Brand Israel

  • February 12th, 2010 by Martin

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Martin Kace_Herzliya Conference
Martin Kace_Herzliya Conference
If ever there was a daunting branding challenge, the State of Israel has to be it.

I was invited to speak about Brand Israel at the annual Herzliya Conference on National Security earlier this month. More specifically, I was asked to address Israel’s grave strategic communications problems in the diplomatic and public diplomacy areas. Taken together, I was asked to address the subject of Brand Israel.

Israel is indisputably a no-frills kind of place. Beset by The Conflict and hostile neighbors, when it comes to national life everything takes a back seat to security. It’s global reputation reflects this all too clearly and Israel’s failure to determine a true and honest communications platform for itself has led to its perception as a pariah in most of the world as well as to a drive in certain circles to delegitimize its very existence. In a recent survey by the East West Communications, Israel was ranked 185 out of 200 nations in terms of positive perception, sandwiched between Iran and Pakistan.

It’s true that the country has astoundingly high amounts of technological innovation; Israel is number one in the world in agricultural productivity, files more biomedical patents every year than any other country, is consistently top 10 in life expectancy, has a very active cultural and academic life, lots of Nobel laureates, great beaches, beautiful and scantily-clad people, a very active gay community and on and on.

This is what the Israeli Foreign Ministry proposes as a platform for Brand Israel. It will fail miserably.

It will fail because it asks people to completely re-contextualize Israel as they know it.

Empax’s approach to branding dictates that all brands must emanate from the same place – The Truth. A huge part of Israel’s Truth is that it has been locked in conflict with its neighbors since declaring independence in 1948. Security and safety for its citizens is at the top of the nation’s list of priorities. Its military has developed from a creative, ragtag group in the 1940s to a (quiet) world power in the present day.

How then, is it possible to brand the country in a way that speaks only of progress, fun and modernity, asking of the world to ignore the military and the conflict?

It’s not.

This is the message I delivered at the conference in Israel. I suddenly lost any potential friends at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but seemed to have piqued the interest of pretty much everybody else, both on the political left and right.

I proposed the inculcation of the conflict and the military into the Israeli brand, maintaining that Israel could not deliver a credible brand message without acknowledging them. After all, Israel’s technological prowess originates in the army. The same is true of biotech. Most of the country’s progressive ideas and innovations originate in adversity, so the brand message, in my view, must acknowledge it squarely. Only such an integration can lead to a robust and original brand for the nation.

Grit. Strength. Focus. Life in adversity. The world knows that these are part of the Israeli national DNA. To bring forth a brand that avoids these is just spin in the eyes of the global public; and the line between spin and outright lie grows thinner by the hour.

There are 3 comments to “Brand Israel”

  1. Martin, you make interesting points, but I’m not sure that I totally agree with you. First, in order to successfully rebrand something, before anything else, you need two things: 1.) a clear and validated understanding of the current prevalent brand perception, and 2.) an understanding of why they want to rebrand.

    We know why they want to rebrand (Oy, with a Q score that puts them lower than Iran, maybe the girls in bikinis aren’t a bad idea), and I think we know what their current brand perception is. It’s exactly what you’ve described: a country in a permanent state of adversity. A country whose history is a litany of battles fought – against the British, against the climate and arid land; against Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabi, Iraq, and Yemen; against radical Palestinian groups; against world opinion. I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet who doesn’t have some degree of perception of Israel as a gritty, tiny country with an incomparably elite military; cutting edge technology and a good head for business. That story’s been told as often as the one about the Macabees.

    OK, so maybe touting half-naked girls and a robust gay community isn’t the best idea. But if they’re looking to reposition themselves so they can at least get a more favorable ranking than some of the world’s creepiest countries, they’re going to have to start telling a different story. Or, more accurately, a different part of their story. I don’t know exactly what that is, but maybe it’s something about a country where hope refuses to die. Where, despite nearly a century of hardship, battles and struggles, a society has grown and flowered; the arts have flourished; businesses and universities took root; and life is lived, not in despair over what has happened, but in hope over what can be. And that’s just as valid a truth about Israel as their gritty fighting warring image. Anyway, that’s my humble opinion.

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  3. Martin Kace says:

    Reply to Linda:

    Thanks for your comment. As you noted, part 1 is already known, i.e. what world perception about Israel already is.

    As to the reason for rebranding, the most troubling trend today vis a vis Israel is the growing movement to delegitimize its very existence. The frame of the creation of Israel as a vestige of imperialism, (the land didn’t belong to Britain and they had no right to allow the formation of a Jewish state there), is gaining adherents by the day, giving rise to wider and louder talk of sanctions, boycotts and the like.

    Israel’s platform is very weak. Criticism is addressed by trying to paint Israel as an underdog, which it no longer is. The Holocaust is still used as a lever in the \Why Israel\ argument, which these days tends to just deepen the resentment toward Israel. And trying to communicate its strengths in tech, sex etc. is perceived as spin by its detractors.

    That’s why I propose a more honest platform for Israel; one that acknowledges Israeli aggressiveness, (it is a national characteristic, after all), together with its take-no-prisoners focus, (bad metaphor intentional), and a cultural, academic and scientific life that borders on the miraculous, especially given the country’s circumstances.

    Today’s branding efforts reek of spin, and in my view weaken the country terribly, in the diplomatic sphere. I like to say that a half-truth coming out of Israel is equal to 4 lies anywhere else.

    In any event, I’m actually trying to get something done in Israel, to break the destructive cycle of groupthink that permeates its messaging. It’s a tough job, and the most effective way of dealing with it, in my view is to write a book about it. I’m smack dab in the middle of it as we speak.

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