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Interview with Johannes Bohnen with SWR 2 on Nation Branding

Dr. Johannes Bohnen spoke with SWR reporter Marc Thörner about nation branding. Excerpts of the interview found their way into the SWR 2 feature "When States Style Themselves - Secret Weapon Nation Branding" on Sept. 30, 2020, which was also broadcast on Deutschlandfunk on October 13th. Bohnen outlines the purpose of nation branding as follows: "Nation branding, quite pragmatically for many nations, is about enhancing political and social reputation, attracting foreign investors and promoting tourism, but also developing better economic relations with other countries and regions." As is the case for all social, political, or economic actors, it is also natural for states to represent their interests and influence the public sphere. To differentiate themselves from the competition, it helps to have a brand profile.

When agencies support states in the process of nation branding, however, they should be convinced of the credibility of the political system in question. For Bohnen, the focus is on promoting democracy. Authoritarian systems or less liberal countries should only be consulted if they (want to) move in the right direction in the long term. A convincing example would be the country of Tunisia, which has democratized and opened up after free and fair elections but is still struggling with old authoritarian structures that need to be overcome. In this case, nation branding, done right, can bring momentum to the process of democratization. This must be clearly visible in the communication. "A country must be true to itself in its external presentation; it must in harmony with the reality, so to speak," says Bohnen. Otherwise, credibility is at stake. On this basis, countries can pursue ambitious change and reputational goals (aspirations). In any case, nation branding must not become a fig leaf for autocratic regimes.

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