I recently chanced upon a blog post (Blog – Places) about a new city brand campaign launched by the Government of Japan in 2011 called the ‘Creative Tokyo Project’. The campaign pivots around Tokyo’s creative industries – art, fashion, music, food, and other cultural events, which were scheduled to be staged throughout 2012 and beyond.
What struck me was that this was not just an ad hoc idea/event which no overarching political and cultural philosophy or economic purpose. The project kickoff event was a Creative Tokyo Forum called ‘Designing New Futures’ in which leading figures working in the international creative industries gather to exchange opinions and to discuss the “reformation and revival of Japanese society”. The project really aims to foster sustainable development of Tokyo’s creative industries and to “firmly establish Japan’s capital as a creative hub in Asia” (see Places Blog)
In other words, while the Creative Tokyo project is concerned primarily with the city itself, its emergence is part of a broader, national initiative organized by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) dubbed the ‘Cool Japan’ initiative. In 2010 the METI established a new Creative Industries Promotion Office that was tasked to promote cultural and creative industries as a strategic initiative operating under the single, long term ‘Cool Japan’ concept. The idea now is to showcase Tokyo as the “creative” capital (and gateway) of the ”Cool Japan’.
These initiatives come on the heels of two decades of economic standstill in Japan. National leaders, planners, and experts are obviously seeking ways to address the challenge of stimulating sustainable development, particularly in light of the dot-com bubble and rapid growth in China and other nearby regions. In addition, given the Japan earthquake and tsunami March 2010 that gave way to the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis and left much of Japan’s infrastructure either damaged or destroyed, these initiatives appear to be a mechanism to restore domestic pride and foreign confidence in Japanese products and services (Places Blog).
Now city/place brand (and rebranding) have been the latest buzzwords in the world of branding. ‘Visit Scotland’, ‘Cool Brittania, ‘Your Singapore’ and ‘Brand South Africa’ are only just a few of the latest initiatives being undertaken by governments clearly looking to capitalize on and redefine its cultural capital. What of Kingston?
Brand Kingston – ‘Kreative Kingston’?
In the stampede (and I dare say insular focus) by the Jamaican Government (through its Tourism Board) to stay ahead of its destination competitors in having ‘heads on beds’ in traditionally popular resort areas such Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios, Kingston has struggled to define itself and to become relevant. Once internationally infamous as a rogue city dominated by pirates such as Henry Morgan, Kingston is pretty much still seen as a ‘dangerous’ place, infested by armed gangs, drug lords and ‘urban terrorists’.
But Kingston is much more. It is also a vibrant, energetic city – arguably the cultural mecca of the Caribbean. Reggae is core to this place, which gave the world Bob Marley, and a plethora of modern superstars, many of whom are world renowned (e.g. Shaggy, Sean Paul). A multiplicity of parties variously dubbed ‘Early Mondays’, ‘Early Tuesdays, Weddy Weddy and Sizzling Saturdays etc. gives Kingston a nightlife, which rivals that of major metropolitan cities around the world.
A growing fashion and design industry featuring internationally recognised Jamaican models, and a slew of talented designers, has begun to attract the attention of the best in the global fashion industry. Street fashion shows now attract thousands of patrons. The Dramatic and Fine Arts hold a special place here. Museums (including the Bob Marley Museum) and exhibits often feature the best of the creative talent of Jamaica positions Kingston as a place of enormous brand value.
Myriad sporting activities such as the secondary school’s National Boys and Girls Championships, international cricket and local football) in a country globally known for sports gives Kingston an appeal that many countries do not possess.
In addition, Kingston has a powerful history yet to be fully explored. A massive earthquake and Tsunami destroyed its once most famous city of Port Royal in 1692. The remains (Giddy House, Fort etc.) are a potential economic goldmine for Kingston and Jamaica. Seeking a declaration as a World Heritage Site, and pursuit of a redevelopment plan for this port city signals the potential for economic returns.
Churches, restaurants, Universities, Places of Interest (Blue Mountains, Hollywell, Hope Gardens, Emancipation Park) complete Kingston, illustrating its pull and vast yet to be explored potential.
Of course, all this requires strategic planning and policy initiatives by Government. Since Entertainment has been added as a Ministerial portfolio since the late 1990s, there has been some of the potential of the creative industries for economic growth. A Brand Kingston initiative should become a component of a coherent Brand Jamaica initiative. It should be lead by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, with provisional support from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture as well as the Trade and Investment Agency (JAMPRO) and the Jamaica Tourist Board.
After decades of little or no economic growth and the Jamaica economy being one of the worst in the world, the Jamaican Government, including its planners, technocrats and experts are obliged to seek creative ways to address the myriad economic challenges and foster sustainable development. Kingston is not only the nation’s capital; it is the pulse of Jamaica. Moving Kingston from its current peripheral status on the Brand Jamaica agenda to a core position in economic and policy planning is thus required.
More coherent and strategic focus on the creative industries and moving Kingston from its peripheral status in economic and policy planning to the core agenda is required. While other governments are jumping on the place/city branding bandwagon for economic growth, Brand Kingston – despite its incredible potential for success- lags behind. Of course issues of safety, a clean environment, urban infrastructure and transportation remain and would need massive upgrades to facilitate increased human traffic in this vibrant growing metropolis, but sufficient events have been staged here to illustrate its potential. Like the myriad city Branding projects taking places around the world, Brand Kingston (“Kreative Kingston”) will not only restore investor confidence in Jamaica, but restore domestic pride and showcase Kingston as the cultural hub of the Caribbean.
Dr Hume Johnson is a former broadcast journalist. She is currently a Political Analyst and Professor of Public Relations. Hume is author of the book ‘Challenges to Civil Society: Popular Protest and Governance in Jamaica’.
In a global marketplace, nations are competing with each other for their share of the world’s consumers, capital, aid, tourists, students and investors. No nation is exempt from this obligation. Simon Anholt, the leading exponent of nation brand, so far, offers the most reasoned and authoritative explanation for this. He argues that the brand [of a nation] powerfully affects the way people inside and outside the place think about it, they way they behave towards it, and the way they respond to everything with regard to the place, for example, its products, sporting and cultural events, tourism and heritage attractions, investment and business potential.
Nations also face considerable scrutiny and have much more to lose from negative brand images. Indeed, international development aid, trade partnerships and investments are increasingly tied to concerns over human rights, crime and environmental protection. Jamaica should rightly and justifiably be concerned about its image. The Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in her swearing-in speech in January 2012, argued inter alia, that it is imperative to “protect the good name of Jamaica at home and in the international community”. Jamaica, she stressed, must remain for all, a quality brand.
Assessing Jamaica’s Brand Quality
Yet, it is fair to say Jamaica has a rather contradictory and mottled international image. Research is yet to be done to scientifically gauge the strength of the Jamaican brand. Yet, based on anecdotal evidence – on the positive side, the nation can speak to exports of products that have become globally known and recognised – Red Stripe Beer, Jamaica Rum, Jerk spice, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. Jamaica’s National dish, Ackee and Saltfish was ranked second by National Geographic among the tastiest national dish in the world. We can speak proudly of our tourism promotion – Jamaica as tourism mecca attracting some 3 million tourist visitors per year. And, of course, we can speak glowingly of Usain Bolt and our success in sport overall. But if we were to be truly honest, we would all speak of the issues and challenges that at times disrupt this otherwise positive perception of Brand Jamaica. We are not proud of this by any stretch and I hate to spread our dirty laundry in an international forum such as this. Yet, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s examine a few of the major issues Jamaica currently confronts.
The Economy – Jamaica will finish 2012 with the slowest average growth rate of 1% since 2000 in the Americas, even behind disaster-stricken Haiti (The Economist, 2012). The national debt is akin to Greece’s – 140% of GDP. Over half of the national budget used to service national debt. Jamaica’s unemployment rate now stands at 14.3% as at April 2012 (Planning Institute of Jamaica, 2012). All major surveys suggest that a high perception of corruption.
Homophobia – There is a widely held perception and purported in the global media that Jamaicans harbour a vicious intolerance for homosexuals and homosexuality. The perception is that openly gay people have to contend with a constant fear of violence (The Economist, 2009). Many Jamaicans see this as an exaggeration; yet the perception often meets reality. For example, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians and Gays (JFLAG) reports 33 cases of serious injuries from attacks on gays in an 18- month period. Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding tells BBC’s Stephen Sackur, in a HARD TALK interview that he will not tolerate gays in his Cabinet. This stance in the global media legitimised and confirmed not only the perception of intolerance, but that there was selective attention and allocation to human rights in Jamaica
The buggery laws remain in place. The punishment up to 10 years at hard labour. For gross Indecency – 2 years hard labour. The new Prime Minister Portia Simpson pledged in 2012 to review these laws but no move has yet been made. While the Church establishment in Jamaica supports the stance against homosexuality and expresses its disagreement with the practice, Jamaican entertainers seems to foster and promote a more vicious assault on homosexuals. Lyrics by popular entertainers often threaten death to gays. This is nowadays Lesson common, thanks to intervention from the government media regulatory board, Jamaica Broadcasting Commission. Reggae – known for its message of love and rebellion against oppression, at one point was at risk as its emissaries were banned abroad, and fined, accused of spreading hate.
Crime and Violence
But perhaps one of the most shattering image perception problems facing Jamaica is crime. Jamaica is often ranked among the world’s most violent countries. Jamaicans are rightly concerned. In 2012, Jamaica’s intentional homicide rate was 52 per 100,000 – among the top tier in the world. This crime rate is characterised by multiple killings, rise in violent death of children, rise in rape as an attendant act to violent crimes; increased willingness of criminals to challenge the police. Gang warfare, involving youths/ boys, has resulted in significant loss of life, causes immense trauma and retards social and economic development of urban communities. Drug trafficking is a growing problem, as is political warfare. Tribal/clan politics over time has resulted in politically divided communities and brutal gang violence.
On every major poll highlighting issues of social concern, crime and violence consistently ranks in the top tier, as the most pressing problem the nation faces. Crime and violence also occupies a lot of media headlines, both nationally and globally; and also social media commentary. Crime is thus problematic for us domestically, and has a deleterious impact on our global brand image we wish to project. Jamaica also suffers from serious social and economic inequalities. Divisive politics fosters a lack of consensus and a non-cohesive social order. Indeed, discussions with business leaders and civil society in 2012, as nation celebrates 50 years of Independence from Great Britain, revealed that unity is the biggest challenge to economic, social and political progress in Jamaica.
So Jamaica has what theorists call an unhealthy ecology featuring crime, a breakdown in the rule of law, violence and incivility across all sectors, anti-social behaviours among the youth – in short, crude and lewd behaviours characterise social life in Jamaica. These filter out via social media and online versions of traditional paper into the international community – concreting a negative perception of Jamaica. A profound shift in marketing strategy and government policy is required to alter domestic circumstances and thereby reconstruct the current pessimistic narrative on Jamaica.
‘Nation brand’ is the new buzzword in the branding industry. Thanks to the advances in communications and information technology as well as the media saturated age in which we live, driven in part by globalisation, nations are beginning to see their national brand as an asset. According to Simon Anholt, the leading proponent of nation brand theory, ‘every place on earth now wants to enhance, reverse or otherwise manage its brand image and international reputation’. For Simon Anholt, “nation brand is essentially a country’s image and reputation, its core values and essence. Each nation has its own distinctiveness – what makes them stand out in the global community.
Anholt identifies six main indicators which provides a useful instrument by which to systematically gauge the strength of a nation’s brand:
- TOURISM PROMOTION activity that countries pursue. This is manifested in people’s first hand experience of visiting the country as tourists or business travellers.
- EXPORTS: These are powerful ambassadors of each country’s image (only where their country or origin is explicit). For. E.g.: Nike – America; VW – Germany); Sony – Japan; Switzerland – Swiss Watch. (If nobody knows where a product comes from, it can’t affect his or her feelings about that country).For example, differing cultural and economic products are often associated with and tied to a nation – Swiss watches, Japanese technology, Chinese culture, Italian cars and cuisine, French wine, Brazilian football and Jamaican reggae, rum and Red Stripe beer, and, one can now say – Jamaican Sprinters.
- GOVERNANCE: This refers to policy decisions of the government, whether its domestic policy reported in the global media, or foreign policy, which directly affects overseas populations.
- PEOPLE: The citizens of the country, iconic and high profile leaders, media and sport stars, as well as the population in general, how they behave abroad. (I will add to this how they behave at home, which is reported in the international media); and how they treat visitors to their countries.
- CULTURE AND HERITAGE: These refer to cultural exchange and activities – a world tour by a sports team, or a famous musician, work of authors, poets and filmmakers.
- INVESTMENT AND IMMIGRATION – This refers to how the country solicits inward investment, recruit foreign talent; how immigrant populations position themselves overseas; what image do they portray of their homeland.