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“This picture is incomplete, out of date and extremely difficult to change,” he adds.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.”
Children with AIDS, orphanages and
the out-of-date ‘gypsy’ label seem to be
the most common associations with this
“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.”
Before a country knows how to project
a new image, it must be clear about
its identity. Sincerity and objectivity are
“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
“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?”
What are the attributes that a Romanian promotional campaign could capitalise on?
Project aims to be a
symbol of a modern
“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
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.
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
4. Transition: a strength
Things are not perfect and perfection
must not be one factor for
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Although the teens believe the country
is blessed with mountains and seaside,
tourism is better when run by small
“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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
A smaller country with fewer people
and arguably less natural resources,
Hungary is much better at making
its image known than Romania.
“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.’