Brand strategist Peter Economides explains why this is the perfect time to overhaul country’s image
By Nick Malkoutzis
Debt growing, unemployment spiking and crime on the rise as
politicians bicker over the dying embers of a country that has lost the
trust of its European partners: If Greece were a product, you would be
pulling it out of stores, taking it off shelves and dumping whatever
stock you had left. Or maybe not. Maybe you would have the crazy idea
that this is just the right moment to rebrand your flagging product and
sow the seeds of success.
Brand strategist Peter Economides knows
about taking brands at their lowest ebb and turning them into
world-beaters. He was part of the team that helped create Apple’s “Think
Different” campaign in 1997. At that point, the computer manufacturer
was on the wane -- the public and the media had lost interest and the
firm’s finances were in a mess. The campaign, featuring iconic
20th-century figures such as Maria Callas and Muhammad Ali, transformed
Apple’s image and set it on the way to becoming one of the world’s
largest companies today.
Economides believes that Greece is at the
point where an inspired and properly managed rebranding campaign could
turn it into the “Apple of the Mediterranean.”
“I know that a
country is not a computer or software but there are lessons from
branding that can be applied,” he told Kathimerini English Edition.
“Branding rests on sociology, psychology and anthropology and if we
believe in those disciplines, then we can talk about fixing nations.”
a conference in Thessaloniki on Friday, Economides presented his ideas
on what is holding Greece back and how the country could change the way
it is perceived. He received an enthusiastic reception at the event and
since then, his presentation has gone viral on the Internet. By Tuesday
evening, more than 20,000 people had viewed it via the
www.slideshare.net site alone.
The brand strategist says that his
presentation -- which describes Greece as “one of the greatest brands
never to be branded” -- was born from an article he wrote last year
about “reimagining the future” of Greece. The presentation is an
uplifting look at the country’s potential -- its history, natural beauty
and people -- but it does not shy away from being totally blunt about
the dire situation Greece finds itself in today. Perhaps the most
telling point of his presentation is a look at the result of searches
using Google: A search for “Ancient Greece” brings up 15.6 million
results while searching for “Greece crisis” leads to 224 million
Economides says that any effort to transform Greece’s
image must begin by recognizing what has gone wrong and just how badly
it has gone wrong. “The presentation is brutally honest,” he says. “Our
image is sick right now, really sick. Branding starts with the truth.”
Greece needed to reach this low point to take a look at itself and
regroup, Economides argues, while offering one of the most succinct
analyses of the Greek economic crisis you are likely to hear. “In 2004,
we were at the apex of feeling good. We had that incredible opening
ceremony at the Athens Olympics, which for me was probably the best
Greek narrative I’ve seen in my life. It was the first time we managed
to reconcile the past, the present and the future.
happened? Because we felt good, we thought we had everything and we
started pursuing Gucci and Prada and Porsche and Ferrari. And we
actually converted the International Broadcasting Center -- the world’s
best broadcasting center -- into a shopping mall. Why did we do it?
Because we wanted other stuff. So, we sold the good stuff we had to get
the stupid stuff, which got us in the position we’re in. 2004 was a
turning point because we started consuming like lunatics.”
crashed so spectacularly from such a lofty position -- when Greece
earned rave reviews from around the world for its hosting of the 2004
Games to the point where it is now difficult to find any positive
coverage of the country -- presents a unique opportunity, according to
“At the Thessaloniki conference, I invited people to
think big,” he says. “You’ve got to be crazy to think you can change a
situation, but you can.”
Economides is currently working on
rebranding the Cypriot city of Limassol and says Greece can learn from
how this project has developed. “It’s exactly what branding has to be in
the future,” he says. “It’s an open source project where you talk to
the people because the people are the brand. That’s what this country
needs to do. Greece is a concept but if you don’t get Greeks to buy the
concept, forget about it.
“For people to buy a concept, you don’t
sell it to them. You’ve got to get them involved in it, you’ve got to
talk to them. Great brands have always had a conversation with people,”
adds Economides, citing successful branding campaigns of the past, such
as Absolut Vodka.
However, the key element to the Limassol project
is that it emanated from the private sector. Seven businessmen who
envisaged a different future for their city initiated the scheme, which
has since developed such momentum that it made it difficult for the
public sector to reject the offer to climb on board.
“We launched a
brand development project, which was process of involving people.
Having launched that, we then went to the authorities and asked if they
wanted to join us,” says Economides. “The politics of that made it
undeniable, they had to join us. But if you go to the political system
just with the idea, it’s not going to get off the ground because you’re
standing on too many people’s toes.”
Economides admits that the
encouraging applause he received in Thessaloniki made him feel like a
politician but he is under no illusions about the role that central
government and parties should play in any rebranding campaign. In fact,
his presentation points out the Greece has had nine different tourism
campaigns since the 1990s, as each minister chopped and changed the
slogans and content of the advertisements. During this time, tourist
arrivals in Croatia and Turkey have increased rapidly while falling in
“The way to do branding is a public-private partnership.
It should be collaborative. To have brand leadership in political hands
is wrong. It’s not because politicians are incapable, it’s because
politics is by nature about opposition, politics is by nature about a
four-year term, politics is by nature about making and building
political capital. We need to build brand capital, which extends beyond
four years,” says Economides.
The brand strategist, however,
stresses that the attempt to rebrand Greece must be about much more than
just selling it as a tourist destination. “There are two stages in
this: involving the people in the development of the brand and then
disseminating the brand so it becomes a behavioral or image guide for
people to use generally,” says Economides.
“It’s not to sell
tourism. It’s to guide the actions of society. It’s about changing the
way people think and feel. Although the way out of crisis is economic,
if you don’t feel good, you’re not going to do good things. I read the
other week that half an hour of worry is more tiring than a week’s work.
This is a very worried nation and we need to get the worry out of the
way. When you have vision, you can do amazing things.”
is now looking to attract seed funding to get the project off the
ground. He also stresses the importance of getting the Greek diaspora,
media and philhellenes on board. It seems a thankless task to attract
angel investors at a time when there is so much political and economic
uncertainty but Economides says that not knowing if Greece’s future is
in the eurozone or with the drachma makes no difference to the need to
get the rebranding scheme going.
“If you think of history on its
longer time scale, we’re going through a momentous time right now but we
will look back on this point and it will be a small dot on a long line.
We’ve got to put this dot in the right perspective and we’ve got to do
it now or it might become a large smudge on our history.
with it means dealing with our own social psychology as a society and
individuals. Branding is not about selling the country, it’s about
selling ourselves to ourselves, it’s about believing again, it’s about
relighting the flame. It’s up to us to reconnect the concept of Greece
-- who we are and where we are today -- with where we want to be in the
future and to draw one continuous line through that so we can really
feel the narrative that will take us through that.”
lines of the original text that accompanied the “Think Different”
campaign are eerily similar to the words some might use to describe
Greeks and their country today: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits.
The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The
ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they
have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with
them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is
Rebranding Greece as the Apple of the Mediterranean?
It’s a crazy idea. In fact, it’s an idea that is just about crazy
enough to succeed. [Kathimerini English Edition]