February 2006
The Diplomat > Features > Romania's makeover strategy

Romania's makeover strategy

Permission to brand

With the Government likely to issue a pitch for the branding of Romania in the first half of this year, over the next few pages, ‘The Diplomat’ analyses the problems the country faces as it builds up a positive image

     Romania has a larger problem with its image than most of the latest batch of European Union accession countries.
     This has not been helped by the media, which tends to concentrate on the worse aspects of a country’s identity.
     International reportage of varying truth include stories on Romania’s hungry work migrants who cooked swans near a Viennese lake, street children who live in sewers and orphanages where directors steal charity money earmarked for infant welfare.
     This is what constitutes the window to Romania from most of the world and, especially, western Europe.
     Most of these people probably do not think of Romania as a large market, with a cheap labour force which is pretty much assured of EU accession by the end of this year, but as a country of illegal immigrants who smuggle themselves into the west in order to eat big white birds in city parks.
     Therefore there is a need to improve this image, for the sake of new investment, increasing tourism and changing Romania’s cultural and political standing in Europe.

Starting from zero

“Romania has so many problems in terms of perception that it becomes difficult to make an inventory,” says Valeriu Turcan, president of the Agency of Governmental Strategies, which spearheading the branding Romania campaign. “The difference between Romania and other countries is that its Communist past and its experiences right after 1989 have been much more negative and visible in Western media compared to the others.”
     Turcan cites the ‘Mineriade’, where miners traveled to Bucharest to violently break-up an anti-Neocommunist demonstration, the orphanages and Romanians who break laws abroad as image wreckers.
     “This picture is incomplete, out of date and extremely difficult to change,” he adds.
     Country branding expert Simon Anholt says that this problem exists in many transition economies.
     “Their brand is still strongly tainted with negative imagery acquired under Soviet influence,” he says, “and the majority of foreign publics have not yet updated their perceptions. The only reason why Bulgaria and Poland are doing better [than Romania] is because they are better organised and are doing something about it.”
     Every branding campaign is based on extolling the existing qualities of its products, which is good for Romania, says Anholt.
     “This is a better country than most people think,” he adds. “So the world
can be persuaded of the reality.”

Knowledge vacuum

     Children with AIDS, orphanages and the out-of-date ‘gypsy’ label seem to be the most common associations with this country.
     “Romania was a blank page after the Revolution and this was what was first communicated,” says Ioana Manea, managing partner at brand and communication firm Loco. “These things do not have the depth they used to have.”
     Communism and its fall-out also exercise a powerful hold over the western imagination.
     Visitors to Romania still bring packet soups and Mars bars, to use as currency. They are also scared to venture out after nine o’clock at night. Anthropologist Vintila Mihailescu, director of the award-winning Romanian Peasant’s Museum, says that compared to other ex-Communist countries in the region Romania still has, for the outside eye, a still strongly visible label of Communist country. Something the authorities and people have failed to change.
     “When a person, a group, a nation does not build itself an image, it is attributed one, the first one at hand,” he adds.
     Another problem is the vacuum of knowledge the west has of Romania.
     “Many free citizens of Europe are confused between Budapest and Bucharest and Romania and Bulgaria,” says Manea.
Zero recognition is the norm, says Bogdan Naumovici creative director of Leo Burnett Romania.
     “We don’t have an image or if we do it is a negative one created by foreigners’ experience with one or two Romanian thieves,” he says. “I don’t think that, when they hear Romania, foreigners suddenly think of something. We have no awareness.”
     Internationals are surprised by the country, such as Paul Nuber, Swiss-born head of Nestle Romania and vocal Romanian fan.
     “In spite of the socio-economic stresses, there is hardly any violence, if you compare Romania to some of its neighbours,” he says. “There are a lot of success stories of Romanians in and outside Romania, but they are just not covered by the media. It’s bizarre.”

Identity crisis

     Before a country knows how to project a new image, it must be clear about its identity. Sincerity and objectivity are essential.
     “We are afraid to define our own image,” says Ionut Datcu, marketing manager of training and consultancy firm Interact, which has undertaken research into the Romanian consciousness.
     Part of this problem, Datcu argues, is that people do not feel responsible for their own actions. From his firm’s research, he found only seven out of 1,076 Romanians said that what happens in their lives is the result of their own actions.
     The rest put it down to fate or external factors.
     “During 50 years of Communism, we were not able to do anything against this highly organised and crushing regime,” says Manea. “All we could do was make fun of ourselves. Let me give you an example.
     There is an old Romanian joke. What does a foreigner coming to Romania say first? ‘It’s such a lovely country, too bad it’s inhabited.’”
However this could lead to what Dostoyevsky calls the ‘demon of irony’, where laughing at one’s self becomes a form of cowardice against facing up to one’s own responsibilities.
     Mihailescu agrees that Romanians’ self image is terrible.
     “They don’t think too much of themselves, so they aren’t able to do good things together with their neighbours,” he says, “because they start with the thought that the neighbour is going to cheat on them.”
     Consequently, he believes that a preliminary condition for putting together a coherent positive image is that Romanians regain their self confidence and add a pinch of humour.
     Coupled with this, ironically, there exists a widespread illusion about Romania’s greatness.
     “We deceive ourselves that Nadia Comaneci meant something to the world and that everyone knows Hagi,” says Naumovici. “Romanians are too optimistic and see Romania as the most beautiful place in the world.
     Education is partly to blame for this. “We [Romanians] were taught during primary school that we beat the Turks,” he adds, “that we can repair a car with a piece of wire, while the Germans had to wait for a spare part to come from the factory.”

Too fast to brand

     But with a country changing so quickly, it is hard for Romanians to be sure of their identity.
     “The problem is that we have to invent a country brand for a country which is not at all united,” says Adrian Cioroianu, historian and PNL senator.
     Bogdan Branzas, general manager Cluj-Napoca based brand and communication firm Branzas says this massive social disintegration, where everyone is rushing to make a lot of money and buy a lot of things, means people do not look at the long-term view.
     “Everybody drives fast, gains fortunes fast and loses them just as fast,” he says.
     “In this context, before starting to project Romania abroad we should start to find out what keeps us together, except for the borders and except for the fact that we consider ourselves a fucked-up nation.”
     George Butunoiu, managing partner at search consultants Alexander Hughes, has undertaken extensive research into the Romanian mentality. He has canvassed many foreign firms about what they believe are the problems with working with Romanians.
     “Superficiality,” says Butoniu. He adds Romanians have a reputation for taking it a bit too easy, not being punctual, not taking responsibility for their actions and being disorganised. “If we are going to build a brand we need to be honest about our country. The way to build a brand is to gain credibility.” He calls this a ‘very long’ process.
     Although Cioroianu says Romania’s image abroad cannot be changed overnight, the country should not be discouraged by its bad image built up by the activity of a few delinquents abroad:
     “Who remembers nowadays that in the time of the Visconti movie ‘Rocco and his Brothers’ (1960), the Italians were raging across Europe from Austria to Germany and France searching for work, while nowadays Italy is the image of fine restaurants and the perfume of tomatoes?”

Selling quality

What are the attributes that a Romanian promotional campaign could capitalise on?
Bucharest city centre’s
proposed Esplanada
Project aims to be a
symbol of a modern
dynamic country

     “The attribute at the core of our future branding concept will also have to be distinctive on the global market,” says Valeriu Turcan, president of the Agency of Governmental Strategies, “otherwise it will not be interesting enough no matter how much money we invest in making it visible.”
     From a consumer’s perspective, international branding expert Simon Anholt says there are tourism, culture, beautiful landscapes and improvements in products and services.
     While for business, he says there is an improving investment climate, enlightened governance and a high level of education and intelligence.
But managing partner at Alexander Hughes George Butunoiu is not so enthusiastic.
     “Romania is a normal country and that it is not peculiar,” he says. “There is really nothing significant than what other countries have, such as Poland, Hungary or Russia. You won’t be able to build something spectacular in Romania, from a cultural, social or economic point of view, it’s a waste of time and resources.
     If those rebranding the country manage to project Romania as a normal country, then it will be a success, he argues.
     “Rather than build on something exceptional that does not exist.” Support comes from local advertising leader, Bogdan Naumovici, Leo Burnett’s creative director in Romania, who says everything in Romania can be found elsewhere and in higher quality.
     “I think we should start rebranding from the fact that we are not so cool,” he says.
     Romania does not have a series of products that the country has cultivated, says Ovidiu Iuliu Marian, president of the National Authority for Tourism. “For example, when you say Switzerland you automatically think of watches or Schweitzer.
     We have to see what’s the first thing that comes to mind when we mention the word Romania.”
     In tourism, the one undeniable fact here is the wetland paradise of the Danube Delta.
     “I don’t know how many people know Nadia Comaneci or Hagi,” he says.
     “There are names in the sport world, but I don’t think they will be a legend for ever. Dracula has chances of living forever because it is already a legend.”
     He argues that anti-ageing cream Gerovital has more effect than Dracula or Hagi.
     After asking the opinions of many marketing experts and leading figures in other fields, The Diplomat debated some of the qualities that Romania could build upon.

1. Going forward, looking sharp

     Experts agree one of the main competences of Romania is its young and eager people.
     “We have a youth which can hardly wait to conquer Europe and I think it will, with us, have a capacity to adapt that has saved us many times throughout history and I am sure it will save us in the future,” says Adrian Cioroianu, historian and PNL senator. The brand should be centred on the future, he says, “because only the ones who look ahead can walk straight.”
     Stefan Liute, co-founder of Iasibased branding firm Grapefruit, says the last three years have seen a surge in entrepreneurship. The benefits of work migration are beginning to emerge.
     “Romanians used to have a reputation for working with little motivation in their own country, but were willing to work in seven-day, 12 hour shifts in Milan or Salamanca,” he says.
     Returning home after a few years in Spain or Italy, Romanians are coming back with experience and knowledge which could contribute towards a reinvigorated sense of entrepreneurship at home.

2. Who figures?

     Most broad-minded Europeans can reel off a list of personalities associated with Romania. This usually includes Nadia Comaneci, Ceausescu, Hagi and Maria Tanase. They will know Constantin Brancusi and Eugene Ionesco, but will probably think they are both French. But these people should not spearhead a marketing campaign, argues Loco’s Ioana Manea. “This is what people already know and it’s not enough to make them come,” she says. “Known information cannot be a driver.” However Romania could sell itself as a country of some (indeterminate at present) quality and then show these figures as support evidence of that quality, she says.

3. People: adaptable and open

     “Romanians are like a sponge,” says Ionut Datcu, marketing manager at training and consultancy firm Interact. “We want to absorb more. We are eager to embrace new things. We are willing to learn and learn fast.”
     Nestle Romania’s Paul Nuber says Romania could fix on promoting its own people, whom he describes as being generally warm, nice and romantic.
     Anthropologist Vintila Mihailescu argues that Romanians have a certain ‘sociability’. It is this Romanian vibe that has attracted many foreign businessmen to establish their companies and their homes in Romania, “because they feel good here”, even though maybe they could earn more or have careers that ascend faster elsewhere.

4. Transition: a strength

     Things are not perfect and perfection must not be one factor for sale.
     Poland has capitalised on marketing itself as a nation that is liberated and changing.
     Romania could also see transition and flexibility as an asset, not evidence of instability.
     “There is an energy of change in the country that foreigners notice,” says Loco’s Ioana Manea. “After two or three days in the country, all foreigners begin asking about investment opportunities.
     They want to come back. The place is teaming with life.” But she says this is hard to be translated into ammunition for a communication campaign. “It is more of a ‘brand experience’,” she says.

5. Dracula: don’t count him out

     “When I went to New York to talk to journalists about Romania, they asked me what I could speak about. I said - the beautiful Danube Delta. They said - not interested. I said - the monasteries of Bucovina. They said - not interested. I said - the wonderful wooden architecture of Maramures. Again: not interested. I said: there’s also Dracula. Stop press! They replied. Get him on the radio. Talk. They gave me more than just a few minutes. Keep talking. Keep talking about Dracula.”
     Nicolae Paduraru is now president of the Transylvanian Dracula Society and organises tours of Romania’s mysterious heritage.
     If Romania is looking to attract attention, it cannot pass on the chance to use Dracula, even if he may be a mythic creature created by an Irishman who never set foot in Transylvania.
     But this is hard to convince most Romanians.
     “What should we do with Dracula?” asks branding director Bogdan Branzas. “Throw him in the rubbish bin.”

Kitsch sucks

     Romania has not made the most of Dracula. Firstly: there has been a lack of sophistication. Dracula tends only to be present in cheap plastic chintz, such as grinning from mugs or attached to the name of a dull bar.
     “I don’t like him, but he cannot be cast away,” says anthropologist Vintila Mihailescu. “A low quality promotion of the Dracula brand cannot attract, or, if it does, it does not attract in the mid and long term.”
     In 2004, there were also plans to open a Dracula theme park in Snagov. This was cancelled by President Basescu to the cheers of everyone except the park’s own shareholders.
     Paduraru says that Romania should entertain its tourists with a frightening experience, but the industry does not know how to entertain. “We don’t make Dracula scary for foreigners,” he says. “We do not know how to create a myth.”

Teething problems

     Tourists are often confused between Vlad Tepes and Dracula. The first is a 15th century leader who killed thousands to establish law and order, the second an image of violent perversity. Two years ago, striking doctors and nurses held up banners detailing their desired terms and conditions, along with images of Vlad Tepes because he is a symbol of justice.
     It is unlikely they would similarly use a picture of Dracula.
     Tours during and since Ceausescu’s period have promised revelations about Dracula’s truth and legend, but only offered the history of Vlad Tepes’s life.
     “The people on the tour did not see the vampire count,” says Paduraru.
     “They asked the guides: what have you done with him?”
     Rather than making associations with Tepes which are mostly unfounded, Dracula could instead be attached to another mysterious figure entrenched in local folklore.
     Historian Adrian Cioroianu says this could include the Flyer (Zburatorul), a fairytale male character who visits young girls in their dreams or its related myth of the Morning Star (Luceafarul), a celestial being is willing to sacrifice his immortality for the love of a human.

6. Country matters

     “We continue to be, by far, Europe’s most rural and agricultural country,” says Vintila Mihailescu, director of the Romanian Peasant’s Museum.
     He cites Greece as an example of a country which, two decades ago, had a village culture with an uncompetitive infrastructure and agriculture that made itself a tourist target, while retaining its traditional qualities. “Greece has transformed its handicap in value,” he says.
     Romania’s loose and backward lifestyle could then become an asset.
     But small entrepreneurs in tourism have to go through bureaucratic labour pains before starting a business. “In Austria, the countryside is beautiful, the small villages have nicely furbished houses and they all have guest rooms,” says Paul Nuber. “But they don’t need a million authorisations to welcome tourists into their house, sleeping them in comfortable beds and giving them a great breakfast. They don’t need 15 stamps, they put a sign outside and basta.”
     The other problem is over-modernisation. Branzas says that some tourists looking for wild winter holidays in rural Maramures, are encountered not with bizarre tradition and food grown on the premises, but doubleglazed windows, packet ham, foilwrapped cheese and packaged milk.
     There is also a lack of continuity in the countryside as many of the most beautiful Romanian vistas are marred by derelict industry, over-enthusiastic building work, widescale poverty and a lot of garbage.
     “If someone took you in a helicopter and dumped you in the Bucovina monasteries and then flew you out again, you would gain a good impression,” says Butunoiu. “What’s around the monasteries isn’t consistent with what you see in the monasteries. They don’t have the same atmosphere or the same spirit.”

7. Wine, water and beer: waiting for their cue

     “Romania is producing worldclass wines,” says Vienna-based wine journalist Darrel Joseph, who recently took a comprehensive tour of Romania’s regions. “But this seems to be on a small scale at the moment.”
     The potential is vast thanks to indigineous grapes and innovative winemakers, he says.
     The local variety with huge potential is Feteasca Neagra, which he argues can blend well. “This seems capable of producing red wines that range from young, fresh and fruity, to deep and highly individual in character, with an ability to express terroir,” says Joseph.
     He cites Prahova Valley, Black Peak, Carl Reh Winery, Val Duna and Murfatlar among the better brands for this grape. Other local varieties include Tamaiosa Romaneasca, Grasa de Cotnari and Feteasca Regala from Prince Stirbey. Even international grapes, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon,. Joseph says, “should not be played down”
     But Branzas believes that at home there is a lack of appreciation.
     “In Romania we continue to drink red wines with fat meat, white wines with fish and the consumption of sweet wine is still unbelievably high. In Europe they drink dry wines as appetisers and generally prefer lighter wines, while we have red wines heavy with tannin, which are not that much sought for anymore [abroad].”
     Romanian wines, and those adapted to the western tastes, are being produced and sold abroad.
     “Maybe Romanian wines are not losers, but they are losers as they are now,” Branzas adds. But he concedes the potential exists.
     There are also tried and tested brands, not all owned by Romanians, but based here, which have a global appeal, such as Gerovital, anti-virus software BitDefender and beer Ursus. Borsec is the one of the oldest mineral waters in Europe and keeps winning award for its taste: this could be an east European Perrier.

8. So near, so spa

     Romania’s vast network of spas has potential, but would find it hard to be sold in its current form.
     “Although the quality of services is missing, the springs exists, have a certain infrastructure and it won’t take long for them to be branded,” says Ovidiu Iuliu Marian.
     He says they are currently “wrongly addressed” to pensioners.
     Globally, spa tourism has two targets: 30 year-old business people with high intelligence who need week-end wellbeing and the sick.
     “All over the world spa tourism is dedicated to the wealthy segment because of the costs,” he says. “In Romania unfortunately we are addressing old people with low incomes and the treatment is subsidised by the state. We are promoting a product to the wrong segment.” Naumovici believes spa tourism has a future. “Maybe it is not the youth we have to convince to come to this country, but the pensioners.”
     But Hungary has started marketing itself as ‘the land of healing waters’ and is a lot further along the line of developing its spas.

9. Culture vultures

     Sighisoara and Sibiu can continue to attract cultural tourists, experts argue. This will be bolstered by Sibiu’s status as European Capital of Culture in 2007. “Sibiu is not a product which will be promoted forever, but in 2007 it will get much attention and Romania will see the benefits,” Marian says.
     But public infrastructure is a problem. “People can go to Bran Castle,” says Manea, “but if they cannot find a decent public toilet in the area, they will never come back.”
     Most attractive destinations also include the Merry Cemetery in Maramures, the monasteries of Bucovina and Peles Castle in Sinaia.
     But Romania’s most celebrated artist, Constantin Brancusi, cannot be used in promotional campaigns of the country, despite the fact that his priceless works are exhibited in Bucharest, Craiova and the parks of Targu Jiu. The copyright is owned by the descendent of the executor of Brancusi’s will, a Romanian living in Canada.
     “Even if I wanted to promote Brancusi, I couldn’t,” says Marian.

Tough calls

A country can have many qualities, but some of these will fail to make a noise on an international stage, as we examine the attributes in which Romania probably should not invest

     Features which are not worth bothering with are those which are “boring”, because people will pay them no attention, says brand expert Simon Anholt.
     “This is why objectivity is such an important quality in nation branding,” he adds.
     If countries are competing for the attention of tourists, foreign investors and political influence, they have to face up to some bitter truths: that some qualities do not differentiate one nation from others.
     “Take Romania’s creative life,” says Loco’s Ioana Manea. “The country is full of young and talented artists, writers and musicians. But most countries have an active artistic life. You can’t put it in the communication campaign.”
     Bucharest, experts argue, is a hard task to sell above other European capitals and it will be engaged in a heavy redevelopment programme over the next ten years. Ski-ing is also not expected to be a large driver for a great number of people, due to its limited offering and lack of amenities in comparison with the Alps.

1. Food for thought

     Some cuisines are world class, such as those from Italy, France and Thailand. Some are not, such as German, British and Russian.
     On the whole, Romanian cuisine is “good, but not great”, says Manea.
     On the plus side, it is natural and tasty. The tomatoes are super.
     On the minus side, it is heavy and similar to the cuisine of its neighbours.
     “Take a look on what the world is eating today. Tourists eat light and healthy food, with a lot of broccoli and rucola,” says Naumovici.
     “Maybe if we positioned ourselves against the trend we have a chance in this segment. Romanians cook with a lot of pork and dough boiled in oil with sour cream and jam. Do we want to re-brand ourselves as a destination for fat people?”

2. Stuck in tradition

     While hands-on activities, such as selling tourists the chance to make their own pots, cut grass for a day (for fun) or ride horses, may be profitable, building a country brand on its traditions is, experts say, almost doomed to failure. Romania will have to compete with countries, such as Greece and Spain, which have constructed a traditional myth far more successfully than Romania. “At the European Parliament, we, as a country, made a better impression when we came with jazz singer Anca Parghel than when we came with traditional costumes,” says Adrian Cioroianu.

3. Hospitality assured?

     Building a brand around hospitality is a no-win situation. If France builds its image around the Eiffel Tower, visitors to Paris can be sure they will see the Eiffel Tower. But if Romania builds its brand around hospitality and tourists come to Romania expecting this, one taxi driver who rips them off or waiter who fails to serve them in half an hour could
destroy this image in an instant.
     “Romania will move from an industrial to a service economy,” says Ionut Datcu. “But we don’t know how to care about our customers.”
     Most agree that Romanians are hospitable in their own home. “Part of this hospitality is kindness.
     Part of it is ego,” says Manea. “People will always have food available, which is good. But this is also because poverty is a shame and you must not show it to others.”

4. Not making waves

     The last time Bogdan Branzas went to the seaside he swore he would not step there for the next 30 years. Despite the fact that he stayed in a fourstar hotel with a pool, the room stank and so did the hotel’s service, “from the moment I announced that I would pay by credit card,” he says.
     Tough competition exists from France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey, countries with a strong infrastructure and image. “At most we can compare with Bulgaria, but it already has an advantage on us,” Marian says.
     “The seaside is an important tourism product for Romania, but its season is limited and I think that we shouldn’t put all our hopes in it.”

5. Girls, girls, girls

     Capitalising on Romania as a nation of “beautiful girls” could have problems. It may imply that women are a trade commodity. This would be distasteful when Romania is a country where teenagers are sold as sex slaves to illegal western bordellos. “We can be proud of the beautiful girls who can be seen on the streets,” says Naumovici. “But in this world, with the fight against discrimination, I don’t think it is okay to say ‘come to Romania and see the beautiful girls’. It could be a destination for single men looking for beautiful girls. What should be taken home as a souvenir? Gonorrhoea?”

Facing the youth

Will the young save Romania? We asked a bunch of cosmopolitan teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 what they thought about their country, hoping they wouldn’t bite

     Nothing obvious to incite national pride. Frustration at being treated like beggars at the border. Confusion at why Romania cannot sort out its own problems without outside help. This is the view from bright young things.
     “If I were not in Romania,” says Fenn. “I wouldn’t find it cool. Because if you don’t know it, it sucks. In Paris I heard someone say: ‘You should be afraid of the little Romanian children walking around stealing stuff.’ Outside, we are losers, thieves blah blah blah. Inside not everyone’s a thief.”
     “This lack of information goes both ways,” says Irina. “When you know just a little bit about our history, traditions and architecture, you think: ‘Wow, I really want to go there’. When you come here, though, you start feeling bad about it again.”
     “Most who are good at something, leave,” says Fenn “They think: ‘Oooh America’ and don’t stay and be creative in Romania. Most people who could do something here just go to America and are mediocre.”
“Motivation is a bad point in Romania,” adds Alex. “People are still in the Communist mentality that things will work out for themselves. Other people will take care of things. When they are motivated, it’s because other people have told them to be.”

Third-world class

     There is a worry that when Romanians go abroad, foreigners see them as coming from a third world country.
     “We have to show hundreds of Euros to get into France,” says Alex. “It makes me feel it’s very intrusive of human rights. Because you have to tell them where you are going, how long you will be there, what family you will be with, show an invitation that has to be translated into Romanian. If this is what they had in mind when they opened the customs, this is really not right.”

Money talks

     The nouveau riche does not seem to be improving the country.
     “People are doing almost anything for money,” says Anca. “We really suffer from the underdog concept. Because that’s the way we’ve been educated so far. That we’re a third world country that doesn’t deserve much and we have to change it in accordance with the US and the EU.”
     “It would be better if we could find a way of bettering the country ourselves instead of just following the EU model,” says Alex.
     “And instead of leaving the country, staying here and solving the problems,” adds Anca.

Tour bore

     Although the teens believe the country is blessed with mountains and seaside, tourism is better when run by small family-style businesses.
     “I don’t think the seaside is a very good place to go,” says Alex. “It needs some development. There are some nice places. But generally it is bad. The monasteries get a bit boring after a while. They are all alike.”
     Tourism and entertainment offers opportunities for foreign money.
     “But making a Romania become a carnival?” says Andrei. “I don’t like that.”
     “We could exploit Dracula more,” says Irina. “But not in a theme park. I don’t think Dracula should go Disney.”
     “If it was a role play,” says Alex. “It would be a really great thing to go on, but it could go very well or very badly.”
     “Should we scare tourists?”
     “We could scare them away,” says Andrei.

Know future

     Romania should focus more on exploiting natural resources itself, the teenagers say. They do not understand why Romania cannot do this. Why foreigners have to come and take a cut.
     “Everyone thinks that the EU is going to be so fabulous,” says Alex. “But the fact is all the businesses coming from the EU are going to exploit us.”
     Asked whether anyone in the room favours EU accession, there is a silence.
     Then a couple of girls shake their heads.
     So far, they have not seen the country develop.
     “It’s good to have a role model,” says Alex. “But the problem is we stick to it so much it becomes an idol.”
     “Thinking it’s going to be better for us is not helping us,” says Oana. “We just sit and wait for things to happen.”

Interviews by Michael Bird

Image auction

Branding Romania could soon be available to an international firm, but the job comes with many risks attached

     On a London Underground platform, a commuter’s field of vision is sometimes monopolised by a large advertising hoarding titled: ‘Romania Simply Surprising’.
     The ‘M’ of Romania is drawn in the shape of a pair of mountains, under which are two blue lines representing the sea.
     Around this logo are four pictures: a valley between mountains with a dam and a large pool of water. A young girl on skis on a mountainside. A group of thatched parasols arranged on a sandy beach. The savings bank CEC’s 19th century headquarters on Calea Victoriei, Bucharest.
This is the official packaging that Romania is currently offering the world.
     The Government-sponsored ‘Romania Simply Surprising’ campaign begun in May 2001 and has since cost the state around 20 million USD.
But its end is in sight.
     “There are products with a short or long life cycle,” says Ovidiu Iuliu Marian, new president of the National Authority for Tourism. “I believe that ‘Romania Simply Surprising’ is in the first category and the brand has reached its maturity.”
     Some branding companies are not overly enthusiastic about this international campaign. Part of their criticism is labelled at the adjective ‘surprising’.
     “Rwanda was surprising in 1991, Bosnia was surprising in 1995,” says Stefan Liute of branding firm Grapefruit. “Being surprising per se is not potentially enticing.”
     In terms of its effectiveness, Liute is also suspicious.
     “No tangible research from it was made public,” he says. “In the last 16 years the Government has seen the management of image and identity as an accessory.
     It’s never been taken seriously.
     This was a campaign for campaign’s sake. Not part of a bigger strategy. There were no long term objectives. No more campaigns followed afterwards.”
     Marian has spoken with large Romanian and foreigner tourism operators about this campaign and received ‘mixed feelings’.
     In 2005 the Ministry of Tourism invested around eight million USD in Romania’s image around. Half of this money was spent on promoting the country abroad through Romania’s 18 tourism operators. The same amount of money is forecast for this year.
     “As long as there are positive opinions the brand has some effects,” Marian says, “and until Romania joins EU this brand should remain.”
     The time now, Marian says, is for a debate on this brand and the opportunity to create a new one.
     Separate to ‘Simply Surprising’ is the notion of creating a Romanian brand, which emerged after the 2000 elections, when the Social Democratic Party (PSD) took power. According to one branding specialist, the project was initially abandoned, not because of lack of funds, but because it “did not have anything to base its campaign upon”.
     Marian adds that although “at an institutional level everyone has done their job,” there has been no unifying concept in the past and it did not take into account long term objectives.

Tender prey

     Country branding is in vogue from Senegal to Bulgaria. Some nations have brands forced upon them without trying: Ukraine and the Orange Revolution. Some try hard to create a brand and succeed: Spain as the country of sand, sea, excitement and relaxation.
     Now international experts are being called upon to come up with a new concept for the country.
     The pitch to brand Romania is estimated to be worth around two to three million Euro over two to three years, according to one branding expert.
     The Government will give this to an international firm with experience of rebranding countries, ruling out all Romanian firms. But it is likely that a company, like, say Enterprise IG or Saffron, will need a local partner for its research and experience.
     Coordinating the tender is the Agency for Governmental Strategies (Agentia pentru Strategii Guvernamentale), under its president Valeriu Turcan.
     The tender’s announcement will be released in major branding and marketing magazines. The winner will need to provide a whole branding strategy including concept and communication.
     This will include tactics for advertising on major international TV networks and in global newspapers, a presence in international fairs and on the Internet, as well as travel agencies in places like London and Berlin. In choosing the winner, the Government is likely to have the final word.
     As we went to press, the brief for the rebranding campaign had been written.
     It was in the process of going to the Government for verification, where it will also need to gain cross-party support.
     There was no date available on when the tender will be issued, but insiders say it is likely to be between February and May.

Waiting game

     However the tender was meant to be issued last year and branding firms are not holding their breath for a final Government decision on when it will go ahead.
     One branding expert says that, in the majority of cases, rebranding a country fails in eight out of ten cases to change the perception of a country.
     “There can be no successful rebranding campaign under the auspices of the Government,” says the expert.
     In Poland, the image makeover is under the jurisdiction of the trade and commerce department, while in Portugal it was led by business associations. In Romania, there have been moves by leading figures in the business community to take on this responsibility, but this has not happened.
     One expert says the problem is that Governments can switch from one month to the next and cannot offer continuity, adding: “Each company does a rebranding exercise with that firm’s owner – not its operational director. Therefore the project should be under the power of the President. It’s the only way to protect the success of the programme.”
     Simon Anholt says that what the campaign needs is “a policy of consistent and high-quality innovation in all sectors, public and private. Telling people how great you are is propaganda: proving it is nation branding.”
     But Stefan Liute says the campaign should focus more on the business community and, to a lesser extent, Government agencies worldwide.
     “Business people are the first to come and then set up shop and send information about a country back home,” he adds. A strong PR component is necessary, Liute argues, at events in Romania and abroad. This means getting the diplomatic missions abroad on board. “In the past they have been inept at setting up such programmes beyond giving out statistical data and distributing leaflets at events,” he says. “It has been robotic activity.”
     Word of mouth, according to Ioana Manea, would be the ideal marketing tool for the strategy – as it is with almost any campaign. She says this means enlisting Romanians to act as ambassadors, letting them engage with foreigners as much as possible and thus making tem curious. “The main hero is the Romanian – his and her good and bad sides,” she says. This could be done with Vox Pops on the Internet or through pen pals who could answer foreigners’ email questions. ‘Come talk to Romania’ it could profess.
     Who could resist?

Report by Anca Pol, Ana Maria
Smadeanu and Michael Bird


     Bulgaria, which has had a branding programme since 2001, came up with the catchphrase ‘Take it easy’. “The phrase was meant to attract attention within the branding debate and to challenge the morose seriousness of past deliberations and image related products,” says Leah Davcheva, Cultural Fellow, Counterpoint at the British Council and one of the spearheads of the campaign. “One component was a lighter and humour-involving perspective.” This was not one aimed at tourism, but developing a brand that ‘opens up a dialogue’, she argues. “Tourism is only a one of the many sectors that can benefit from a successful branding campaign.”
     Turcan sees similarities between the two countries.
     “Both have to a certain extent similar problems caused by their lack of decisive reforms in the past,” he says. “Both Romania and Bulgaria will enjoy a better perception once their progress is strong enough and the face of the country changes decisively.”


     A smaller country with fewer people and arguably less natural resources, Hungary is much better at making its image known than Romania.
     Its logo, a green and a red heart next to its name, seems to denote the fact that the nation is at the ‘heart’ of Europe. Spa tourism is also the subject of its ongoing campaign.
     But the country has a built-up infrastructure that lends any branding campaign more support.
     “When I pass the border at Bors [Arad county], I immediately see the difference,” says Bogdan Branzas. “I see a different quality of road and of
houses, I see well organised villages and lawns with cut grass, I see clean cars, less garbage on the streets, super-polite waiters, ok prices. At least you have civilization there. You add some goulash and some Tokay and that’s it.”


     “Poland has always had a much better image than ours,” says Branzas. “They just needed to build some more to it, whereas we need to lay the foundation.” Poland is now marketed with a logo of a red and white kite flying in the air. The K of ‘Polska’ is a stick man and the font uses the same organic lettering of the ‘Solidarnosc’ logo, reimagined by DDB. The phrase below: ‘Poland: Europe is Bigger.’