Interview with our CEO Jacob Benbunan in Brazilian magazine Exame

21 Apr 2016

The following text is an english translation of a complete interview with our CEO Jacob Benbunan that was published in the brazilian magazine Exame. Here is the link to the original publication.

Brazil can change its image with the Olympics, says brand expert.

The Spanish branding expert Jacob Benbunan has broad experience in place branding - creating and managing brands for cities, regions and countries like London, Northern Ireland and Poland.

Co-founder and CEO of Saffron, a global brand and innovation consultancy, he was approached by the City of London in 2010 to develop a brand to show the world everything the city has to offer - beyond the 2012 Olympic Games.

The UK, like France, is considered a success story of country branding. This did not happen by chance however. Rather, according to Benbunan, it’s something that governments must pursue with purpose and for the long term - something Brazil has never done.

From his office in Madrid, Benbunan, having recently opened a branch of Saffron in Sao Paulo, explains why Brazil, in the midst of a political and economic crisis, and shortly before the celebration of the Olympic Games, now has the opportunity to start a nation branding process.

Exame: Why should cities or countries manage their brands?

Benbunan: Out of competitive necessity. As the world gets smaller and more accessible, companies are not the only ones who compete with each other. Places compete to attract investors, increase exports, and gain broad attention on the international stage. Some do a good job managing their brand by defining the precisely what makes them different. Others don’t do it so well and only create a logo and a tourism slogan. And many do absolutely nothing.

Exame: Experts like you claim that Brazil never properly branded itself. What’s the risk in that?

Benbunan: Brazil might not have invested in a branding project, but it nevertheless has a brand. And if you don’t manage it, people’s opinion of Brazil will be influenced only by what their friends tell them and what the evening news says. Seven years ago Brazil was the land of opportunities, of millions of people joining the emerging middle class. But in the last three years, Brazil has been shaken by corruption and diminished growth.

So in the end, what is Brazil? The land of opportunity or the land of corruption? What do people remember? What do they tell each other and what do they base their decisions on?

Beyond opportunity and corruption, there is a richness that is unique to Brazil and that is what someone needs to communicate. If built well, a strong brand can shield the image of a country during a crisis.

Exame: What is the best example of that?

Benbunan: France has gone through terrible economic, security and migratory crises, but remains the most visited country in the world, because it has managed to create a strong brand. It is a place you would associate with luxury, good food, beautiful landscapes, Paris...

Exame: Assuming that brand Brazil is being hurt by the current political crisis and the corruption scandals, how long would it take to restore the country's image?

Benbunan: You cannot change negative impressions in months. It takes between years for a global positive change of perception. But, depending on the quality of the work and its implementation, you could see positive effects in the first year within target markets.

It is not an easy exercise. The brand of a nation includes not only tourism, gastronomy and landscapes, but also its culture, architecture and political influence. The only formula for success is to be authentic.

Exame: Are the Olympics a good time to launch a branding campaign for Brazil?

Benbunan: Of course the Olympics are a good time. The country will have an excellent opportunity to explain to the world what it really is about. But the most important thing is to explain what the country is not. Brazil is not just samba. But that it is also not Norway or Switzerland. So you should not pretend you are something that you’re not. In other words, don’t make promises you will not be able to fulfill.

Exame: Do you think it's possible to succeed in this also during a crisis?

Benbunan: Moments of crisis are good times to stop and think about what mistakes have been made and what can be improved. The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said that perception is reality. Putting it another way, people’s perceptions of Brazil are what shape their expectations of the country and how they interpret what they hear and see about it. So Brazil needs to manage people’s perceptions very carefully.

What the country needs to do is identify its essence and communicate it consistently. Will Venezuela need a branding process when Nicolas Maduro leaves? Yes, the new government will have to make a strong branding effort if it wants to restore the country's international image.

Exame: Aside from France, what are other examples of good country branding?

Benbunan: A good example would be the “Incredible India” idea, which explores information that differentiates India from other countries. India is super diverse in its culture, with different religions - one of them, Hinduism, has more than 1,000 gods. Only in India it is possible to eat a typical dish every day without repeating. Yes, that would make 365 dishes. And that's incredible. The brand is therefore based on authenticity.

Malaysia's campaign has the slogan "Malaysia, truly Asia", and the pieces show images of landscapes, sunsets, and amazing hotels. But that does not explain what makes the place unique, and other Asian countries could perfectly claim these same characteristics. Therefore, I do not think it works.

Exame: Is Rio de Janeiro a strong brand?

Benbunan: For me, Rio is a metaphor of beauty and hedonism. If Ibiza had not been invented, Rio would be the Ibiza of the world. But those who visit Rio will see that the city also has to do with culture and business. Rio has huge potential that has not been exploited in a brand.

Exame: How was your branding project for the City of London?

Benbunan: Years before the Olympic Games 2012, London created a brand to promote the event. Then in 2010, the city government commissioned Saffron with a branding process to show everything that happens in London, beyond of the Olympics. We found ideas to develop a proper tone of voice for London, as the global metropolis that it is.

We created graphic pieces with little facts saying, for example, "it rains more in Rome." Because it’s true. In London, the volume of annual rainfall is less, although it rains more often. The feeling that London is rainiest is true, so we have rephrased that characteristic in a fun, typically London, way.

Exame: What is the role of the private sector when it comes to carrying our branding campaigns?

Benbunan: Developing a country brand is not cheap. What countries tend to do is getting sponsors from the world of business and civil society. Therefore, the result is often the combination of public and private commitment.

Exame: How could we involve companies in this effort?

The brand process we did with Poland, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, was sponsored by the Polish Chamber of Commerce and guaranteed by the government of the country. Another way is bringing together sectors for specific products. Chile has done very well with wine and olive campaigns.

Spain has olive oil. Germany has cars. People take for granted the quality of these products because of their origins, and this is the result of brand building campaigns that have been conducted in the past and have been constantly adapted.