Beedie research shows freefall of Italy’s national brand linked to exploits of outgoing PM Silvio Berlusconi

Nov 09, 2011

In the wake of the announcement from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that he will be stepping down from his post, recent Beedie School of Business research points to his exploits as having a major impact on the image and reputation of his country.

As national brands go, it has historically been hard to beat that of Italy’s. The country is renowned for its rich cultural life, one that attracts tourists, investors and migrants from around the world every year. However, the recent research shows that this coveted national brand may be in decline because of the actions of its most prominent politician – a lesson that other countries should take heed of.

The study from Beedie PhD marketing student Kirk Plangger shows how a country’s brand — which government marketers pour millions of dollars into annually — can be negatively impacted by the actions of its national politicians.

The study was published in the August issue of Journal of Public Affairs.

Plangger examined the freefall of Italy’s national brand in the past five years in the context of the exploits of longstanding Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the political cartoons that have skewered him in the wake of a number of political scandals that have beset his time in office.

According to the study, “a national-branding strategy is grounded in the vision of political leaders, especially the head of government or state. As the Italian case has shown, the political and even social actions of government leaders can have significant effects on the perceived national brand equity.”

Plangger authored the study with Alessandro Bigi (Lulea University of Technology, Sweden), Michelle Bonera (Universita degli studi di Brescia, Italy) and Colin Campbell (Monash University, Australia). He notes that the cartoons examined were a reflection of a much-broader response to his troubles in political office. “They are evidence of international sentiment against him,” said Plangger.

“There has been so much negative press around him, so we wanted to look at what this might be doing to Italy’s brand,” said Plangger. “We felt that his impact on Italy’s national brand was significant.”

The researchers note that Italy had the world’s top-rated brand in 2005, as ranked by the annual Country Brand Index that is published by FutureBrand. The nation has since dropped out of the Top 10 countries, to number 12.

“Political leaders attract more media attention than business, export brands, or tourism, because of the immediate implications of what they say or do,” notes the study. “Therefore, political leaders expose their countries to global audiences and promote travel or investment in their respective nation.”


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