To brand or be branded? Some insights into Brand Denmark

Can a nation ‘brand’ itself? The imagery and stereotypes we, as Brits, think of when we talk about Scandinavia or, more specifically, Denmark have been built up over a long, slow stretch of time, interspersed with bursts of activity – for instance, the recent success of Danish TV programmes on BBC4 in the last few years.

I’ve enjoyed learning about the theory of Place Branding. Since coining the term nation brand and the Nation Brands Index, Simon Anholt (Places – Identity, Image and Reputation, 2010) has conceded that ‘competitive identity’ is probably a better term for the metaphor. In any case, unlike branding in a typical corporate marketing communications context, you cannot ‘do branding’ of a nation or change its perception via a snappy marketing campaign, a nation’s brand is earned rather than constructed (according to Anholt).

The Danish pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010 is an interesting case study of Denmark’s self-branding when attempting to project and protect its image abroad. The Welfairytales theme of the Expo pavilion used two Danish icons: bicycles and the Little Mermaid statue (which was relocated from Copenhagen to China for the occasion). Ren & Gyimóthy (in their article Transforming and contesting nation branding strategies: Denmark at the Expo 2010, 2013) have written about some of the minor cultural misunderstandings which resulted. The pavilion’s imagery and activities may have been an exercise in ‘auto-communication’, Danes communicating the brand values they would like to project about themselves and not adequately allowing for cultural misinterpretations – for instance this is one of the phrases by everyday Danes used to decorate the pavilion:

‘Denmark is a little country where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while your child sleeps in the baby carriage outside the café’

Ren & Gyimóthy astutely remark (p27): “This well-known Danish idea of safety reflected in letting your child sleeping outside in public space is perhaps not easily grasped by middle-class people from a country with massive urban air pollution and a hot and humid climate”!

Last week I attended a fascinating meeting with the Danish cultural attaché in the USA who gave me some further insight into Brand Denmark. Denmark does not have a cultural institute as such (nothing comparable with Germany’s Goethe Institut, for instance), but the cultural attaché at the Consulate General in New York still advises on 125 cultural project per month! They have had a radical rethink in the last ten to fifteen years. Following the Danish Wave events in 1999 – a two-month cultural festival initiated by the Consulate and Embassy, where Danish authors and artists were brought over to the US with negligible impact – they have become reactive, taking their lead from looking at an artist’s reception in Denmark and their focus on new and modern brand values, rather than the traditional ‘old’ icons (Hans Christian Andersen!). The Consulate General of Denmark in the USA now ensures all cultural events they support fit within four core brand values:

art – sustainability – children’s culture – film

An initiative by Scandinavian arts councils has been established to promote Nordic literature abroad as one brand. The ‘Nordlit’ collaboration presented a unified Nordic presence at the London Book Fair and Book Expo America – rather than each nation having its own stand, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and even smaller related countries e.g. Faroe Islands) shared a single stand. As wee and similar nations, they believe it’s beneficial to merge so they can cross-promote, utilising to their advantage the (probably correct!) presumption that many English-speaking readers and publishers cannot readily distinguish between the Nordic countries anyway, so why not cross-promote authors from the same region (“you liked this author, you might also like this author from more-or-less nearby”).

I look forward to investigating further how Brand Denmark is being created nationally and internationally by Danish cultural bodies, and how much impact this has had on the everyday British public’s perception of Denmark and Danishness. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts, dear reader!

Brand Scandi spotting – an occasional series (no.1)

I find it interesting to spot signage or products clearly stylised around the Scandinavian/Nordic “brand”.

Nordic Pantry range – Christmas 2013, Sainsbury’s Supermarket:

IMG_20131224_123827 IMG_20131224_123821

What makes this range Nordic then? Some thoughts: the red/silver/white colour scheme, the pattern on the packaging is reminiscent of that Faroese jumper worn by Sarah Lund in The Killing, they are hyggelige products too – a snuggly scarf (“snood”), mittens, handwarmers, hand cream. The name “Nordic Pantry” is interesting too – bringing to mind Scandi baking, cosy kitchens, a sense of “home”.

On-campus university refectory – Vim & Rigøur:

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I can find surprisingly little info online about this re-brand: it certainly wasn’t called this in 2010 when I was previously a student, and on the uni website it’s still just called The Refectory. It’s all about the ø and the dark, moody colour scheme: the branding is trying to convey sophistication and an international flair (in keeping with the tagline: International Dining Rooms). The A-board sign outside (which I haven’t got a photo of) has a grey background with light writing, it has a very noir feel. This seems to be attaching itself to the Nordic “brand” without much else to back it up. The fare is the same as it has always been – pizza and pasta (from the, ahem, Trattoria), baguettes (ooh la la), a “world cuisine” counter, and a deli counter called Goodness Me (bless you!).

I’ll carry on spotting and post what I find on my travels – I would love it if you shared with me anything you’ve seen in the UK riffing on the Scandi brand!

First forays into publishing and fandom

I submitted my first written work to my supervisors in mid December and have already discussed their feedback, which was really positive and productive. That was a real boost and assures me I’m on the right track! Now I feel like I have many, many more strands of research and ideas to follow, which is exciting but also has the potential to be overwhelming, so I am trying to write up a few “to do” lists this weekend. I’ve reassured myself that my method of combining study and childcare seems to be working so far (see previous post), but looking ahead I would really benefit from some longer stretches surrounded by books so I will look into that!

The objective of my first literature review was to gain insight into the UK book market to put into context my corpus of texts (Danish literature published in the UK since 1990). An understanding of the publishing business and marketplace will provide a crucial foundation for my research project. It was also important to define terminology (e.g. “marketing”, “literature”, “success”) and find out which areas would be valuable to research in more depth (i.e. what’s next?).

So in my first period of study I found out a lot more about publishing (looking at the industry itself as well as the marketplace for selling books) – very interesting for someone who has studied marketing before (the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Diploma in Marketing Communications), but knew very little about publishing specifically.

I also got very keen on investigating taste and cultural value, the “sociology of genres”, if you like – put simply, where does the British reader place, for example, crime thrillers, Mills and Boon, a translated foreign novella, and celebrity autobiographies, on a scale of ‘high’ to ‘low’ culture?

Danish telly – including The Killing and Borgen – is very cool right now, and a certain fandom has been created around them, particularly via social media. It’s like a quirky “in club” of Scandi-drama lovers (no value judgment, I’m essentially one of the crowd, after all!), who have the potential to build a relationship based on their interest. I’m keen to look into how far people’s interest in certain cultural products becomes part of their identity (self-defined and defined by others). Taste is very subjective and insightful. Admitting you’re a fan of DR/BBC4’s Borgen and admitting you’re a fan of ITV2’s Peter Andre – My Life is likely to garner a different response depending on who you are and who is judging you, but why’s that then?