New prof tackles image creation in her book, Branding the Nation

By Tanvi Acharya —

New J/MS Assistant Professor Melissa Aronczyk tackles the very popular topic of branding and takes it to another level in her book, Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity, which was published this fall by the Oxford University Press.

Melissa Aronczyk has written a new book, Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity. Photo by Carol Peters.
Melissa Aronczyk has written a new book, Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity. Photo by Carol Peters.

Branding the Nation focuses on the use of strategic communication by national governments to solidify the image of their national identity, attract foreign capital and cement citizen loyalty.

Through various case studies, she shows how various governments are taking a page out of commercial management tactics and choosing branding as a way to create a national identity in this increasingly globalized world. Among the countries she studied is India, with its “Incredible India” campaign to increase tourism, and several Olympics hosts, with their campaigns to sell tickets to the Olympic Games and at the same time brand themselves in a positive light.

Aronczyk teaches in her class, Media and Politics, that corporate branding techniques as well as attention-drawing techniques used by grassroots organizations link media and the government. She refuses to limit the class subject matter to political parties and their electoral campaigns.

The class also spends a lot of time analyzing the strategic use of communications by politicians, corporations and media. Students work on understanding the goals behind the use of different strategies and images.

“You realize branding can have serious consequences when it moves away from selling products to selling drugs to doctors or selling music to consumers,” she said.

Two such serious consequences of nation branding she discovered while doing her book research are the reinforcement of stereotypes and corruption of the concept of diversity.

“What happens in nation branding is that so much of [people’s] sense of belonging gets reduced to stereotypes because we are constantly told that those images that other people consume are all that matters. But I think it can be damaging to the sense of who we are.”

She calls her book “a story of miscommunication and failure” since nation brands many times do not represent its people the way they see themselves.

Aronczyk came to Rutgers from the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. She is also secretary for the Popular Communication Division of the International Communication Association.

She previously co-edited a volume in 2010 called Blowing up the Brand, which contained articles and case studies of how branding has moved out of the commercial world and started to infiltrate governments around the world.

Aronczyk is currently working on a research project based on the politics and public relations of oil pipelines. The research looks at communication strategies by different actors involved in the politics of oil flows.

“That project has a bit of a personal connection too because I’m so outraged at what’s happening with climate change discourse that I needed to research in this area to try to bring to light how PR obscures discourse on oil and its impact on the environment,” she said.

The topic seems to veer away from the tenets of her nation’s branding book, but Aronczyk emphasized that national identity is a major frame of communication — even in the oil pipeline conversation.