Promoting Israel Doesn't Mean Ignoring Its Past

A brand is a promise that must be kept, so it can't be built on fashionable, creative, cinematic, or televised looks. It must be built on substance, content and values.

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"Creative energy," the new branding concept for Israel recently presented at an ambassadors' conference in Jerusalem, is likely to boomerang and undermine the country's image even more. A government ministry shouldn't be spearheading the branding process, but rather a professional national authority representing the state's historical values.

How odd, in this age of globalization when every nation strives to preserve its heritage and shape its own identity that, under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry, professionals at an advertising agency overseas decided to cut us off from our past. With our well-known weakness for relying on foreign experts, why not follow the high priestess of marketing trends and "retro" Li Edelkoort, who proclaimed that the real future will come from looking to the past?

A brand is a promise that must be kept, so it can't be built on fashionable, creative, cinematic, or televised looks. It must be built on substance, content, and values.

Branding a country is an obligation and promise to restore to the fore the country's basic values and instill them in the country's institutions, governing bodies, and its citizenry. This is an in-depth and long-term process requiring the establishment of a professional national authority under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office with a multi-year budget and mandate to instill values. Setting out to brand Israel can only be done on such a basis.

Spain's dramatic image changeover in the latter half of the 20th century from that of a backward country to enticing tourist destination wasn't thanks to director Pedro Almodovar's wonderful films or Miro's lovely logo, but the fundamental change undergone by the country which brought it into the modern world. Israel, suffering a loss of direction and meager content, needs to start rehabilitating values like morals, ethics, tolerance, humanism, democracy, and its own being before setting out to rebrand itself. Otherwise, the "creative energy" lately adopted as a central concept will translate into negative energy.

Efforts at improving Israel's image must not be discarded. There is no time to waste. Israel needs to garner every possible point in its favor in this hostile world. Therefore, a fundamental branding process must be followed rather than a showy campaign. The strategy proposed here is to dim the "Israel" brand and create sub-brands for use by change agents in conveying their message. "Tikkun olam" – repairing the world – is an example of an inbred value carried throughout our history. This is the nation of Israel's moral responsibility to the world – a relevant value in these times.

Israel has an opportunity to initiate social projects and extend humanitarian aid under the Israeli banner – branded as humane and civilized gesture. The idea is to lay out a network of Israeli centers around the world – like the German Goethe Institute or Spain's Cervantes Institute – focused on areas distinguishing us like sports centers for the handicapped, classes by musical masters, Old Testament study centers, rescue unit training, or guidance in advanced agricultural methods.

Granted, we haven't any leaders like former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani – who restored its reputation as the "heartless city" back to "the Big Apple" – but we do have Tel Aviv. The energetic white city, which knows how to create chemistry with all comers, can be Israel's showcase to the world. Tel Aviv would be the ideal venue for centers of wine, culture, cinema, arts, science for youth, industrial design workshops, classes in democracy, and a center for the gay community. It could deflect fire from Israel's negative image until it all blows over.

Anyone dealing in marketing knows rotten apples can't be packaged up in a beautiful box. We need to perform root canal in restoring the old values. At the same time we need to establish sub-brands to help us infiltrate the hearts of the hostile world and gradually rehabilitate our image. There are no shortcuts: We have no time for empty packaging.

The writer, a founder of Adler, Chomski, and Warshavsky, is a strategic consultant for branding and sustainability.

Miss Israel 2012 Lina Makhuli competing at the 2012 Miss Universe contest in Las Vegas in December.Credit: Reuters
David Ben-Gurion at a birthday party at Kibbutz Sde Boker.Credit: Shalom Buchbinder / Kibbutz Sde Boker Archive

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