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A world that could have been

Global reputations of places
photo credit: 3 in the globe via photopin (license)

Some places have bad reputations and most tourists avoid them. Although these places can be menacing, they can also be compelling. Even more so when you remember how they used to be.

Perhaps war zones or rugged areas where rebel groups lurk, nations with unfriendly governments, or otherwise unstable locations where conflict has recently ended.

But the places are intriguing because they weren’t always like that. Once upon a time every place had its heyday. Did the outside world perceive these places differently during times of peace and prosperity?

Take Syria and Iraq, now unrecognisable shadows of their former selves, cursed with reputations for war and suffering. Long ago, Baghdad was one of the most magnificent cities in the Islamic world, where the heart of an Empire beat during the golden age of Islam. In those days, Baghdad was known for its scholars, its philosophers, and its innovators.

The Syrian cities of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs are some of the world’s most ancient, where civilisation itself may have begun. Their present suffering is painful to observe.

Somalia, whose capital city Mogadishu was once the pre-eminent city in the Horn of Africa, making a fortune from its role as a major trading port with the Arabian Peninsula and India. For a long time, Somali Muslims and Ethiopian Christians lived peacefully side by side.

During the Middle Ages, Somalia became a prosperous trading nation where Islam gained power and flourished. In the 1940s, Somalia was an Italian colony home to over 22,000 Italians. The standard of living was one of the highest in the region, partly thanks to a well-developed manufacturing industry.

Somalia later passed into the hands of the British, and finally gained its independence in 1960. But a military coup in 1969 and subsequent establishment of a communist state heralded the beginning of Somalia’s slow descent into chaos and failed statehood.

Afghanistan: known in the 1950s and 60s as a progressive nation where innovation was encouraged, where women’s equality was enshrined in law, and where young people went to university to pursue their dreams. All were free to do so unhindered by religious and political fanaticism.

During the final years of the Afghanistan invasion, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox referred to Afghanistan as ‘a broken 13th century country.’ He was totally wrong.

But unfortunately, Fox’s view reflects common perceptions of Afghanistan and its inhabitants, who are often believed to be ungovernable barbarians living in a chaotic land. This dangerously inaccurate view informs much of Western foreign policy towards Afghanistan and countries like it.

In 2010, Afghan-American university president Mohammad Qayoumi, who left Afghanistan in the 1960s, is determined to educate the world about the country he knows and loves, as it used to be.

Qayoumi put together a compelling photo essay, ‘Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan’, full of images of an unrecognisable nation.  The photos of William Podlich reflect Qayoumi’s original theme, this time showing Afghanistan from the perspective of an American family living there in the 60s.

Examining both collections is an uplifting and thought-provoking experience, yet at the same time melancholy. The images show female university students in Kabul wearing skirts without headscarves, studying science alongside their male peers, socialising at cinemas and coffee shops, and shopping at record stores stacked with the latest Afghan and international hits.

Podlich’s pictures show Americans interacting normally with Afghans on the street in a relaxed manner, even one where Podlich’s wife is wearing a sleeveless Western dress.

According to Qayoumi, 1960s Afghanistan had an efficient and organised government, a vibrant economy, and a strong tradition of law and order. Institutions such as the national airline, Ariana Afghan Airlines, were reliable and well regarded internationally. Overall, Afghanistan had a decent reputation.

In fact, Afghanistan of the 1960s had many of the ingredients for success. Its people had every reason to expect a bright future during these halcyon days.

How tragic it is, to see the state of these nations today after decades of war, communism, and religious extremism have taken their toll. These are the most common driving factors of civilisational retrograde and they have caused immense destruction.

There are no excuses or justifications. The wasted potential is immense, both for the countries and for their people. Innovation, freedom of speech, modernity, fair governance, justice, all summed up into a strong, clearly communicated nation image, are necessary for any civilisation wishing to thrive in the 21st century.

Any force that tries to deny them that opportunity is not a force for good. Let us hope that one day these battered civilisations will rise up again on the global playing field of a new century.

“Who knows?” said Qayoumi in a 2010 interview with NPR. “Maybe in 20 years from today, we can look at a very different Afghanistan, where we can look at the pictures of today — and see that same kind of stark contrast that we can see now with the pictures of the 1950s and ’60s.”

As an old Afghan saying goes: “A stream that has seen water before will see water in the future also.”

Perhaps by showing the world a different side of these much-maligned nations, we can help to lay the groundwork for their eventual rebirth and regaining of lost reputations.

Ambitious asteroid mining dreams

Luxembourg's asteroid mining dreams

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is famous for its banking. It’s also famous for being tiny. That’s about it.

But that might change soon, as Luxembourg unveils its ambitions for the budding industry of asteroid mining. Yes, you read that correctly, asteroid mining. Here at Placesbrands, we’d never even heard of this kind of work until now.

Apparently, there is a whole lot of mineral wealth inside those random pieces of rock that orbit our solar system. Mining them could enable us to access greater amounts of important resources without damaging the Earth’s existing landscape.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Étienne Schneider said: “Our aim is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space, without damaging natural habitats.”

“We will support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space and satellite industries as a key high-tech sector for Luxembourg.”

The tiny state rarely attracts media attention. But now it plans to invest significant amounts of money in new research and innovation to develop its capabilities in asteroid mining. According to Vice News, Luxembourg will also spend time creating a legal framework to be used by companies that want to conduct business activities ‘beyond the confines of the planet’. That phrase itself is rather thrilling, isn’t it?

Luxembourg might seem an unusual contender for this kind of ambitious venture. But despite its small population and surface area, what the general public may not know is that the country hosts two major commercial satellite companies. It’s the real deal; the expertise is already present. But until now, it hasn’t been communicated widely.

This announcement could herald the beginning of a whole new era. If Luxembourg continues to promote its strategy in this area, the little duchy could soon find itself becoming synonymous with asteroid mining and pioneering the idea of doing business outside the very confines of Earth itself.  Having a unique selling point is a great benefit in building a strong national identity. What could be more unique than this?

When building a reputation there’s no substitute for actually doing the thing you want to become known for. This applies not just to places, but also to people and companies. If Luxembourg keeps doing what it’s doing; and doing it well, its national reputation will soon grow and change.

Weaving the space exploration theme into some compelling stories wouldn’t hurt either. Fortunately, outer space has always captured our imaginations, so it should be an easy goal to achieve.

Year in review: 2015

Fireworks and champagne

2015 has been a rollercoaster of a year.

Placesbrands brought you stories from Jakarta, Kingston, Amman, Limburg, Budapest and Washington DC.

As 2015 draws to a close, let’s revisit this year’s most popular posts. They focus on perspectives from around the world, from Jamaica and Cuba to Cornwall and Nashville.

2015 was a critical year for US-Cuban relations. Jamaican-born academic Dr Hume Johnson reflects on the opening up of Cuba, from the perspective of its closest neighbour.

City branding is a hot topic, but why do so many campaigns fail to achieve the desired impact? Jose Torres of Bloom Consulting talks us through the lesser-known secrets of image crafting, with a focus on the important role of digital tools.

In the UK it’s mostly about London. Unless it’s about Cornwall. The county at the tail end of England experienced a resurgence in popularity in 2015, partly driven by the hit TV series Poldark. John Lowdon of local brand agency Changing Brands explores the ins and outs of the shifting Cornish image, pirates and all.

Foreign Policy magazine is known for its commentary on world affairs, geopolitics and diplomacy. Now the group behind the magazine is branching out in a new direction and establishing a Nation Brand Institute. Its goal is to provide consulting, research and events services to foreign ministries around the world. Placesbrands met with FP to find out more about the plans.

Have you ever thought about the sounds that conjure up memories of places visited in the past? The practice of audio branding leverages the power of sound to promote place image. Steve Keller of iV Audio Branding tells us which places are making good use of their unique sounds and explains how to integrate audio as part of a wider brand strategy.

Placesbrands wishes everyone great success for 2016. Happy New Year!

Chalk and cheese

US flag

While the world shudders at the hatefulness displayed by US presidential candidate Donald Trump, newly elected Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has been personally welcoming Syrian refugees at the airport. What a contrast between two neighbouring countries!

For months now, Trump has been ramping up his negative rhetoric against refugees and immigrants. First it was Mexicans, now it’s Muslims. After the San Bernadino shootings, Trump announced that all Muslims should be banned from entering America.

This was unsurprising given his track record. Days earlier, Trump had suggested that Muslims living in America should be forced to add their personal details to a central database. This move, reminiscent of Hitler’s early policies towards Jews in Germany, horrified much of the world. However, there remained those who were not horrified, who actually supported Trump’s policies.

His latest comments on Muslims have attracted widespread condemnation, even from unlikely candidates such as David Cameron and Boris Johnson. The latter said he ‘won’t visit New York because Trump might be there.’ But despite global condemnation, Trump remains popular among aspects of American society that fear the ‘Other’ and admire Trump for ‘speaking his mind’.

Journalist Barbara Walters recently interviewed Trump. Here’s a short sample:
Walters: “Are you a bigot?”
Trump: “Not at all. Probably the least of anyone you’ve ever met.”
Walters: “Because…?”
Trump: “Because I’m not. I’ve got common sense. I’m a smart person.”

Trump’s comments have alienated some of his Muslim business associates in the Gulf, notably the boss of Landmark shopping malls, who announced that his company would remove Trump branded products from its stores across the Middle East. The residents of Istanbul’s posh development Trump Towers aren’t too happy either.

One Istanbul resident, Melek Toprak, told the New York Times recently: “I feel ashamed to live in a building associated with such a vile man.”

In contrast, Canada has emerged as a do-gooder. Since Trudeau was elected, he has made a swathe of policy changes and announcements, deciding to withdraw from airstrikes on Syria, and allowing 25,000 Syrian refugees to enter Canada. These moves are reinstating Canada’s old image as a benevolent and inclusive nation.

Arguably, Trudeau’s actions are pulling Canada’s reputation back from the brink, undoing much of the damage caused by his predecessor Stephen Harper.

Canada currently ranks 12th overall on the Good Country Index, a ranking of countries that do the most good for the world as a whole. The US, in contrast, stands at 21st place. This is based on data from last year, so it will be interesting to see how the results change in next year’s edition of the ranking.

Simon Anholt, creator of the Good Country Index, commented via Twitter: “I’m greatly relieved that [Canada] is reengaging with the world.”

But while Canada continues to spread goodwill and reestablish itself in the global order, America’s political climate is bubbling with vitriol. Islamophobia and discrimination have risen significantly. This bodes badly for America’s reputation, already set against a backdrop of institutionalised racism and growing perceptions of a violent ‘frontier’ society. This is the country where school shootings happen regularly.

Many Americans (and indeed, the world) hope and pray that Hillary Clinton will secure the premiership next year. If that doesn’t happen, it’s possible that Donald Trump could end up as president. The consequences of that are indeed worrying.

America’s worsening reputation could be the least of anyone’s concerns. The risk of the world’s most powerful nation becoming an intolerant, far-right state, led by a man whose comments have drawn comparisons to Hitler, is far more frightening.

What makes destination brands succeed?

New York city branding

This post is by Michelle Polizzi at Brandfolder, the world’s most powerfully simple digital asset management platform.

Imagine you’ve just stepped into a yellow taxi on Fifth Avenue.

You glide along the pavement beneath giant, shining skyscrapers while the smell of fresh pizza wafts in through the window to ignite your appetite, and suddenly, you step out into the bright lights of Times Square where the energy is nearly palpable.

Even if you’ve never been to New York, you knew which city I was describing because New York’s destination branding is universally recognisable.

Destination branding is a marketing concept that involves communicating the feelings, culture, and overall mindset people experience when visiting a place.

Branding a destination is challenging because it involves variables that can’t be fully controlled, like how food tastes at a restaurant or what the weather is like.

If destination branding is so abstract, what does it take to successfully market a destination?

To answer this question, here’s an explanation of why destination branding is so important, as well as three examples of brands who succeed at the challenge.

When Milton Glaser designed the “I Love New York” logo in 1977, he intended the campaign to last just a few months. Much to his surprise, that slab serif typeface and pop art heart became a lasting icon for the city that reigns today, almost 40 years later!

The “I Love New York” campaign succeeded because it has consistently brought international tourists to New York, and along with them, their wallets.

In 2013, the World Travel and Tourism Council released a report that placed the global economic contribution of the tourism industry at nearly 7 trillion dollars.

Because the tourism industry is so valuable to economies at the city, state and national level, it’s no surprise the industry is fiercely competitive. Tourism brands have to convince travellers why they should visit their city instead of another one, and they have to create an experience which keeps visitors coming back for more.

Montréal, Minnesota, and British Columbia are three examples of destination brands that have recently launched new campaigns to deepen their connection with consumers, attract new visitors, and more accurately reflect their modern identities.

Check out the full post for Brandfolder’s take on destination branding, and case studies of Montreal, Minnesota,and British Columbia, focusing on how these destinations have used community feedback, social media, and more!