Evolution of country brand research: Studies on Brazil’s brand image

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by Fabiana Gondim Mariutti*

The image of a country can be perceived internationally by means of a plethora of dimensions: associations, impressions, beliefs, representations, schemes, feelings, interactions, experiences, inter alia. Dimensions of a country brand are undoubtedly multifaceted – social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, behavioural – as several participants are involved internally and externally. Additionally, the main five complexities of the country brand are the following: stakeholder-related issues; government involvement; interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary opportunities, and potential nation brand models. Furthermore, the temporal dimension plays an intrinsic role. In view of this complex scenario, research in regards to country brand image can be undertaken by two approaches – academically or by consultancy indexes. Evidently, academic research focuses on theoretical and methodological advances, creating new conceptual frameworks and appropriate philosophies. The country brand indexes developed by specialized consultancies are often based on global real-data available from worldwide institutions.


Due to the relevance of the distinctive role of each country in the global economy, a country’s image has become a fundamental topic in research into its status quo, competition, and progress. Therefore, a number of conceptual terminologies have attempted to advance themselves into theories as an evolution of this field of knowledge as follows.

‘Country promotion’ has been occasionally used since the beginning of the 20th century by the diplomatic bureaus of the United States of America and France, with no academic development. The first remarkable theoretical progress settled with the ‘country-of-origin’ theory was documented by the British researcher Robert Schooler; since then, COO is extensively researched in international business and international marketing by investigating the image of a country mostly using quantitative methods in specific industries. In 1965, Schooler concluded that the country-of-origin of a product could have an effect on a consumer’s opinion of the product. Although this principle has contributed to the literature, the opposite was also evidenced in further investigations. ‘Nation marketing’ was pioneered in 1987 by Philippe Kotler in the United States of America yet not widely researched in academia, In 1998, the public diplomatic consultant Simon Anholt in London, England originally coined ‘nation brand’. Nevertheless, the past thirty years have seen rapidly increased research in the field of place branding (e.g., identity and image of places, mostly cities and regions) in Europe and Asia. More recently, the field of place management indirectly supports reputation of places, including dimensions (but not limited to) physical, economic and cultural planning, creation of institutional capacity, redistributive policies and welfare.

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Furthermore, country brand and nation brand have been regularly used interchangeably in the literature for in-depth review depending on the purpose of the research country’s requirements or the researcher’s standpoint. Have said that, it can be briefly stated that ‘country brand’ usually concentrates on branding theories, elements (e.g., identity and image) and branding strategies while ‘nation brand’ especially focuses on diplomatic issues, political stances and economic implications with governmental participation. Debate continues about the specific strategies of each of them while research is growing in order to define models of country or nation brand. Nevertheless, studies about country brand, using principles from place branding research domain, became a solid international research domain after 2000, as countries around the world have been ‘units of analyses’ for varied research designs, theoretical perspectives, and governmental purposes.

Moving on to contemporary Brazil’s status quo – a period of pronounced social, political and economic changes – investigating its reputation abroad is vital for prosperity and improvement in every dimension of a country brand, possibly aligned to nation brand characterisations as well.

Brazil is a country with numerous positive and negative associations at the same time as favourable and unfavourable perceptions are recognised internationally. As a result, Brazil definitely has a dichotomous image, which means a puzzled, not solid and not resistant country brand – as I have concluded on my master’s degree at University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. More recently, authors have highlighted this ‘confusing’ perception of the country’s reputation abroad, for instance, Anholt (2015) points out that “Brazil is a country with a very powerful and distinctive image, associated with joy. But the nature of the reputation of the country is very light, so this touristic, decorative image is, unfortunately, the wrong one”.

Furthermore, there is a scarcity of studies about Brazil on this evolutional field of research; potential research on Brazil’s brand is urgently required due to the political, economic, and social crises in recent years. These apparent signs indicate a need to understand the various perceptions of Brazil’s brand image that exist among its several stakeholders (international community, citizens, government, and media, among others). To date, most studies are dedicated to investigate exports (Brazilian products), followed by studies in the tourism sector, which can be interpreted as an ‘exported service’ or not. Moreover, these particular studies are regularly quantitative or qualitative in regards to methods, followed by mixed-methods or conceptual papers. On the other hand, a systematic investigation of how a country brand image contributes to the reputation of a country is still lacking innovation and solidness. It is possible that new country brand models in combination with interdisciplinary studies may promote discoveries in the field. This scarcity of research indicates a need for investigating not only Brazil but also cities, regions and states applying these theories above summarised; precisely, just for records, there are 5,561 cities, five regions and twenty-six states in the country.

Hosting the Olympics 2016 in Rio de Janeiro may or may not influence people’s perceptions of Brazil, to some extent – favourably or unfavourably, in a short-term or long-turn, through deep-rooted associations or fresh associations with the country name. Again, studies are needed to evolve this interconnectedness research domain regarding country image.

By understanding Brazil’s brand image, it is possible to apply dynamic and constant strategies of country branding and nation branding, bringing authenticity to the country in the international business setting and in doing so, improving international economy and trade, developing diplomatic relations, advancing international marketing research, enhancing academic and educational exchange programs, and improving both national and global sustainability. After all, as said by Palin (2012, p.6), “Brazil, as I now know, is a lot more than sun, sea, and samba” after spending his 74-day journey in Brazil, from North to South traveling 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) for BBC documentaries.

Certainly, Brazil is much more than stereotyped images and impressions. Brazil is a young, immense and robust country, which is overcoming this complicated dichotomous moment by tackling difficulties, facing diversities and moving towards progress.

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*Fabiana Gondim Mariutti, associate member of the Institute of Place Management, is PhD candidate at Leeds Beckett University, United Kingdom and President of the Brazilian Culture Society, Leeds, UK.

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