The Rise of the Brand State

Look at the covers of the brochures in any travel agency and you will see the various ways in which countries present themselves on the world's mental map. Singapore has a smiling, beautiful face offering us tasty appetizers on an airplane, whereas Ireland is a windy, green island full of freckled, red-haired children. But do these images depict real places, existing geographical sites one can visit? Or do the advertisements simply use cultural stereotypes to sell a product?

Over the last two decades, straightforward advertising has given way to branding -- giving products and services an emotional dimension with which people can identify. In this way, Singapore and Ireland are no longer merely countries one finds in an atlas. They have become "brand states," with geographical and political settings that seem trivial compared to their emotional resonance among an increasingly global audience of consumers. A brand is best described as a customer's idea about a product; the "brand state" comprises the outside world's ideas about a particular country.

We all know that "America" and "Made in the U.S.A." stand for individual freedom and prosperity; Herms scarves and Beaujolais Nouveau evoke the French art de vivre; bmws and Mercedes-Benzes drive with German efficiency and reliability. In fact, brands and states often merge in the minds of the global consumer. For example, in many ways, Microsoft and McDonald's are among the most visible U.S. diplomats, just as Nokia is Finland's envoy to the world. In today's world of information overload, strong brands are important in attracting foreign direct investment, recruiting the best and the brightest, and wielding political influence.

Register Now
Non-Subscriber
Register now to get three articles each month. Join us as a paid subscriber and get unrestricted access to all of Foreign Affairs, including on our iPad app.
Please note that we will never share your email address with a third party. Read our privacy policy.
Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis