Consumers give thumbs down to Israel's brand

'Damage to nation's image could take three decades to correct'

idf checkpoint 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
idf checkpoint 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
It could take Israel 30 years to change its brand image, after it placed last in a study of 36 countries, one of the leaders in the field of nation branding warned Saturday. Simon Anholt spoke with The Jerusalem Post on the heels of a recent survey he released in which 25,000 consumers were asked to rank 36 countries on issues of tourism, exports, governance, investment, immigration, cultural heritage and people. According to the study, known as the Nation Brands Index, which has been published four times a year since 2005, "Israel's brand is, by a considerable margin, the most negative we have ever measured in the NBI, and comes in at the bottom of the ranking on almost every question." Israel is not typically included in the survey, which looks at such as places as the US, Germany, Mexico, South Korea, China and Singapore. Britain came in first in the survey and the US was ninth. It was included in the third quarter survey of 2006 because there is a guest slot in each survey. "Only Bhutan, the first guest country we included in the NBI, achieved a similarly low score," said the study. But in the case of Bhutan the study attributed its poor score to the fact that few people had heard of it, according to the study. "Israel's poor scores are clearly not the result of anonymity; it is one of the most known countries in the world," said the study. The Foreign Ministry's Director of Public Affairs Amir Gissin said the survey underscored for him the importance of the new nation-branding drive Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni launched this fall. "We see Anholt's research as an opportunity to increase the awareness of decision makers in Israel to the image problem that Israel has in order to make us more determined to deal with the image problem," Gissin told the Post. As part of that drive, the ministry is looking for ways to focus international public attention away from the country's conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizbullah in favor of more positive images such as the country's technical innovations as well as musical, cultural and historical attractions. But Anholt warned on Saturday that the Foreign Ministry would have to be very patient before it benefits from its labors. While his 30-year prediction is not set in stone, Anholt said, he warned that changing people's attitudes and prejudice was so difficult and time-consuming that it often took decades. It took Japan and Ireland 30 years to change their public image, Anholt added. "There are no quick fixes to this," said Anholt, who added that he hoped the Israelis "are very patient." It was for this reason that he did not believe his study was significantly impacted by the fact that it was conducted during the war with Hizbullah in Lebanon over the summer. Israel was often in a state of conflict, Anholt said. It had been his experience, he said, that the survey measured long-seated opinions that were not greatly swayed by current events. Still, he said, just to be certain he planned to include Israel for a second time in the survey during a quiet period, "just to ascertain that the results were not skewed." Anholt said that his study differed from that of other surveys, in that this was not a politically-based public opinion poll. It did not measure people's ideas about the conflict with the Palestinians or Hizbullah, but rather it examined people's instinctive associations with the country that would impact their decisions outside the political arena, such as whether they would buy a product from Israel, visit the country, or hire an Israeli. "Israel is famous for all the wrong reasons," Anholt said. People have a negative opinion of it based on a "bewildering variety" of factors that were strengthened with the continual negative images of the conflict that often dominated the news regarding Israel, he said. Most people did not bother to form a balanced opinion about other countries, he said, preferring to find a simple shorthand for every country. They weaved simple and na ve narratives around the facts that were most interesting to them, he added. The most persuasive and memorable facts, unfortunately for Israel, were about the conflict, so the image of Israel as a bully was more likely to stick in people's minds rather than the idea of Israel as an expert in solar energy, Anholt said. These images are "so negative and powerful that they contaminated everything else in the index," Anholt said. "It is harder for Israeli citizens to work abroad or to get students or other talented people to come to Israel," he said. "Having a weak or negative brand image is incredibly important to every country," he said. In Israel's case, for example, the respondents placed it last on the list of countries they would want to visit or whom they regarded as having a cultural heritage, Anholt said. To the question of how willing people would be to live and work in the country, Israel ranked last in every panel, the study said. It fared slightly better on consumer products but was still toward the bottom, he said. Overall, he said, a negative brand image made it difficult for Israel to conduct its normal affairs such as selling an Israeli item, engaging in cultural relations or swaying tourists to visit the country.