Nation Branding “Made in Germany”
Both the World Cup in South Africa and the Olympic Games in Beijing prompted a number of academic articles assessing the suitability of large-scale sports events for nation branding. Unsurprisingly, if we define nation branding as “the strategic self-presentation of a country with the aim of creating reputational capital [...] at home and abroad,” it seems logical to consider any event that will focus global attention on a single country as a supreme opportunity to present a new, carefully planned and self-determined image to the world.
While the results were rather ambiguous for both China and South Africa, the effects of the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany have received much less academic interest, despite the far-reaching and positive implications for Germany’s image.
Even before the world cup, Germany’s global image was not bad. Germans were widely respected for their efficiency, their civil engineers and high quality technology “made in Germany.” However, national pride was low, its own president diagnosed Germany with collective depression and, while respected for being organised and efficient, Germans were more well known abroad for being “a dour and gray nation of moaners” and, if people were honest, no one wanted to go there on holiday.
Realising that, the Goethe Institute held a brainstorming event with the goal of redefining Brand Germany in 2003. However, believing that the images associated with Germany were too deep-set and considering the typically bad track record of top-down nation branding efforts, commentators saw little chance for success.
Yet, three years later, after the World Cup, there was a sharp rise in Germany’s popularity:
- It reached the most valuable country brand in the Nation Brand Index
- Foreign tourism bookings increased by 31%
- 88% of World Cup visitors would recommend Germany as a tourist destination
- Investors’ confidence was at an all-time high since 1990
- Exports went up 14% year-on-year, making Germany the leading export nation
- Foreign newspapers reported with a new positivity
The question is thus, what set this apart from other nation branding efforts? Why was it so successful? How DID Germany win the World Cup of nation branding?
While some mention the beautiful weather and the great performance of the German team, others mention visitor safety, the introduction of fan festivals and the focus on catering for the visiting media. The truth however, might be best expressed by Anholt’s observation about the importance of getting the local publics on board with the branding message to make it a success: “when a substantial proportion of the population of the country [...]gets behind the strategy and lives it out in their everyday dealings with the outside world.”
Germany’s straightforward World Cup brand promise was “A Time to Make Friends” and besides training friendly “service ambassadors”, the World Cup awakened a long suppressed pride in their nation in many Germans, leading them to embrace the positive aspects of their country. Shop assistants were smiling, policemen stroked puppies and everyone was welcome to join into the new-found “partyotism” creating the feeling of a welcoming, fun-loving nation. The lesson to be drawn from this? Nation branding works best if it is genuine and honest – Germans were perceived as being friendly not because of slogans or campaigns, but because they were!
 Lee, Annisa Lai, ‘Did the Olympics help the nation branding of China? Comparing public perception of China with the Olympics before and after the 2008 Beijing Olympics in Hong Kong’, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, Vol.6, No.3, 2010 and
Youde, Jeremy, ‘Selling the state: State branding as a political resource in South Africa’, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, Vol.5, No.2, 2009
 Szondi, G., ‘Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding: Conceptual Similarities and Differences’, Clingendael Discussion Papers in Diplomacy No. 112, 2008, available at: http://www.clingendael.nl/publications/2008/20081022_pap_in_dip_nation_branding.pdf, p.11
 Berkowitz, Pere; Gjermano, George; Gomez, Lee and Schafer, Gary, ‘Brand China: Using the 2008 Olympic Games to enhance China’s Image’, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, Vol.3, No.2, 2007, p.164 and p.170
 Anholt, S. (2003) Brand New Justice: The Upside of Global Branding. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, p.123