How to create a brand for a country


THE PHILIPPINES need to find an icon people will associate it with. Photo By Marlet D. Salazar

Creating a brand for a country goes beyond a catchy slogan or memorable theme song although these surely helps.

“Destination branding is about powerful images,” explains Jacqueline Thng, chief executive officer of Singapore-based Lexis Branding during her talk at the recently concluded Cebu Tourism Congress held at Marco Polo Plaza, Cebu.

In her talk, “Branding Strategies,” Thng says that country brands go beyond tourism. “Branding is also about a nation’s politics, economy, security, and others.”

She adds that there has to be that one icon that would represent the destination. She gave examples like France where people immediately think of food and wine as well as arts and culture; Italy, which is famous for its centuries-old structures; and even the United States for modern-day brands like McDonald’s and Starbucks.

The Philippine Department of Tourism’s (DOT), “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign has been successful, with memes that started with only four and now multiplied to 55,000, according to DOT. The campaign used powerful images, a catchy slogan, and a memorable theme song.

However, Thng notes, that the country also fell short in allowing Hollywood film “Bourne Legacy” film in slum areas. “Personally, I wouldn’t have approved that,” she says, “because that is not the face of the Philippines.”

“Country branding comes with the images that come to mind,” Thng, who has been working in the Philippines with various companies for five years now, reiterates.

While Thng also talked about truth as part of building a country brand, she explains that branding is important because it gives differentiation. “Some people choose to buy Nike over Adidas or Puma over World Balance,” she says, “but chances are, (these products) are all made in China.”

“Why is branding so interesting?” she asks. There is a coffee mill (not cafe) in Indonesia called Setarbak Kopi. If it had been a coffee shop and pitted against US’ Starbucks, it is likely that most of the consumers would choose the latter even if both companies use the same kind of coffee beans.

“Starbucks has the edge on branding experience,” Thng says. “It became a cool coffee brand, not just coffee.”

Thng strengthens her point by explaining how other countries use “Bali” in selling their own tourism destination by marketing pitch of “The Next Bali” or “The New Bali.” Bali is one of the most celebrated pristine beaches in Indonesia.

“Bali has evolved into a brand,” she says.

Thng and her company did New Zealand’s branding destination using the catchphrase “forever young.” It helped that the company used the familiar song “Forever Young” by a German rock group called Alphaville. Apart from New Zealand native and film director Peter Jackson using it as the backdrop for the movies “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the campaign helped boost the country’s tourism.

“Branding is not (only) about sitting down and thinking about slogan,” she says. “You consider the strength and weaknesses of a brand and how you can achieve every part of it. In this case, we see New Zealand as a very young country.”

Thng also advises about consistency, saying that constantly changing a brand or image is “perhaps one of the biggest mistakes you’ll make (in branding).”

“We can solve brand issues by advertising,” she explains. “Branding is about creating and owning an image and consistently building that image as the years go by. You can’t change every year because then you are offering a different image. People will be able to know who you are because you and your logo have been consistently used.”

Thng shows recognizable logos that stand on their own without a need for titles or brand name. Thng made her point by mentioning that Kodak may no longer be a major player in the camera market and the company has already abolished its film segment, but people still remember the brand.

Thng says the Philippines could use an icon to create its brand. “When you conceive a brand, project what you see in totality,” she says. If London has the black cab and New York is famous for the yellow cab, the Philippines could use at least one image for people to associate with when they see it.

Thng also explains that when choosing a brand position, one should narrow the target market as much as possible. “Don’t try to be a brand for all people and for all nations,” she says. “The narrower you are in positioning your brand, the closer you are in getting the customers and travelers you want.”

As for changing certain aspects of the image of the Philippines such as security and safety, Thng says public relations is needed. A good public relations program can go a long way in changing the negative impression of the country.

Thng says the Philippines is indeed a fun country and Filipinos can capitalize on that in creating the brand.

Thng’s talk was part of Cebu Business Month organized by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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  • AAlon

    I think the branding for tourism should not focus solely on places to visit in the Philippines. The Philippines is well-known in the world for its people – hospitable, very happy people. That being said, I would rephrase the slogan to “Philippines. We have more fun here.”

  • ping mendoza

    great read except for one part: “We can solve brand issues by advertising,”

    can only address 1, maybe 2 of Marketing’s 4Ps (Product, Price, Place,
    Promotion). Product and Price can only be improved via infrastructure
    and good governance. Before we are able to go into branding, the
    marketability of the Philippines would have to go back to basics in
    addressing key gaps in consumer perception (horrible transportation
    experience, news dominated by dangerous events/scenarios, difficulty in
    setting up business as a foreigner).

    Awareness may attract some tourists but our country is TOO BEAUTIFUL
    to just rely on bad roads and terminals. Sayang lang awareness if during
    product experience we can’t follow through.

  • parefrank

    It is really fun in RP. Because when you compare the reality with all the tourism propaganda, you have only two choices: Take it as fun or get angry. Because you are thinking there must be another Philippines somewhere else.

    • ManilaMan

      Not sure what tourism has to do with your current condition.
      The Banaue Rice Terraces are still there standing, as are the white sand beaches of Boracay and El Nido and the many baroque churches and heritage sites for tourists to visit.

      You see Egypt is in a more desperate condition than PHL with all the coups and rebellions there in the last 2 years. But their Pyramids are still standing, despite the death toll it still managed to attract more than 10million tourists last year. Tourism and branding only focuses on the positive things you know.

  • Rejenal Pang

    postal bride….how about that

  • ManilaMan

    The jeepney has always been the icon of the Philippines, no doubt. And like the official “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” logo that our DOT has so geniusly created, the jeepney is also both colorful and fun, also like the different fiestas held all over the PHL, from sinulog to pahiyas, all those costumes, all colorful, fun and loud. Like the different ethnic tribes and cultures we have, all very colorful. The mega casinos – all fun. The halo-halo and filipino foods – colorful. The filipino hospitality and easygoing attitude – fun. Just like the jeepney.

    Apart from the jeepney, i hope the DOT can also capitalize on our unique identity that is a confluence of Latino (Mexican/Spanish) and Asian (Malay/Chinoy) cultures, that could be especially appealing to the big Asian Market (not so much for Western tho). But the beach with a baroque church, and Mexican sounding places. These are all very new to our buddhist, hindu, muslim, taoist neighbors. Be in Latin America in 4 hours is a good catchy slogan too.

    • Zaraqael

      The jeepney represents a lot of things gone wrong with this country. I would never use the jeepney as a positive symbol for being Filipino. The jeepney is the most inefficient and ill-conceived form of public transport and the undisciplined drivers behind these jeepneys’ steering wheels are among the worst traffic violators anywhere and a primary cause of traffic jams on our roads. Poor maintenance of these contraptions result in hazardous pollution everywhere.

      A public transport system that relies on such vehicles will not work. Buses and trains that carry more people at a lower cost per kilometer is what we’ve been needing for a long, long time but our politicians have gone generation after generation mindlessly ignoring this simple prescription.

      Whoever proudly coined and waved the slogan “Jeepneys: King of the Road” should be shot in the head.

      • ManilaMan

        Of course, a national icon must be something a country actually has which is unique and in abundance of, which is the jeepney. If the topic was which public transpo is more efficient, then of course i’d have the same answer as you. The jeepney isnt that bad an icon though, and while i’m not exactly calling for its abolition or for it to be completely removed from the streets, i also hope there’d be less of them especially in cities where mass transit forms should be given priority.

        But the jeepney is the jeepney, and its already a recognized icon of the PHL. Just like the tuktuk is for Thailand, the king of the Bangkok roads.

      • yew_tan

        Read between the lines. He is talking about symbolism. What the jeepney represents does not make it a good symbol for a brand because it conjures up a lot of things gone wrong. Let me ask you this. Would you bend over and take a picture of your donkeyhole and advertise to the whole world that, that’s your face show in the picture?

      • Alfie Anido

        Finally someone has thought of putting the jeepney in its proper place- as a tourist memorabilia and as a park’s merry-go-round. It should not be used as a main instrument for public transportation. The DOTC should think of phasing the jeepney off the main roads and highways especially for METRO MANILA.

        The jeepney is a summation of what is wrong with Pinoy mentality. Instead of being heralded as a symbol of Pinoy ingenuity, it is a classic representation of the “pwede na yan” mentality. It was conceived in the middle of the chaos of the Post-War destruction of Manila to temporarily transport people in the absence of good roads. However the basic design of the jeepney from the Post War till this day has not changed at all. What was original conceived as a temporary solution has become the norm. Even the Sarao Motors before its closure did not evolve into a legit automobile factory, it remained a ‘weldingan, pupok-yupi shop’. The owner and his descendants did not even bother to innovate or make substantial long-term investments that could have transformed the business into a version of FORD MOTORS, complete with factories, assembly lines and workers.

        Just think of the lost opportunities for this family and what they could have become or what the jeepney could have been. Instead it has become a grotesque monstrosity chugging its cantankerous transmogrification in every Filipino roads.

      • Zaraqael


  • carlcid

    Branding without actual deeds and accomplishments is like selling the sizzle without the steak.

  • CmdrAdobo

    how to brand if walang disiplina ang mga tao.

    • yew_tan

      You just said it, that’s the brand right there…….. Flips walang disiplina.
      It’s more fun in Flipland, for sure.

  • Batz61

    Philippine branding?…how’s this…Manila floods, Manila thieves, Manila robbery, Manila salvaging, Manila slums, Philippine corrupt politicians, Philippine Police tong, Metro Manila traffic, Philippine drug lords, Philippine rebels — NPA, MILF, MNLF, Abu Sayaf, Metro Manila pollution, Philippine magnanakaw military, Philippine palusot, Philippine government lazy time, Philippine poor public maintenance, ..any additions? I know there are many more which will immediately make us remember the Philippines…Please lang, no more DENIAL…magbago na sana tayo.

    • Teamwork-make yourself useful

      and you are making yourself useful to our Tourism by giving out these very negative remarks!

      • carlcid

        Being delusional and in denial is even worse. A healthy dose of skepticism is needed to keep grounded.

      • Teamwork-make yourself useful

        healthy dose? you are being like an “extremist” on how you look at the situation?

      • yew_tan

        If you want to sell your old car to a prospect, would you honestly tell the buyer that you did not pull proper maintenance on the car or there’s something wrong with the engine and soon it gives up the ghost? I think you are nothing but a good-for-nothing spoilsport who bellyaches a lot to get attention.

    • bulalakaw

      Yeah, no more DENIALs. What you said is so sad AND YET so true. No government effort will be great enough or slogan so catchy enough if majority of Filipinos continue to be just the way they are. A culture of mediocrity and pwede na iyan system, of palusot at mga batas na walang pangil o ngipin man lang. Security wise, Philippine Air Force na walang makabagong fighter jets. Philippine Navy na walang battleships. Bayarang pulisya at military. Kangkungan na lang talaga mapupuntahan natin compared with our once laggard but now extremely vibrant Asian neighbors. SIGH.

    • Marx Louis Wang

      Oke oke saan tayo simula?

      • yew_tan

        Good question. You can start within you. Be proud and feel good about yourselves without having to mention your ancestry was direct descendants of Magellan or the scions of Limahong. There’s nothing to be proud of about saying your mom got laid by a foreigner or your great great grandmother was once a prostitute and that how you came about having Irish blood in you or something. Then you can showcase your unique and truly Filipino culture, not the ones adulterated by foreign influence. The Highlands of Cordillera and the Bangsamoro are very rich in culture, they make good brand to showcase your country for the world to appreciate..

      • Marx Louis Wang

        wey da minit, descendants of Magellan, yu min da sons and dowters of da sundalos hu reyp the neytibs of Mactan and Cebu? seim ting as da reypists of Limahon sundalos?

    • Jack Bw

      This is tourism. Marketing the country for tourism does not mean we deny these realities. Reminding us of incompetence and corruption in government is all well and good, we are all aware of that. But solving these is a separate problem. Let us not brush aside any efforts to improve our tourism. That would be a DENIAL that tourism as a vital part of our economy. It employs 10% of the national workforce and contributes 8% of the nation’s GDP.

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