Nation branding

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Our problem is we think of branding or rebranding as simply asking an advertising agency to dream up a slogan, a logo, a patriotic hymn that projects the country as some kind of heaven on earth.

Of course that doesn’t work. Branding must reflect reality. Otherwise, there is no credibility.

Last June 12, BBM launched a massive rebranding campaign for the country anchored on his Bagong Pilipino concept. The rebranding attempt came complete with a Palace edict for all government offices and schools to include in their regular flag ceremonies a new hymn and a new pledge.

Those of us who lived through the martial law years are reminded of the Bagong Lipunan march that brainwashed Pinoys into believing that BBM’s father will save Filipinos a la Lee Kuan Yew. It had a slogan too… sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan. Of course, we despised it and it became the butt of jokes, albeit secretly lest the Metrocom hears you and throws you in the stockade. Ask Ariel Ureta.

So now the Marcos son is picking up a strategy from his father’s playbook. My colleague Tony Lopez summarized the messages of the BBM hymn: It’s time for change, it’s time for reform. Patronize what is ours. Fix what needs to be fixed. Change is for progress. Do the right thing. Strive for excellence, in every field. Each triumph we offer to our beloved country.

You have to be truly unpatriotic to argue against change, given our current miserable condition. But we need more than a new hymn and a new pledge. Pinoys are now understandably skeptical of their leaders enough to scorn such admonitions. BBM and his party of politicians, after two years in office, have yet to introduce real change in the way our government is managed. This call is dead on arrival.

So far, we are seeing monkey business as usual. Legislators are reportedly cornering as much as 40 percent of budget allocations for pork barrel funded projects nationwide. We are not seeing educational reforms that will give our young people a chance to get good jobs and live better lives.

We have understandably lost our pride of country. Our young people’s fondest dream is to leave the country as soon as they can. Indeed, there are 10 million Filipinos living abroad and more that one million more Filipinos, including professionals in the middle class, leave the country each year for a better life.

There are many low hanging fruits that BBM and his officials can pick to make us proud to be Filipinos. Fixing the airport is one, so we don’t have to cringe in shame when we pick up foreign guests. Civilizing an airport is not impossible nor is it rocket science. It was done in Mactan and Clark by the private sector. Maybe Ramon Ang can do it at NAIA too when San Miguel takes over in September.

How else can we be proud Pinoys? Not having to experience corruption when we transact with the government. Not having to apologize to foreign friends or potential investors who complain about how our traffic makes moving from one point to another seem to take the same time as a trip to the moon.

If we want an example of successful country branding, Singapore can teach us some obvious but basic lessons.

The Lee Kuan Yew School for Public Policy (LKYSPP) had this article in a recent issue of their online journal, Global is Asian, titled Nation Branding as a tool of public policy. They define “nation branding” as projecting realistic favorable images of a country resulting from “strategy, substance and symbolic actions.”

Koh Buck Song, guest lecturer at the LKYSPP explains that nation branding is all about reputation. He said: “Your reputation is your most valuable asset, because with it you can get so much done. And if you’ve got a bad reputation, then you’ve got a mountain to climb”.

LKYSPP associate professor Terence Ho thinks “A country’s brand makes a huge difference to investment and tourism promotion.” No wonder we labor hopelessly to attract foreign investors. Our bad reputation scares them away.

The proof of Singapore’s branding success is felt by a traveler as soon as he steps out of his plane into the modern, clean and orderly Changi International Airport. A traveler is out of the airport in minutes, compared to hours in our case.

The Singapore national brand is further enhanced as visitors step out of the airport. There is no fear of boarding a taxi at the curb unlike here when even locals like us are worried about being overcharged or worse, being kidnapped and held-up. Indeed, even within NAIA, security officers have been known to engage in extortion operations (laglag bala) that end up in international social media as victims swear never to come here again.

Accountability of public officials is another feature of the Singapore national brand. There is no excuse or tolerance for corruption. And when it happens, corruption is dealt with quickly to protect Singapore’s squeaky-clean image.

Meritocracy is also the rule compared to our padrino system where incompetence is tolerated, even rewarded if related to political powers that be. Singapore’s civil servants are conscious of how their behavior and decisions impact the nation’s brand. Ours couldn’t care about our country’s reputation so long as they can make a fast buck.

BBM is putting the cart before the horse in this Bagong Pilipino campaign. Fix our house first. Lead by example to get credibility. Encourage political allies to do the same. Have zero tolerance for malfeasance in government. Get cabinet members to perform and be decisive in firing those incapable of making government work like a well- oiled machine. Once things start working well, the good news will enhance our national brand in a way no anthem, no logo, no patriotic pledge can make that happen.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on X @boochanco

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