This post is part of a series about “How does the performance of a national football team impact on the external perception of a nation brand?” You can find the previous 3 posts here:
A World Cup is dominated by the outstanding individuals, they could be players like Özil or managers like Maradona. They are not only outstanding performers for their teams, but for the rest of the world, they become the face of the country. They’ll define how – in this case – Germany and Argentina are being seen. And that leads us nicely into this post….
The individual is the strongest ambassador for a nation brand
A team (and therefore a nation) can be represented by one outstanding performer, just remember Roger Milla dancing at the corner flag and the impact this image had on the perception of Cameroon.
The citizens themselves are the brand. The strongest representative of a nation brand and biggest influencer of the external perception are famous individual citizens. Individual star players are the embodiment of the national football team. While teams may be respected, only individuals receive the strongest form of admiration and will be remembered even long after the actual event.
Individuals are often more important than the team and in extreme cases the public may transfer the individual’s values onto the nation brand. Interestingly, the individual player will always be assessed against the existing perceptions and stereotypes and all of his behaviour will be interpreted through the existing perceptions. Nevertheless the individual player will still have substantial power to influence the external perception of the nation brand.
It’s possible that such a performer can become the anchor of perception and the personalisation of a nation. The individual becomes the shorthand of the brand. His actions and behaviour, his image overrides the image and perception of the nation and – at least for some time – becomes the brand per se. Consequently it decreases the level of the anyway very limited control over the nation brand even further as an individual star cannot be controlled.
The individual as the personalisation of the nation brand
David Beckham, for example, stands for Brand Beckham and Brand England. His brand values are being transferred onto the nation brand. So whatever he does or says influences the way non-English people perceive England. At the height of his prowess, for the external perception, he was Brand England. It has to be said, however, that he’s one of only a handful of athletes in the world with such a strong influence. That’s also the reason why celebrities are being used as brand spokes people or in commercials.
It’s interesting to note that given the fact that individuals are the personalisation of the nation brand, no official guidance on behaviour and representation of the nation is given to the players.
With football players becoming celebrities in their own right, their impact on the nation brand will increase in importance, which highlights the lack of control a nation has over its brand, especially as nation brands do not have the power to control who will become a famous representative. The adoption of one specific individual as the brand representative leads to other dilemmas: are they representative of the entire population? What happens if their reputation gets tarnished (especially as they are seldom replaceable as brand personalities are in the corporate world)?
The synthesis of the research culminates in to the following point: the most influential method of nation branding is public diplomacy by individual citizens, be they well known players or individual fans, interacting with other citizens of other nations. The effectiveness of this public diplomacy depends on the level of pride, ownership and voluntary participation of the individual citizen towards his or her own nation brand.
This post focused on the individual, the next post will show that the football played by a national football team is a mirror of the society of that nation. It’ll be published on Wednesday, 16th of June, the first time Spain will perform at the World Cup.