Monday, September 17, 2007

Signs of a Nation

Tyler Brûlé's Monocle magazine just gets better and better. Check out number 6 which focuses on nations and their branding. Tyler offers 6 ways to brand a nation and throws in another 10 steps to make your country irresistible.

First look at how Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Italy and Hong Kong measure up against these criteria and then run your own nation through them. It’s a fascinating journey.

Let’s start with Monocle’s 6 ways to brand a nation.
  1. Flag
  2. Passport
  3. Bank Note
  4. Typeface
  5. Stamps
  6. Road Signs
Simple ideas, but they resonate with me.

FlagIn my house in Grasmere, I have a limited edition distressed rug by Vivienne Westwood that depicts a beat up Union Jack. On my wall, I’ve got an iconic photograph of The Who draped in a giant-size Union Jack while sleeping near the Houses of Parliament. A limited edition of 7 prints of the Stars and Stripes by the photographer Art Kane is also iconic, and if you go to the store next door to one of my favorite hotels, the ZaZa in Dallas, you’ll see a bunch of flags of Texas, the Lone Star State, including one with a bullet hole.

We are haunted in New Zealand by a flag that looks like a pale imitation of our colonial past. One of our super patriots, Lloyd Morrison, has led a campaign to find the contemporary iconic representation of what it means to be a New Zealander. To me the answer is on the All Blacks jersey on the left breast. The Silver Fern.

PassportThe new U.S. passport released two months ago has elaborate illustrations of U.S. history printed on every page. In New Zealand, they don’t even stamp mine when I leave home. In Britain, we had to turn in our special leather-bound, gold-embossed British passports for European community passports - which means absolutely nothing.

Bank NotesU.S. bank notes are bewildering to any non-American. They are all the same size and color and it’s hard to differentiate between a $1.00 and $100 bill. On the other hand, the Australians have come up trumps in terms of tactile sensuality. Here’s a rough rule of thumb: the smaller the value, the brighter the color.

TypefaceBob Isherwood, my creative partner at Saatchi & Saatchi, is a fan of Helvetica. It’s a typeface that lets the idea do the talking and leaves lots of opportunity to do something special.

StampsFor me, stamps have the power of a one-scene movie. They should tell the stories of a nation’s history and future. Stamps are a perfect way to connect past, present and future through visualization of great heroes, great events and great experiences. And, of course, every year or so we need to issue a limited edition of one, just to keep the philatelists on their toes.

Road SignsThink about these in Paris, or in other romantic environments. What a great opportunity for brilliant art direction and iconography. It’s a major opportunity for most countries and New Zealand is at the top of the list.

For the second part of this post, check in tomorrow.


Susan Plunkett said...

Another engaging topic and one that is vital in terms of national presence in a global landscape.

I zoom in and out of my response to the issues, simply because I am not a traveler and have no passport so I rather look in on the issues in the sense of observer as opposed to participant.

I find the typeface comment totally unexpected and wonder how Bob would comment against Asian or Middle Eastern Scripts? I guess when I see a script I automatically think 'part of the world' which is at least a start.

Stamps are indeed a fascination and Australia has some firsts in this area. Bhutan bought out a wonderful stamp in 1973 than you could actually play on a record player. The tune was their national anthem. Tonga once released a stamp shaped like a banana.

I agree that the Silver Fern has become the recognised symbol for NZ (apart from say the kiwi) and is such a beautiful representative form.

I'd be interested to hear more about what NZ has done in terms of signage. Perhaps NZ posters could illustrate?

I see you have a part 2 of the post coming. Perhaps there you'll mention music/anthems and national colours and dress. I bet most people in the world would know the red, white and blue of the US. What are Australia's (as they're not part of our flag)?

Piotr Jakubowski said...

You know, it's a shame that the EU passports have become so bland and boring. On top of that, I really wish they would stamp the passports when entering different countries within the EU. One of the beauties of travelling was collecting these symbols of the journey.

Polish banknotes play along the Australian in terms of size and denomination. I swear I have given a pizza guy a 50 dollar tip by accident once. And he denied it too.

If each country has its own symbol or identity, then what would a global citizen identify with?

Susan Plunkett said...

I was just thinking how much I relate authors to countries.
For example,
James Joyce-Ireland,
Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Pushkin-Russia,
Conan Doyle-England,
Mark Twain-US,
Judith Wright-Australia,
Pearl Buck-Although not Chinese as such I associate her with writing about China,
Umberto Eco - Italy
Juana Inés de la Cruz and Carlos Fuentes - Mexico

and so on....

Susan Plunkett said...

Excellent question Piotr. I was thinking along adjunct lines as I began Kevin's commentary of Part 2 (and him urging me to cook him a meal when he's next in Sydney..hah).

Kevin Roberts said...

Piotr - What would a global citizen identify with? Looking after the globe would be a good start.