Israel's rebranding efforts to focus on Toronto

City selected as North American test city for rebranding project.

toronto 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
toronto 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Residents of Toronto shouldn't be surprised if they soon start hearing and seeing a lot of references to Israeli wine, art and music in the next year or so. The city has been selected by the Foreign Ministry as a North American test city for its rebranding project. On Monday, government representatives will be meeting with Toronto's top local Jewish leadership and public relations gurus in an all-day conference aimed at developing a test branding strategy and at educating the locals on how they will play an integral role in Israel's rebranding campaign. "This is part of the attempt to create a Brand Israel coalition in Canada by exposing the concept to the Jewish leadership in Toronto," said Ido Aharoni, the founder of the Brand Israel concept and the head of the ministry's brand management team. "The Jewish community has to be part of it for it to succeed. It's very important for us to convey the message to them that a better image for Israel and a better performance of that image is part and parcel with Israel's national security. Contrary to popular belief, national security is no just based on military power, it's also a strong economy and a strong image," he added. The $4 million rebranding project has entailed holding focus groups among every sector of Israeli society, from "average" Israelis to haredim to Israeli Arabs and yuppies in order to learn about the primary qualities that made them proud to be Israeli. The top traits that could be used as a basis for a branding campaign were passion, ingenuity and the ability to live in a melting pot of widely diverse immigrants. "There's a lot of confusion about branding," said Aharoni. "People hear it and they think of advertising campaigns and PR. But it's mainly it's an attempt to change the mindset of people when it comes to Israel - it's not putting on a spin. It's about communicating through more than one channel. Right now we only communicate through the conflict." According to Aharoni, the heart of the rebranding effort is the need to create coalitions, and the Toronto conference is one building block in that process. "Toronto has been identified as a world center, along with places like Tokyo, London, Boston and New York, as one of the potential markets for a pilot of the Brand Israel program. That doesn't mean conducting an advertising campaign, but the execution of a program that will support the brand identity. This might include initiating press missions to Israel, or missions of community influentials, it could include organizing film festivals, or food and wine festivals featuring Israel-made products." While there's no firm target date yet for the pilot program, Aharoni said that the strategic phase is being completed and the ministry is hiring an international consultant. "We're not at the execution stage yet. It's safe to assume that it will be launched in 2009, and could be implemented in a market over the course of a year. We would conduct studies pre-pilot and post-pilot to determine the impact on all parameters - from tourism to trade to performances of Israeli companies traded in international markets, and the scope and magnitude of various academic, scientific and cultural exchange programs. "There are ways to determine how many books translated from Hebrew into English were sold, or how many people bought theater tickets for an adaptation of an Israeli play. We've just never done it before," he said. As a byproduct of the branding process, the hope-for result is a change in peoples' perception of Israel, explained Aharoni. "That's the whole point - people don't understand that Israel has a wonderful brand, and we need that opportunity to communicate that brand on more than just that one conflict channel," he said. "There are experts who have told us, 'first you have to resolve the conflict.' Well, thank you very much, that's very nice. We don't need an expert to tell us that. But what we're saying is that given there's a conflict - or despite the conflict - we can still improve Israel's performance on these other fronts of trade, tourism and cultural connections." The Toronto conference is being hosted by the city's Israeli consul-general, Amir Gissin, who together with Aharoni has spearheaded the rebranding effort since its inception in the months after September 11. "There is a great deal in Israel to be proud of," Gissin recently told The Toronto Star. "The point is not to invent new things, but to crystallize what is attractive, and make use of the strongest points." Aharoni, who will be addressing the conference, returned earlier this month from a three-week speaking tour of US campuses and said that students immediately "get" the idea behind an image change for Israel "The level of enthusiasm for the branding process is unbelievable," he said.