Rebranding Greece: time to think different

Debt growing, unemployment spiking and crime on the rise as politicians bicker over the dying embers of a country that has lost the trust of its European partners: If Greece were a product, you would be pulling it out of stores, taking it off shelves and dumping whatever stock you had left. Or maybe not. Maybe you would have the crazy idea that this is just the right moment to rebrand your flagging product and sow the seeds of success.

Brand strategist Peter Economides knows about taking brands at their lowest ebb and turning them into world-beaters. He was part of the team that helped create Apple’s “Think Different” campaign in 1997. At that point, the computer manufacturer was on the wane – the public and the media had lost interest and the firm’s finances were in a mess. The campaign, featuring iconic 20th-century figures such as Maria Callas and Muhammad Ali, transformed Apple’s image and set it on the way to becoming one of the world’s largest companies today.

Economides believes that Greece is at the point where an inspired and properly managed rebranding campaign could turn it into the “Apple of the Mediterranean.”

“I know that a country is not a computer or software but there are lessons from branding that can be applied,” he told Kathimerini English Edition. “Branding rests on sociology, psychology and anthropology and if we believe in those disciplines, then we can talk about fixing nations.”

At a conference in Thessaloniki on Friday, Economides presented his ideas on what is holding Greece back and how the country could change the way it is perceived. He received an enthusiastic reception at the event and since then, his presentation has gone viral on the Internet. By Wednesday evening, more than 20,000 people had viewed it via the www.slideshare.net site alone.

The brand strategist says that his presentation – which describes Greece as “one of the greatest brands never to be branded” – was born from an article he wrote last year about “reimagining the future” of Greece. The presentation is an uplifting look at the country’s potential – its history, natural beauty and people – but it does not shy away from being totally blunt about the dire situation Greece finds itself in today. Perhaps the most telling point of his presentation is a look at the result of searches using Google: A search for “Ancient Greece” brings up 15.6 million results while searching for “Greece crisis” leads to 224 million results.
Economides says that any effort to transform Greece’s image must begin by recognizing what has gone wrong and just how badly it has gone wrong. “The presentation is brutally honest,” he says. “Our image is sick right now, really sick. Branding starts with the truth.”

Perhaps Greece needed to reach this low point to take a look at itself and regroup, Economides argues, while offering one of the most succinct analyses of the Greek economic crisis you are likely to hear. “In 2004, we were at the apex of feeling good. We had that incredible opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics, which for me was probably the best Greek narrative I’ve seen in my life. It was the first time we managed to reconcile the past, the present and the future.

“Then what happened? Because we felt good, we thought we had everything and we started pursuing Gucci and Prada and Porsche and Ferrari. And we actually converted the International Broadcasting Center – the world’s best broadcasting center – into a shopping mall. Why did we do it? Because we wanted other stuff. So, we sold the good stuff we had to get the stupid stuff, which got us in the position we’re in. 2004 was a turning point because we started consuming like lunatics.”

Having crashed so spectacularly from such a lofty position – when Greece earned rave reviews from around the world for its hosting of the 2004 Games to the point where it is now difficult to find any positive coverage of the country – presents a unique opportunity, according to Economides.

“At the Thessaloniki conference, I invited people to think big,” he says. “You’ve got to be crazy to think you can change a situation, but you can.”

Economides is currently working on rebranding the Cypriot city of Limassol and says Greece can learn from how this project has developed. “It’s exactly what branding has to be in the future,” he says. “It’s an open source project where you talk to the people because the people are the brand. That’s what this country needs to do. Greece is a concept but if you don’t get Greeks to buy the concept, forget about it.

“For people to buy a concept, you don’t sell it to them. You’ve got to get them involved in it, you’ve got to talk to them. Great brands have always had a conversation with people,” adds Economides, citing successful branding campaigns of the past, such as Absolut Vodka.

However, the key element to the Limassol project is that it emanated from the private sector. Seven businessmen who envisaged a different future for their city initiated the scheme, which has since developed such momentum that it made it difficult for the public sector to reject the offer to climb on board.

“We launched a brand development project, which was process of involving people. Having launched that, we then went to the authorities and asked if they wanted to join us,” says Economides. “The politics of that made it undeniable, they had to join us. But if you go to the political system just with the idea, it’s not going to get off the ground because you’re standing on too many people’s toes.”

Economides admits that the encouraging applause he received in Thessaloniki made him feel like a politician but he is under no illusions about the role that central government and parties should play in any rebranding campaign. In fact, his presentation points out the Greece has had nine different tourism campaigns since the 1990s, as each minister chopped and changed the slogans and content of the advertisements. During this time, tourist arrivals in Croatia and Turkey have increased rapidly while falling in Greece.

“The way to do branding is a public-private partnership. It should be collaborative. To have brand leadership in political hands is wrong. It’s not because politicians are incapable, it’s because politics is by nature about opposition, politics is by nature about a four-year term, politics is by nature about making and building political capital. We need to build brand capital, which extends beyond four years,” says Economides.

The brand strategist, however, stresses that the attempt to rebrand Greece must be about much more than just selling it as a tourist destination. “There are two stages in this: involving the people in the development of the brand and then disseminating the brand so it becomes a behavioral or image guide for people to use generally,” says Economides.

“It’s not to sell tourism. It’s to guide the actions of society. It’s about changing the way people think and feel. Although the way out of crisis is economic, if you don’t feel good, you’re not going to do good things. I read the other week that half an hour of worry is more tiring than a week’s work. This is a very worried nation and we need to get the worry out of the way. When you have vision, you can do amazing things.”

Economides is now looking to attract seed funding to get the project off the ground. He also stresses the importance of getting the Greek diaspora, media and philhellenes on board. It seems a thankless task to attract angel investors at a time when there is so much political and economic uncertainty but Economides says that not knowing if Greece’s future is in the eurozone or with the drachma makes no difference to the need to get the rebranding scheme going.

“If you think of history on its longer time scale, we’re going through a momentous time right now but we will look back on this point and it will be a small dot on a long line. We’ve got to put this dot in the right perspective and we’ve got to do it now or it might become a large smudge on our history

“To cope with it means dealing with our own social psychology as a society and individuals. Branding is not about selling the country, it’s about selling ourselves to ourselves, it’s about believing again, it’s about relighting the flame. It’s up to us to reconnect the concept of Greece – who we are and where we are today – with where we want to be in the future and to draw one continuous line through that so we can really feel the narrative that will take us through that.”

The opening lines of the original text that accompanied the “Think Different” campaign are eerily similar to the words some might use to describe Greeks and their country today: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.”

Rebranding Greece as the Apple of the Mediterranean? It’s a crazy idea. In fact, it’s an idea that is just about crazy enough to succeed.

Nick Malkoutzis

19 responses to “Rebranding Greece: time to think different

  1. The theme underlying Peter Economides’ views is not crazy at all. On the contrary, it is exactly what Greece and Greeks need: leadership which gives the people a perspective of a better future! Perhaps of a “New Greece” (instead of digging down further into the victim role).

    Over 30 years ago, I saw in another country of similar size of that of Greece’s how economic leadership could turn around a literally devastated economy into a kind of “Apple”. For Greece I would suggest the term “Tiger of the Eastern Mediterranean”. That country was certainly not an example for Greece as regards type of government but it could certainly serve as a role model for Greek economic leadership. I once summarized this in the post below.

    http://klauskastner.blogspot.com/2011/06/many-people-look-at-things-how-they-are.html

  2. Pingback: How to rebrand Greece like Apple « The Enterprise Blog

  3. Just to let you know, there’s a 8 years old website about branding Greece at BrandingGreece.com

  4. I have just read the 1st Report of the EU Task Force.

    If the the plans outlined it it can indeed be successfully executed, then one can be proud to be an EU-member. If Greece cooperates well (which is a precondition for success), then Greece can one day be thankful for having been a EU-member.

    And if this works out, then there is indeed a chance for a “new Greece” within only one generation.

    It would certainly be advisable to accompany these efforts with a lot of branding themes and PR-campaigns!

  5. Maria Ana Antoniadis

    Excellent idea!! Just go for it!!

  6. It exceeds my imagination why there is no discussion of the 1st EU Task Force Report in the Greek public (and media/blogs, etc.). Instead, one is preoccupied with possible conspiracies on the part of foreigners (above all Germans) to intentionally drive Greece against the wall; on austerity measures many of which don’t make sense; on possible solutions to the Eurozone’s debt problem; etc.

    Suppose your family were the owner of a large company which is in such dire straits that bankruptcy seems unavoidable, triggering the wiping out of the entire financial worth of the family and jeapordizing the future of the next generation. Suddenly, someone comes along and offers you a plan how the company can be turned around and returned to solid financial footings. At the same time, this “someone” offers you to provide the liquidity to survive the turn-around period financially.

    Wouldn’t you tell that “someone” that you are prepared to do everything required of you only to make sure that your children will again have a good future?

    The Greek family has about 11 million members. Their financial existence is presently in extreme jeopardy and the future of their children looks bleak. They may have to emigrate in order to make a living. Isn’t it high time that at least some members of this family start doing something about that? The Greek family has the unusual opportunity that someone is proposing them what they can do about their own future.

    Really, isn’t it high time to do something about that? If you don’t think so, ask your children. They are likely to be thrilled when shown that they can contribute something to the family’s positive future!

  7. With all due respect to Mr. Economides (and all those that seem to think it is a good idea), this approach bothers me a lot, even if it comes with good intentions.

    The problem of Greece is not a problem of branding and perception, it is primarily a problem of bad governance (like in the rest of ‘the West,” one might add). Sure, it feels good to create some nice advertising campaign and nice slogans to say how awesome we are, but what’s the use really? We all know the problems of the country, and have always known them. We just never seriously did anything to change them, partly because “it worked, more or less”, partly because, as ordinary citizens, even if we wanted to, we could not do anything about it. The “system” was (and still is) solidly entrenched..

    What we need to be focusing our energies on is on things like:
    – renewing the governing elite,
    – creating a real system of checks and balances to restrain their ability to harm the country.
    – renewing regulations and laws, as in: simplifying. Maybe even think of a new governance system, new Constitution.
    – rebuilding a proper government administration; the public sector has been completely destroyed by years of cronyism and corruption. That means, restructure, rethink, and finally give the competent ones that remain (yes, they do exist) the means to actually properly do their work.
    – and so on…

    Purposeful and thought-out action has a virtue, it gives results that everyone can appreciate. Slogans? Brands? They primarily have been created to sell products or ideas, and, because of that, inherently, contain a part of deception. And we have had plenty of that already in Greece. We should not be packaging, embellishing things, creating a new game of smoke and mirrors (or replaying the old one). We should be confronting reality for what it is, with all its ugliness.

    Also, quite frankly, I do not care what the Germans, the Americans or the Zimbabweans think of us. This is ‘the old system’ of being overly concerned with the opinion of foreigners, and if they are philhellenes or not, and we need to walk away from that. This does us no good, it actually traps us into what is essentially a vain and meaningless popularity contest.

    Let me specify that I do not care because I believe we live in a vacuum; I do not care because I know how fickle public opinion is.

    Is the brand “Switzerland” really that damaged because of the nazi gold or the minaret vote? Is the brand “France” really damaged by the islamic veil ban and its 2005 riots (I can hear some of you asking “what riots?”)? Is the “London” brand really damaged by this last summer’s riots? Is the brand “Italy” really that damaged because of Berlusconi’s antics? The list goes on and on… And none of those really look damaged to me. Sure, there was some outrage/fear/concern/anger at some point in time, and then it dissipated, in great part thanks to the very short attention span of our societies. In other words, don’t worry, this whole media frenzy is nothing but a superficial transient phenomenon.

    Let us fix our country, for ourselves, without caring what some irrelevant figureheads in Berlin or Helsinki said about us, or some low-grade English tabloid wrote; when our country will be fixed, they will shut up or change their tune. And if they don’t change their tune, I still couldn’t care less. Some people don’t like us, so what?

    Let us finally give priority to substance over artifice. Only then will our country’s image really change.

  8. By the way, something unrelated, according to our wonderful country’s inept standard setters, Economides’ name should be Oikonomidis, and Papademos’ name should be Papadimos. You might want to correct your piece before the ELOT police shows up.

    At least that is what they did to me and several people I know. If they avoided having their name changed, I would very much like to know how, as the police officer showed me that the software she had to use when filling up my passport information gave no room for the proper spelling of my first name in the latin alphabet. My parents actually had their last name changed as well, the passport issuing office apparently got stricter with the process by the time my parents got there. Imagine that, some citizens actually kept the proper spelling of their last names! The nerve! Thank God that was fixed!

    End result: I now have a different last name from my parents, and my first name got changed. Explaining this to American and West European government officials without passing for a fraudster is quite a challenge… Thankfully the incompetence of our political elite is shining on the world stage, which makes it somewhat easier to explain this particular lunacy ( “yes sir, you are correct, the name in the latin script on my passport is not the name your services have known me by, nor is it the name i have used all my life, nor does it even match the name on my Greek ID card, but this was not my idea, you see, our politicians think it is more important to legislate how we write our names in the latin alphabet than, you know, work on something that would be useful to society; I think you might have heard about their incompetence on the news recently” usually earns quite a few chuckles and some sympathy).

  9. To George

    An IPO starts with a “story” and it may attract a lot of capital. If the story is not followed-up by facts, the shares will tank. The same goes for any “story” which Greece might/could come up with.

    But there is no reason why Greece couldn’t follow-up with facts (if she is determined to do so). Just work with the EU Task Force and implement everything which is outlined in their 1st Report and the next generation of Greeks will live in a “new” and prosperous Greece.

  10. Sorry, i did not get back to this earlier…

    I had just seen the slides from the link here, I did not listen to the speech which goes with it.

    A link to the speech; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Chhn5oEmITs , i think you should post it in your article, it adds a dimension you miss with the slides.

    Time permitting, I might post personal comments at a later point on the actual speech.

  11. Pingback: Greece and the euro: The end of the affair | Inside Greece

  12. Out with the old ways and in with the new! I watched Peter Economides video on rebranding Greece with my daughters early this morning. The diaspora isn’t just about approaching angel investors, it’s about engaging people and listening to their stories which tie them to the apple of the Mediterranean. We’ve always referred to Greece as the California of Europe!

    What good is it if you engage Hellenes of the Diaspora when Greeks living in Greece don’t value and respect one of the most amazing historical, cultural cradles of the world? What can the Diaspora do to ignite hope, love and change in a Greece in strife?

    There is more to Greece than kafe and glentia. It’s absolutely time to rebrand Greece, ignite the passion and elevate the vibration of feeling great. When this happens, everything happens.

    Love and Light will connect the dots!

  13. Maria, there is a huge DISCONNECT amongst people in Greece. It starts within each and every individual. Respect and value self without judgement or criticism. Taking ownership and responsibility of what is. Don’t blame a particular body – everyone is responsible for the state of affairs in Greece. The work starts when every citizen of Greece goes back to the fundamentals of the core values. It isn’t about “the government” and “everyone else.” Aligning paths will lead to great things. Walking in different directions will get them nowhere. Greece needs a whole lot of love and healing. The outside can’t do anything for them unless they want to take that “zest of life” they have to help themselves at home. A positive will attract a positive and so on. The more one feels good, the happier one is, will ignite the next person to feel good and be happier. It’s infectious. It’ll take time. They’re more than capable of making the changes if they can get past EGO!

    I’m forever the optimist, and believe that there are hearts and souls in Greece that will shift the country to a legendary status.

    • Maria Ana Antoniadis

      Sophia, you are absolutely right. The thing is who will get people together to look in the same direction? They will most likely refuse to listen to us outside, but it is easier to see things differently from outside the arena. On the other hand, it may be important to analyze why things turned out this way after the country rose past World War II. It may be necessary to evaluate the factors that led people to have such EGO trip and individualism that you so rightly point out. Materialism? Greed? Lack of values? Lack of spirituality? Why keep money away from the country by not paying taxes, and contributing to the wellbeing of their fellow citizens? Why did longstanding government leaders showed such lack of vision when getting into such unpayable debts? It is definitely a lot of factors but in life you have to reach the bottom before you rise back up.

  14. I found a very interesting article and I post it here ( http://www.dotkite.eu/news/nation-branding-5-things-greece-should-do/ )

    Principles of branding apply in equal measure to countries as they do to businesses and corporations.
    Creating a branding program for a country demands an integration policy that most countries do not possess the ability to act and speak in a coordinated and repetitive way about themes that are the most motivating and differentiating a country can make.

    In the coming weeks, Dot Kite will analyze Nation Brand Images. Why? Because we believe that the benefits of a consistent and professional country branding can be observed in every region. They include the ability to win more investment business because the country image says the right things about taxation, labor skills, safety, the environment, political stability plus the chance to apply a ‘made in’ label because it will positively aid the sale of a product in an overseas market.

    As first case study, we will analyze the brand “Greece”.
    (For the avoidance of any inconvenience, I would like to state in advance that what I describe – both in textual and visuals – bellow, is just in conceptual level and there is no single connection to reality)

    Greece’s nation brand image is suffering badly from the Greek government’s debt crisis, and the country has to do something about it urgently. Greece has no positive brand in the modern sense of the word and it needs to improve it. The image of Greece at the moment is negatively inspiring. In today’s world, Greece needs to expose its profile in a clear and consistent way. But, how should that profile be? Which values should it be based on? What’s the “Greek” identity? What should “Made in Greece” mean?

    To improve its nation brand, Greece could and should do some of these 5 things:

    Naming: Before re-creating a brand for Greece, we should start from the most important element, the name. The Hellenic Republic (official name of Greece) is most commonly known as Greece and less commonly known as Hellas. This might be the perfect moment to leave back the “bankrupted” brand “Greece” (which is more associated with the country’s history since the times of the Roman invasion) and move forward with the brand name Hellas which is more associated with the ancient times and the Hellenistic period.
    Transparency: With the recent financial crisis in Hellas and having received money from other european countries and the IMF, the Hellenic government should bring strict transparency to the received funds. Online and live tools should be developed and fully accessible in order to inform the world how the funds are being used. A “new” country needs a new face and therefore Hellas should begin with a crystal clear and fully transparent face.
    Culture: It might be a cliche but Hellas should never give up the exposure of its vast history, culture, language and heritage. Hellas should invest heavily on exporting its history, culture and arts in the develop and developing countries. For example, in countries such as China and India the young generations should know that the base of the so-called “Western Civilization” is Hellas and the Hellenistic period. This could be achieved by organizing cultural events and festivals that combine the Hellenic heritage together with the modern times Hellenic offering.
    Gastronomy: Hellas has to offer a lot to the so called “Mediterranean diet” and certainly can export a lot of its products (Olive Oil, Wine, Cheese, Honey, Oregano, Mastiha etc.). Hellas should not only focus on exporting the food products but the Hellenic way of using the products.
    Heroism: Since the ancient times, Hellenic people were known for their sense of heroism. Citizens of Hellas should champion the popular backlash against obscure rating agencies and billionaire speculators and gain the respect of the world as a modern Thermopylae.
    A lot of people (including the current PM of the Hellenic Republic) might envision Hellas as a brand that will be similar to the nation brands of the nordic countries, but in my opinion Hellas should remain focus on what was good for thousand years now. Therefore, the creation of a “Made in Hellas” emblem as a standard for a “quality living” should be developed. When people from around the world would listen the word “Hellas” they should only think of “Quality and Balanced lifestyle” (which may vary from history and philosophy, to delicious food and sun, up to luxurious travel destinations).

    Finally, while there are still – mostly – negative headlines about Greece, the Hellenic Republic should use this moment in order to reverse public opinion and improve the reputation of the Hellas’ brand image.

    Having said that, I would like to take the chance and show you in a visual way how the brand Greece should be developed.

    There are some GREAT examples here: http://www.dotkite.eu/news/nation-branding-5-things-greece-should-do/

  15. I listened to your speech and I personally think that you are totally right.
    Well done hope that you ll inspire Greeks to move on and not be seaborne on this situation that they going through.

  16. George
    You may not care what the rest of the world thinks of you and that is a fair point. However, If you wish to see Greece extract itself from its current misery, the only means it has to do this is tourism. For tourism to prosper, you do need to care what the rest of the world thinks of you.

  17. George.
    The other point you raised was about articles in “low grade” tabloids. What you don’t seem to grasp, is that millions of people actually read these tabloids. Bad news travels fast, and I know of several English people who have decided not to come to Greece on holiday this year. They will tell their friends who, in turn, will tell other people, and so it goes on. This is what I’m talking about. Athens may be hundreds of miles away from the resort they had originally chosen but, if anyone has to fly into Athens, even to get another ferry on to their destination, talk of the riots will put them off. Look at Egypt. The holiday periods that most people get is very precious to them, and they will not want any extra stress or perceived trouble, so they will choose to go elsewhere.
    For the record, I live in Greece.

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