Would you buy Pakistan?

Can a country be branded? BRIC are known for development potential while Af-Pak, Islamic bomb and failed state are all marketing buzz words used to brand Pakistan.

Samir Butt August 02, 2010
Marketing cannot be limited to individuals or enterprises. Pakistan is in dire need of a new image and nation branding can help build it.

When Pakistan was conveniently paired with Afghanistan to form the so-called ‘Af-Pak’ region, world over people were made to think that both countries stand in the same line when it comes to infrastructure and economy. Richard Holbrooke was named as a common ambassador for the two countries by the United States and common policies began to take shape.

Afghanistan is a drug-based economy that has no transport, communications or government structure. It has no signs of technology and has been torn-apart by the constant war situation. Yet, when such a country was branded with Pakistan, nobody seemed to have a problem with it. There was no lawyers’ movement or judiciary movement or youth movement or political movement. Did anybody notice how India categorically refused to accept Holbrooke as a common special representative to South Asia? By refusing to accept Holbrooke, India clearly branded itself as the bigger power in the region. A clear message was given to the US that India will not be treated like Pakistan. This is the power nation branding holds.

If we look back, there was a time when there was an Indo-Pak region. Both countries were treated alike, given both were progressive economies. India successfully branded itself as an emerging world power. It is no longer seen as a competitor for Pakistan, rather India aims at China. Some things went wrong in Pakistan, the continuous political structure breakdowns due to military interventions are hackneyed issues and I will not discuss them. Still, a better global image can be painted for Pakistan.

The core issue is, can a country be branded? Sure, why not.

However, the technique used to brand a country is obviously slightly different from branding a corporation. Countries like Turkey and Bahrain advertise their abundance of skilled labor and ask others to invest in them. Their advertisements are aired on television and published in magazines.

Goldman Sachs argued that, since Brazil, Russia, India and China are developing rapidly, by 2050 their combined economies could eclipse the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world. The name ‘BRIC’ was given to this group of countries and it began splashing on every piece of publication ensuring the presence and emerging strengths of the respective countries. It helped build investor confidence in these economies.

In fact Af-Pak, Islamic bomb and failed state are all marketing buzz words used to brand Pakistan. The people are made to feel weak and exposed by constantly feeding them with such rubbish, sadly by our own media as well.

How is it that Pakistan was unable to cash on the N-11? The Next Eleven is yet another list of countries published by Goldman Sachs in late 2005, which includes Pakistan. With time, it was clarified that the N-11 may never be as big as BRIC, but they will emerge nonetheless. Maybe this is not as exciting, but there is a need to pursue the thought in any case.

Pakistan is one of the biggest users of the Internet and mobile phones in the world. Access from China to warm waters; from Central Asian countries to the most densely populated democracy in the world, we have it all. Moreover, an overflowing supply of young population. These are signs investors over the world look for. Do they know about Pakistan?

I have to touch upon the Pakistani media to establish the branding case. The hopelessly pathetic level of journalism in Pakistan has brought shame and disgrace, watch the news every day for ten minutes and you will turn into a heart patient. The news channels, to catch the audience’s attention, would say anything and everything disgusting about Pakistan. Whether the talk show anchors have hidden agendas or not, that’s a separate debate, but they sure have no sympathies with this country. From constantly abusing the politicians to continuous harping about how the country is about to fall apart, they have it all. Kill hope in people, you’ll kill the nation. That’s precisely what they are doing. International media only shows the handful of “news worthy” terrorists from Pakistan. So who will tell the world about the rest of the hard working population?

Over the internet, there is little positive you can find about Pakistan. Since the international media doesn’t show any of of good things that happen in Pakistan, this job has to be done by Pakistanis themselves. Search for ‘invest’, ‘trade’ or ‘tourism’ in Pakistan over the Internet and you will find nothing but dead links. Pakistan needs to go online. The Internet is a medium waiting to be used, not to be blocked. Nation branding was never easier.

Simon Anholt, an expert in nation branding said that ‘Places can only change their images by changing the way they behave.’

This can’t possibly be challenged by any sane person.

To brand Pakistan, the first step is cooperation between the public and private sector. The branding agenda should be clear and concrete, and the masses have to be educated accordingly. Some cultural and regional strong points must be identified and promoted in an attractive way. Effective advertisements can be used to influence public behavior. For a country like Pakistan, there is so much that can be highlighted to represent a true national identity. The challenge of having four culturally distinct provinces is actually a strong point that has never been placed on the table. Instead, we use them to create borders.

Malaysia Truly Asia, Incredible India, Invest in Turkey, Invest in Macedonia and Discover Indonesia are just a few campaigns. I am not suggesting an exactly similar campaign, given the present scenario and dynamics of the region. For the time being, nation branding can help Pakistan regain its progressive image.

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Samir Butt A former Youth Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Fulbright undergraduate scholar, freelance writer, public speaking trainer, IT consultant and marketing professional. He blogs at http://samiranwar.net.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Anoop | 13 years ago | Reply @Nobody: "Where did you get the impression that the writer was implicating India isn’t deserving of its brand?" --> You misunderstand. To be talking of Pakistan and India in the same breadth is insulting for me! I draw the lines here. "Yes, that’s right, I said INDO-PAK…the nerve!!" --> Haha. This time I will let it go. "Is that not “wanting to be un-Pakistani?” Pot calling the kettle black" --> Very unlikely. I've developed this intense disgust of Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks and I dont see many positive things about it. I dont hate Pakistan but I am ashamed to have it as a neighbour. Labeling of un-Pakistan is, hence, not appropriate. Till Mumbai happened Pakistan was just another Country. Mumbai attacks changed everything. I began to look at Pakistan from a different angle and started reading about it. My commenting here is a way to understand the Pakistan and providing inputs. Since, I dont see many positives with Pakistan, how can I not say something negative! Why cant Pakistan be like Bangladesh!
Nobody | 13 years ago | Reply @Nobody: Pakistanis*
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