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How about Israel for that relaxing getaway?

Stephen Beard Jan 3, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: What do you do if you’re a politician with a 77 percent disapproval rating? And you’re running a country that finished dead last in an international survey of public reputations? Change your marketing, of course. That’s what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government are doing. Israel’s spent millions of dollars retooling its image. But the $64,000 question is, is it worth it? From the European Desk, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: Welcome to Israel as portrayed in the TV tourist ad:

TELEVISION AD:“Think of a place where rain barely falls . . . Eilat.”

A young woman in a white bikini frolics in the surf.

TELEVISION AD:“Think of the world’s largest natural spa.”

Think Israel, says the ad, and wallow in a sensual experience.

[SOUND: Weeping and shrieking woman. ]

But shattering the holiday idyll, the news bulletins present a starkly different picture. An Arab woman dressed in black shrieks and howls in grief after an Israeli bomb raid killed her children. Judging by these potential tourists in London, Israel clearly does have an image problem:

MAN 1: It’s a war-torn zone. There’s lots of unrest and lots of political turmoil there. Don’t really see it as a holiday destination.

MAN 2: Palestine, the West Bank, fighting, kids throwing stones at tanks. That’s what I think when I think of Israel.

This is a travesty, says David Saranga of the Israeli Consulate in New York. His country is not just a combat zone, he insists. It’s a great tourist attraction and a vibrant, technologically advanced place to do business.

DAVID SARANGA: People, for example, in the world don’t know that Israel has more companies on the Nasdaq stock exchange than any other country in the world except the U.S. and Canada.

Employing brand consultants, opinion pollsters and focus groups, Israel has embarked on a campaign to correct the misperceptions and project a more positive image abroad.

SARANGA: The perception of Israel is different from what we know as a reality. And, therefore, we said Israel must do something in order to improve its image, in order to improve the image of its brand.

This isn’t the first time a whole country, or a city, has attempted to brush up its overall image using ad men and marketing experts. The government of what some say is Canada’s most boring province has tried to do the same:

TV AD:“There’s something about Manitoba that inspires people to dream big. An energy! A spirit!

Brand consultants have also been at work refurbishing the image of the tiny tax haven of Liechtenstein. Henning Rabe and his team came up with a slogan, a logo and a new official color: eggplant.

HENNING RABE: It’s an outstanding color, not used so often. It’s very distinctive. It’s not flashy. And it conveys an impression of maturity.

That cost Liechtenstein several million dollars. But, say the brand consultants, if successful, a full country rebranding could generate tens of millions by attracting extra tourists and foreign investors.Bad news for Israel, however. Robert Jones from the world’s top brand consulants, Wolf Olins, says he wouldn’t touch the Israel job with a barge pole:

ROBERT JONES: Because I would imagine that the brief for the Israel job is, “Please make the world feel better about us.” And I don’t think you can do that just through a branding exercise.

[Sound of shelling.]

He says the conflict is too deeply entrenched, the political realities are too complex. And fixing that is beyond the power of the brand consultant.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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