Israel looking for an extreme makeover

world | Jan 15, 2007 | By Bill Berkowitz

It hasn't been the easiest year for Israel.

There was this past summer's widely condemned attack on Lebanon and the recent disclosure by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that his country has a nuclear arsenal, not to mention the ongoing death and destruction resulting from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter strongly criticised Israel in his new bestselling book "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," and a recent international consumer survey found that Israel has the worst "brand name" of any country in the world.

Finally, The Sunday Times of London reported this week that the Israeli Air Force may be preparing to use low grade, tactical nuclear weapons to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities. So perhaps it is not surprising that Israel -- whose international image is of a country in continuous conflict -- would engage in a serious long-term effort to reshape global perceptions of itself.

As part of its "re-branding" strategy, according to a report in the Washington Times, Israel is turning to "the wisdom of Madison Avenue".

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has "met with public relations executives, branding specialists and diplomats in Tel Aviv to brainstorm about improving the country's image by using the marketing insights first developed to sell peanut butter and Pontiacs," the newspaper reported.

"When the word 'Israel' is said outside its borders, we want it to invoke not fighting or soldiers, but a place that is desirable to visit and invest in, a place that preserves democratic ideals while struggling to exist," Livni was quoted as saying by Reuters.

John Stauber, executive director of the Centre for Media and Democracy, whose website has been tracking developments in the public relations world for several years, told IPS, "These days branding, which has most frequently been associated with creating a feel-good, positive impression for a product, service, or a company, is now being used more and more by countries."

"Branding campaigns by nations are a type of propaganda designed to manage and manipulate the perception of in-country citizens or foreigners toward a government," he said. "Countries engaged in controversies, just like companies, will turn to branding methods as a crisis management technique to manage and manipulate public opinion and press coverage."

"Often nations with serious PR or image problems involving social justice issues are engaging in branding efforts. For instance, after 9/11 the United States launched a branding campaign that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in a failed effort to improve the image of the U.S. in Arab and Muslim countries."

"Given recent developments involving Israel, it is not at all surprising that it would ratchet up its spending on public relations and branding," added Stauber.

Although the new public relations effort is still in its formative stages, and a budget for it has yet to be developed, a staff person with the London-based global advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi acknowledged that it is already working with the Israelis free of charge on the re-branding effort.

Unlike public relations campaigns that are more immediately targeted and less durable, branding aims at changing long-term perceptions. The Anholt Nation Brands Index is an analytical ranking of the world's nations as brands developed by author Simon Anholt, an independent British researcher and an adviser to governments on branding, who is also the founding editor of "Place Branding," a quarterly British journal devoted to the relatively new practice of place branding.

The Anholt Nation Brand Index recently polled 25,903 online consumers from 35 countries in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America and found that Israel finished dead last in the survey, behind Estonia, Indonesia and Turkey.

Among the factors considered in a nation's "



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