Does Europe have an identity that could be used and managed in terms of branding?
An increasingly common feature of EU policy documents is the reference to place branding and its potential for European countries, regions and cities. Indeed, recent years have seen the growth of place branding based on its potential to assist in economic, tourism, social and cultural development. This practice is popular and significant amounts of money are invested by local and national authorities in branding activities. Place brandings can be applied to all scales of places, i.e. from towns and cities to national and supranational entities.
In this sense, Europe is also a place brand. Just like all other sorts of brands, Europe is, more than anything else, a jigsaw puzzle in peoples’ minds. Europe is evaluated and assessed by people in the same way that brands are. This means that there is no single Europe but many; as many as people who have an image of Europe in their mind. The theoretical, politics- and policy-related implications of this idea are significant but lie outside the remit of this post. It is the potential and challenges of the “Europe” brand that is discussed here.
What are the challenges in thinking about a “Europe” brand? First, a place brand needs to be based on identity. Does Europe have an identity that might be tapped into and become manageable in terms of branding? It is highly doubtful with all the different cultures and attitudes that comprise Europe. Second, a place brand needs consistency. Is Europe a consistent entity? Not really, if we think of all the differences in geographical landscapes, lifestyles, political orientations and, importantly, economic conditions. Third, a place brand needs transparency. Is Europe transparent? It’s not, if we think of the various traditions and ways of doing business in different European countries or if we seriously consider the politics involved in decision making. Finally, a place brand needs leadership. Is there anyone in Europe who could provide this leadership and the vision and inspiration that come in its train? Not really.
What would be the benefits of a “Europe” brand? That is more difficult to outline. It might provide a vehicle of identification of what it means to be European. It might also provide a clearer distinction of what is not Europe. This is one of the main benefits of place brands: they help understand what and who we are against what and who we are not. A clear benefit would be related to tourism, which is the field where place brands have, to a great extent, proven their effectiveness.
There might be more benefits but, in my view, there is one that really matters: if we start discussing a “Europe” brand, we might end up discussing all the things that connect and divide Europeans in a way that the EU has (not) managed to do. This alone would be a very welcome discussion. It might not lead to a brand “Europe” but it might lead to a brand new understanding of Europe, which is something that is certainly missing.
Mihalis Kavaratzis is researcher, adviser and lecturer on place marketing at the University of Leicester and at the International Business School in Budapest