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If there’s one country in the world that could — and would — use a brand makeover, it’s Greece.
Ares Kalandides and Mihalis Kavaratzis, a pair of Greeks who do place branding in Britain and Germany, tee up the problem (or is it opportunity?):
we were thinking of what we’d do, if we were asked to rebrand Greece. We’ve heard many cries in that direction. Only recently did the Greek minister of Culture and Tourism announce that they are planning to hire PR experts to promote Greece. The issue, however, is that all these are simply campaigns and not re-branding. Campaigns are good and useful and the more creative they are the better; but they remain campaigns. Campaigns are partial tools that help reach a strategic goal that has been discussed and agreed upon. Is there such a goal for Greece now? Campaigns are a small part of the communication-based part of a branding strategy. Apart from communications there is a lot to be done so that the term rebranding can be used. Does Greece have any sort of strategy now? Campaigns alone do not re-brand. All that campaigns can do is send a message out. This message, though, is not a brand. The brand is much wider and deeper than that. The brand is a platform on which messages can be sent and received.
The only trouble, Kalandides and Kavaratzis conclude, is that Greece is too troubled to rebrand. “Place branding,” they write, “is effective as a proactive strategy and not as a crisis management mechanism.” Before leaping into a rebranding effort, Greeks “need to understand what we want to achieve” (more tourists? Investors? Political pull? Or just dignity?). “Endeavouring into re-branding exercises without even discussing the strategic goals,” they sigh, “leads nowhere but to fruitless and pointless expenditure.”
Then consider this. What Greece wants — or should want, because Greece needs it above all — is churn. Not just a flow of tourists cycling through (although tourism can do marvelously if framed as a test drive), but a steady outflow of Greeks and an inflow of more well-off foreigners (and let’s face it: Westerners) ready to make a long-term go of it in Greece. Greece needs to lead the way in Europe’s battered South as a case study of the virtues of migration. To put a hard edge on that happy thought, consider that Greece needs to kick out a substantial number of citizens who are hanging around their homeland for inadequate reasons, and import a substantial number of more dynamic human beings capable of creating a new future. I’ve criticized Greece before as an instructive example of the costly lengths to which governments will go to flatter themselves with nationalism, essentially bribing their citizens not to move away with cush government jobs and swollen budgets. The consequence is lassitude at best and, at worst, a paradoxical and embarrassing resentment.
Greece’s problem is simple: there are too many Greeks in Greece. From ancient times right up through the 20th century, Greeks have shown themselves more than capable of flourishing abroad. Now it’s time to invite the rest of the world (or, unfortunately, mostly one select chunk of it) to return the favor in a most favorable climate. And quick! Before the Spanish catch on, as their unemployed and underemployed youth are already starting to do.
Greece should rebrand with a single word: VACANCY.
In playing off the root word of ‘vacation’, yet nodding toward the downturn, it makes a welcoming yet subversive and surprisingly nuanced promise. Not just the hotels have vacancies. Life does, too. An ad campaign: a pristine, empty table in an otherwise bustling restaurant. An alluringly empty boat at an otherwise bustling seaside. A gloriously empty desk in a corner office with Acropolis views out the window. A comfy, rustic, and empty chair, on a patio shared by a few friends, with olive trees stretching off toward the sunset. A sleek poolside lounger, models nearby, a mega-yacht in the distance. And above every one of these things, in bold but discreet type, with a little arrow pointing down: VACANCY.
Now, excuse me — I’ve got to go move to Greece.