Recently launched brands for the Australian government's Australia Unlimited and the NSW government's new Sydney.com are sorry reminders of what happens to nation and city branding that have been defined by unremarkable strategy.
Australia's newest branding exercise was decided on last year after the Australian Government handed over $20 million to global ad agency M&C Saatchi promote the new brand over the next four years.
The Brand Australia website says the aim of the new brand was to "better position Australia as a global citizen, global business partner and world class destination."
According to the Brand Australia FAQ, the Brand Australia program "is about providing an overarching, strategic approach to positioning Australia in the global marketplace."
However, launching a visual identity first seems less a strategic response and more a creative and tactical one and smacks of a committee based approach.
Austrade, the organisation tasked with managing Saatchi's and this new branding, added that now "the hard work begins to develop the brand architecture" along with any co-branding. This only begins to confirm my belief in the seeming lack of strategy in this whole exercise. Even the most rudimentary of brand strategy texts would tell you that brand architecture would be developed prior to any rollout and this would include all aspects of the identity and associated sub-brands including any other brand extensions.
To say that strategy is a secondary to strapline and logo development, suggests this project is subject to political expediency in an election year driven by an "advisory board", said to be made up of prominent business people and marketers from Austrade.
Worse still Saatchi’s slogan was taken to international research panels with the full knowledge that the it was already trademarked by News Ltd, who in their munificence, have now “lent” it to Austrade and the Australian government. In my experience I would usually be reluctant to present an already trademarked name, unless the client clearly briefed this in and understood the risks.
And the Australia Unlimited logo is itself is in an unremarkable and unownable sans serif typeface in Australia’s official colours and framed by stylised boomerang parenthesis. It’s like a gaudy airport tourist trap store identity, exactly the sort of thing you would expect an ad agency with an advisory board as clients to come up with. But don’t forget there has been no formalised strategic development from this. It’s all still to come.
But let's head back to the idea of nation branding and there's no better place to start than the Brand Australia FAQ.
Successful nation branding identifies any gap between a country’s reputation and its actual capabilities and contributions, then addresses this gap with a program that better communicates the country’s offering.
The irony is that it is wider than what Austrade thinks it is, yet it has been tasked with managing this rollout.
A nation brand represents a country as a whole. It is broader than a tourism or ‘destination’ brand and promotes a wider range of capabilities across business, culture and community.
Where's the gap between the perception of Australia and it might be positioned? What is it? How is it captured by the Australia Unlimited visual identity, strapline campaign? Is it the success stories of ordinary and some exemplary Australians? How will this position Australia? What is the brand idea, the core proposition that has been is communicated by the tagline "Australia Unlimited"? Australian’s unlimited? None of this is either sufficiently differentiated nor strongly put yet.
Already announced is the publication of a magazine for launch at Shanghai World Expo. A magazine? It’s all tactical and so old media, reflecting similar tactical campaign profiles for the previous Australia campaign..something that Austrade might say has nothing to do with it but was yet positioned as another national branding exercise.
Australia might currently be positioned ninth in 2010 on the Anholt-GFK Roper Nation Brands Index but its the same spot it occupied the previous year. Conversely, it's ranked number three on Futurebrand's 2009 Country Brand index - so you can draw your own conclusions as to the validity or worth of any of these rankings survey over the next. The point is that promoting a survey as some kind of evidence of possible success or otherwise in these stakes seems to me to be oversimplifying the benefits of nation branding.
If place branding is about the development and presentation of a core set of brand attributes to represent and promote a place, then the latest Sydney branding exercise is, like the Australian Unlimited identity, a failure before it begins.
Subject to even less fanfare is the launch of this new logo/wordmark for Sydney (you'll see my fuzzy version had to be lifted from the Sydney.com page where it competed with other versions of the Sydney logo). Again, the product of an Events NSW Government committee, the launch has been both low key and perhaps embarrassingly touted as part of the new Sydnicity campaign from NSW Tourism. No media storm and apart from seeing it framing the arrival of Jessica Watson's landing on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, almost invisible.
The logo is itself an undefined tech looking curlique set against another sans serif Sydney word mark. Again, like Australia Unlimited, the same questions arise around the strategic requirements for this rework.
If Sydney needs to be rebranded to compete against a more complex and multi-facetted Melbourne, then where is the evidence that supports this approach? Where is the proof that this approach is evidence of best in class for the country’s only global city, a crown Melbourne might soon wrench away? Melbourne’s rebrand is part of a well documented complex and successful branding and marketing strategy for the whole of Victoria, so why hasn’t Sydney followed suit?
Perhaps both cases illustrate that nation and city branding,should always be built on uniquely defining long-term brand strategies rather than tactical and often reactionary approaches, driven by the current political exigency. Otherwise, like the next election campaign or the last minister responsible, their impact will be limited, their influence questionable and they might not get another term.