Thursday, February 23, 2006

Beacon No. 79: Guatemala, “Soul of the Earth”


Al Ries at Advertising Age disparages Guatemala’s new branding effort in “Why Guatemala’s New Tourism Slogan Doesn’t Work—and Why the Country Should Think Bigger and Change Its Name.”

A global branding consultancy did some focus groups—always the quickest path to creative results—and came up with the following:

According to the consultants, “Extensive focus groups were carried out to understand the perspective of a broad range of Guatemalans, including the business, artistic, literary, hospitality and indigenous communities.”

“Working from the values of Mysticism, Intimacy, Diversity, Evolution, and Authenticity,” states the consultancy, “we defined a distinctive and credible brand essence.”

Guatemala’s new brand essence: “Soul of the Earth.”

Luckily the focus groups are Guatemalans commenting on Guatemala; but you still can’t help but feel that the focus groups’ responses were processed during a weekend at Harbin Hot Springs or some other excessively crunchy venue. It’s one way to explain how “mysticism” became a Guatemalan value.

Guatemala apparently can be reduced to a four-word sound bite, at least for the purpose of tourism marketing, because it is small, relatively unknown, and its Mayan history—the only history any sane Guatemalan would promote abroad, given the country’s vicious, decades-long civil war—is safely in the past. Ries goes so far as to suggest that the whole country should just change its name to “Guatemaya” to secure the we’re-the-real-Mayans space permanently.

It’s nearly impossible to perform the same exercise for a country of the size and complexity of the United States. Different countries relate to it in so many ways that it may be impossible to find a consistent, pithy branding message. In addition, the U.S. is so big that individual cities have internationally recognized brands (New York for finance and the very idea of “city”; San Francisco for sexual politics; Miami as Latin America’s de facto capital).

President Bush tries mightily to present the U.S. as the vanguard of political and economic freedom, which he might summarize as “Democracy and free markets are our business”; but many other entities broadcast messages abroad that intersect and occasionally jam those coming from Pennsylvania Avenue: Hollywood and Madison Avenue, Guantanamo Bay and Ellis Island, Steven Spielberg and Noam Chomsky, Coke and Chevron.

Rather than a focus group, I think it takes a president to distill for the world the essence of what the United States’ brand is. Last week I visited the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights at the National Archives in Washington, and discovered beside them a passage from a draft of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, written in the depths of the Cold War. The two typewritten pages, annotated by Kennedy himself, begin about here:

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

and end at the speech’s end:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

A reader knows, just from scanning these lines, that Kennedy aimed to establish a brand essence for himself and the U.S. that might be summarized as “Forward in hope and strength.” His message was both aspirational and demanding; was vigorous without being menacing; was inviting without pandering.

What a wonderful thought that the current president, or a successor, might give a speech that distills the essence of his intentions and inspires many more than the Americans who elected him to agree and act accordingly. It keeps me reading the papers each morning.

1 comment:

NYkrinDC said...

What was wrong with Guatemala's old slogan?

Guatemala "The country of eternal spring"

or in spanish:

El pais de la eterna primavera

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