March 14, 2011

Spanish Nationalism and Branding: Viva la Cultura!

In light of my trip to Madrid for work on my master's thesis, I was inspired to do some research about Spanish public diplomacy since Spain is also the country I will be profiling. John Brown notes, in his blog post "Public Diplomacy: "Out" for the U.S., "In" Overseas", Spain has extensive overseas exchange programs to extend its reach internationally. However, the country does not formally recognize "public diplomacy" per se, but has branded itself as a culturally attractive country for students and travelers to live in and visit, respectively. As Spain’s national capital, Madrid is perceived as being rich with history and culture but it hasn’t always been thought of so highly. In fact, it was not too long ago that Toledo was Spain’s capital, not Madrid. It is an understatement to say that Spain’s government was not nearly as open to cultural, economic, and political globalization as it is today.

Three decades ago, Spain was dealing with the after-effects of the Franco regime. It was remote, backward, and associated with little beyond the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s fascist dictatorship and Don Quixote[1]. Spain was perceived as Europe’s backwater nation- a poor, isolated country with little real tourist infrastructure and little draw for a forward-looking Europe.

As Spain transformed itself into a strong democracy, with a considerably more robust economy, it sought to reintroduce itself to the world by orchestrating a branding campaign that played on multiple facets of cultural society.

Through a coordinated national campaign of branding that brought together various stakeholders in Spanish civil and cultural society, Spain managed to revitalize its national image. The Iberian nation sought to refashion its image to that of a progressive and thoroughly modern nation that serves as a hub for tourism, art and culture, chic, and fun. There were special efforts around student exchange diplomacy particularly with the US and Japan and also around the creation of local tourism boards. More importantly, it used major international sports events like the Barcelona Olympics to maximize its branding campaign.

Finally, during one of my interviews for my thesis, I asked, “What does being Spanish mean to you?” One gentleman answered, “Definitely, our gastronomy! Our food sets us apart”. That said, Madrid is branding itself as a place to have the very best Spanish cuisine by setting up a restaurant week and tours of the cities best and oldest taverns for tourists and students, alike.

[1] Sarah Boxer, “A new Poland, no joke,” New York Times, December 1, 2002.

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