation of being made to feel welcome if they visit the country, their propensity to employ a Dane, and their view of the Danish government’s contribution to human rights and international peace and security.

At the further end of the spectrum, the American panel’s average scores for Denmark went up slightly. Canada is typical of a number of countries where the cartoons were published in a low key journal but generally condemned; its nation brand has also suffered to some extent, particularly in Egypt, perhaps caught up in a general anti-Western wave.

By contrast, the Egyptian panel’s average scores for China rose, a suggestion that the whole axis of its global loyalties has undergone a slight shift. Denmark was the only country in the Index which suffered a reduction in its mean overall score between 2005 Q4 and 2006 Q1.

Norway was closely associated with Denmark in the cartoon controversy; Norwegian newspapers re published the cartoons and defended Denmark publicly. It has suffered more than any country apart from Denmark, particularly in Egypt, where its largest declines in average score were: approval of its products (which fell by 20%), perceptions of its government’s contribution to international peace and security (which also fell by 20%), to human rights and the fair treatment of its own population (which fell by 16%), and the expectation that the panellists would be made to feel welcome if they visited Norway (which fell by 18%).

The four Muslim countries as a whole were less critical of Norway. The steepest decline was in
people’s interest in its products, which dropped by 5%. Their willingness to employ a Norwegian
actually went up, perhaps by contrast with the Danes.

The following table shows the word associations made by respondents from the Egyptian panel, and illustrates how these have changed between the two editions of the survey.

Here, the extent of the damage to Denmark’s reputation can be seen quite clearly, and is perhaps best summed up by the final entry, which shows how many of the Egyptian panel chose the adjective ‘trustworthy’ to describe Danes – one of the words which best characterises Denmark’s global brand image: from nearly half the respondents to less than a fifth.

Although many of the changes reported here are subtle, often no more than a few percentage points, they are significant because country scores generally move very little from one quarter to the next in the Nation Brands Index. People’s views of other countries are generally quite fixed and stable, and it
takes something very serious indeed to make them revise their views. Above all, it takes something personal.

As I have noted before, the brands or reputations of nations seem virtually immune to things that happen to the country, including wars, terrorist attacks and natural disasters (they are also surprisingly resistant to even the most expensive attempts at deliberate manipulation through marketing campaigns and other propaganda).

Nation brands either change very slowly over decades and centuries as the nation itself changes, or quite suddenly in the minds of certain individuals because they have created a strong personal impact on those individuals: a happy holiday experience in a country can bias that individual – perhaps permanently – in favour of virtually anything the country does or makes, and by the same token a direct attack on the individual’s self, country, values, religion or population, whether real or perceived, can damage the brand in that individual’s mind in an equally permanent way.

And it goes without saying that this effect can be prolonged and reinforced more or less at will from generation to generation through education and indoctrination if it is in the interests of society or government to do so – which is one reason why I am unable to make any predictions about how long this effect will last.

Generally, if an action is strongly out of character with the nation’s brand image, people’s beliefs about that nation will return to their previous state relatively quickly; but it seems clear that the respect expressed by our Egyptian, Turkish, Indonesian and Malaysian respondents for the Danish nation brand in the previous edition of the survey was something that existed in one part of their being but not in another. People can hold several contradictory feelings about countries at the same time, and they can respond to surveys like the NBI in different ways too: as consumers, as politically-aware national or global citizens, or as individuals thinking about their own lives, tastes and careers.

Given the nature of the survey, it is quite likely that in previous editions of the NBI these relatively pro-Western respondents were expressing their views about Denmark and other mature Western economies as consumers or potential consumers of their products, tourism, popular culture, employment and education opportunities, and so forth.

But if Denmark touches a different nerve – a political, personal, cultural or religious one – then the reaction may temporarily or even permanently drown out what they feel for the country in other ways. We have all seen images of Coca-Cola-drinking, Nike-wearing youths in the Middle East and South Asia burning American flags.

This particular episode, like all wildfires, started in one small place, but spread rapidly because it found dry tinder and favourable winds. In consequence it soon created a violent impact well beyond Denmark’s borders.

As the Arab News reported on 28 January: Many international brands have become targets of the recent boycott of Danish products, thanks to the confusion of consumers caused in part by the misinformation distributed by the proponents of the ban. “The email I received said that NIDO is one of the Danish products, so I stopped buying it,”said Saudi teacher Khaled Al-Harthi, who didn’t know that NIDO is a product of the Swiss Nestle Company.

A flier obtained by Arab News calls for boycotting Danish and Norwegian products …the flier listed many items that are not products of Denmark, including Kinder (owned by Italy’s Ferrero-Rocher) and New Zealand’s Anchor.

…Zakaria Ismail, manager of Al-Malki supermarket, said they would start hanging signs indicating Danish products. They had to do so in order to reduce their loss of sales of products that are mistaken as Danish… He said that all customers now generated the habit of reading the source of each product to make sure of its origin. “Even old people who cannot read, are asking, ‘Where is this made?’” he said.

As I commented at the time, the episode is a stark illustration of the real meaning of globalisation: almost every nation and culture on earth is now sharing elbow-room in a single information space. No conversation is private any longer, no media is domestic, and the audience is always global.

And everybody knows what happens when a group of human beings with different backgrounds, habits, values and ambitions are thrown together in the same crowded space: sooner or later, tempers start to fray. Somebody treads on someone else’s toes; some say by accident and some sayon purpose; insults get traded, a fight breaks out.

The implications of the Danish cartoon episode are profound and leave us with several unanswerable questions. It is a universal human trait, whether we like it or not, to brand other countries, other races, other religions, other cultures. It is not governments or countries that brand themselves, but
public opinion: in order to navigate through an increasingly complex and globalised world, we all tend to reduce countries and peoples to the level of simple stereotypes.

No matter how complex or even contradictory they are, we often resort to treating them as single entities. How quickly our disapproval of one government’s foreign policy can lead to mistrust or persecution of that country’s people; the failure of one company taken as indicative of the imminent failure of its country’s economy; admiration for a single media star lead to an imaginary liking for the entire population of the country.

This case is no different: the actions of one independent newspaper are blamed on the people of the country, the government is expected to explain or resolve the issue, and the country’s exporters are caught in the crossfire and their products boycotted. Even other countries have suffered because they happen to lie in the same geographical region, and havesome brand values in common.

If we pursue the metaphor of national reputation as brand, the nature of the dilemma becomes clear. Were such an episode to threaten the wellbeing and reputation of a corporation, it would be obvious what to do: the Chief Executive would address all staff, warn them that they are all equally responsible for preserving the organisation’s good name, and demand that they behave ‘on brand’ or lose their jobs.

But corporations aren’t democracies, they are a species of tolerated tyranny, and a contract of employment a very different thing from a social contract. As the Prime Minister of Denmark pointed out, he is not and cannot be responsible for the behaviour of the free media in a democracy, as long as it acts within the law. Perhaps on this occasion the law was inadequate, and perhaps in an increasingly interconnected world and increasingly multiracial societies, the old models of national law need to evolve faster than they currently do.

Perhaps in an enlightened modern society the forces of education, cultural sensitivity and respect could and should operate more effectively to prevent such episodes than the blunt instrument of the law. But the fact remains that although countries depend on their reputations as much as corporations do, they have – quite rightly – very little power to control the waythose reputations are treated or mistreated by their own citizens. Nation brand is a phenomenon of growing importance which is increasingly resistant to direct control – and who knows where that will lead us?

This article is published by kind permission from Simon Anholt


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