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Gaga: Rest in Peace (b.2002 - d.2010)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Branding: Pakistan vs. South Korea

Since last few weeks, I read some posts on ‘Branding Pakistan’. While commenting on these post I wrote that "it is a national movement". Its drivers are people (the citizens of a country - a bottom-up approach) and the government (a top-down approach).

During my visit to Pakistan, while shopping around, what I heard over and over is: "this is Indian, Malaysian, or Chinese" and simply put: imported and when I insisted on 'Made in Pakistan' I was told that it is a bad quality product and many shopkeepers proudly told me: we don't have anything Pakistani (ker lo gal!). Now in this case, when the entire nation (or a vast majority) thinks the same way that anything Pakistani is 'bad' and are obsessed with everything ‘imported’ a question that arise is how can we change this mindset? I also wonder, what happened to the the slogan of Export Promotion Bureau: BUY PAKISATNI, BE PAKISTANI!

Back to the topic, all over the world, "Branding-whatever country" is the new catchphrase for bureaucratic busybodies, PR-hustlers and advertisers as one expert put it. The concept of branding has been applied to a variety of purposes, for example to increase exports, attract new investments and develop tourism destinations. Personally, if I have to choose a word other than branding – I would gladly do so because I think that countries are not commercial products and cannot be “branded” overnight like commercial products. Furthermore, countries are cultures whose histories stretch into decades, centuries or even millennia. Anyhow, every nation has a right to project their country hence the use of word ‘branding’ must not be an issue – so to speak?
In this post I will compare ‘Branding Pakistan versus Branding Korea’ - my way. But before that, I will briefly touch upon ‘Branding of a country’ per se.

Research has proven that country associations lead to customer bias. Such bias is based on the image of the country in customer's minds. When a country's name is mentioned, we “think” about the country. That thinking has to do with many things, events, ideas, symbols, personalities associated with it. This leads to the next obvious question – what constitutes an image of a country? What makes French the best country for wines and cheese, what makes Japan and Germany the best in technology and cars and what makes Switzerland the best in watch manufacturing? There are many factors that contribute to a country's image and some of them are:

The most important of the factors that influence customers’ perceptions towards a country is the level of its economy. Most of the countries mentioned above are highly industrialized but this does not mean that latecomers are not welcome. We have an example of our neighbor -China. China caters to the worlds needs – this has been possible by trying hard and smart!

Technological innovations impact consumers’ lives in today’s world. Technological advancement has an important role to play in the perception of a country. Here, I would like to add that grass-root technology or simple technology has an important role to play. Highlighting know-how for easy-to-adopt projects can earn a good foreign exchange.

Democracy has become the defacto form of governance in most countries of the world. Government such as monarchy, socialist regimes and dictatorships tend to be viewed negatively. As such, the form of government feeds into the generation of country images. A related aspect is the reputation of the government – how bureaucratic, transparent, corrupt or efficient is a country’s government?

Business history
It refers to the evolution of business and what a country has specifically been known for historically. Even though countries evolve through time to specialize in value-added industries, it takes a long time to shrug off any negative associations of the past.

All of these factors contribute towards a very strong image of a country. I will give an example of South Korea, one thing that is criticized the most in Korea is its 'nationalism' -about two years ago no foreign company could survive in the local market. Why – because people (I mean Koreans) here will always choose 'made in Korea'. They pay more for ‘made in Korea’ products- which is interesting. Now that there is a huge choice, since they are a party to many FTAs and markets are competitive, nothing could change this habit of choosing Korean cars over the rest, Samsung and LG are their favorite electronics, Daewoo and Hyundi have the biggest share in construction and so on. A very simple example is that of a ‘US beef imports in Korea’. This issue halted the FTA proceeding between Korea and the US. I saw the ugliest protests ever. Entire Korea took to streets. I wonder if entire Pakistan will come on streets (peacefully) for just one cause as one nation.

Now back to my topic, as I mentioned earlier, in branding , what counts most is a nationwide drive to boost the image through economy, technology, government and business history. Below is a brief comparison of Pakistan and Korea in creating a niche for themselves globally – in search of an image.

Pakistan vs. Korea

As far as economy is concerned, Pakistan was way ahead in terms of GDP compared to Korea (when Korea was one of the poorest nations of the world) back in the late 1950s and 1960s. Korea and Mozambique shared almost the same economic levels of growth at the time (read Huntington for details). During the 1960s, Pakistan was seen as a model of economic development around the world. It is worth mentioning that Pakistan’s Dr. Mahboob ul Haq gave Korea its second ‘Five-Year Economic Plan’ on the request of President Park Chunge-hee. It turned tables for Korea. The growth of the Korean economy has been one of the great success stories of recent national development. Over the years, from a GDP of US$2.7 billion in 1962 - it broke the trillion dollar mark in 2007. Korea ranks eleventh among OECD, who is officially the only country who was once the OECD’s recipient of ODA.

This is the backbone for any country. Pakistan can make a good use of its Atomic energy for peaceful purposes and for the well being of the people. Projects such as power generation, using nuclear techniques in detecting and treating cancer, producing more robust and higher-yielding food crops and maintaining supplies of fresh water are amongst the few. In addition, indigenous technology is what I would suggest needs attention. I have seen very genuine and beneficial projects by individuals or small NGOs. There is a need to focus on such projects. As far as Korea is concerned, like most other regions in the world, science and technology in Korea has experienced periods of intense growth as well as long periods of stagnation. As of 2008 South Korea ranked 5th highest in terms of R&D. Korea is among the leaders in ship-building, automobiles, electronics, robotics, radio-active isotope production and bio-engineering to name the few. I can proudly share that some of the best students at Korea Advanced institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) are from Pakistan.

The images from the ruling elite clearly show what fancy them most in Pakistan: plundering the available sources, make money and leave the country for ‘further’ good. At least that is what history shows. Pakistan has survived the most corrupt ruling class-ever. Here we have no option for a ‘top-down approach’ per se when it comes to nation’s image building BUT there is always a hope. I would like to go back in 1960s and 1970s of Pakistan again, when it was a model for the developing world. It is interesting to note that Pakistan faired well –during the dictatorships than it did with democratic governments. As we all know that dictators can take decisions without worrying about vote banks or parliamentary strength so its obvious that growth rate etc. are much reasonable. Pakistan and Korea shared the same fate – long spells of military governments.

Pakistan longest dictatorships spanning over 10 years are shared by General Ayub Khan and General Zia ul Haq. Zia used Islam to crush his opponents. Pakistan later saw General Musharraf playing a long inning. Early on, like his predecessors, he did very well in achieving economic goals but it did not last long enough.As far as Korea is concerned, it was ruled by General Park Chung-hee for 18 years. He has been credited with the industrialization of Korea and has a big share in what Korea is today. He was named one of the top 100 Asians of the Century by Time magazine. Korea also saw the ruthless rule of General Chun Doo-hwan –who is famous for the Gwangju rebillion or uprising (when citizens rose up against Chun Doo-hwan's dictatorship and took control of the city) also remembered as 518 – a dark page in the annals of Korean modern history.

Business History
Well Pakistan has done a fairly good job over the years. The need of the hour is to invest in its people. We have surplus human resource. Like the Philippines, export them. Nobody wants unskilled workers so to speak and not everybody can become an engineer, doctor or a scientist. In OECD countries, where demographic patterns show ever increasing low birthrate and aging population – all they would need is people in the service sector, nurses, and technicians in all the different spheres. HRD is one area that Pakistan can and should invest. Pakistani workers overseas have a good reputation of being hard working and dedicated. Pakistan is among the 15 countries that can come and work in Korea in semi-skilled and unskilled sector- to secure this place is indeed a cut-throat competition among the nations. Additionally, Pakistan must invest in IT, wind energy, solar energy, fossil fuels, renewable energy, tourism and once again its people. Pakistan has a long way to go and as far as Korea is concerned they have come a long way already – their strength is in their unity, faith in themselves (fighting spirit) and discipline - the golden rules of our very own Quaid e Azam (founder of Pakistan). Whosoever will follow these golden rules – will succeed – sooner or later!

I will conclude by quoting an author who said that "Pakistan has gone from a 'nation' searching for a country to a country searching for a nation". The need of the hour is that we must have an image of some sort for our nation first.

photo creadits@The Korea Times and telepk.com


  1. hi Sarah,
    Thanks for stopping by.. origami is really addictive but I am trying to make things that can be useful and not just land up cluttering my place.. :)
    I love the way you have bought pakistan's culture to life.. nice work

  2. @Hani:
    Thank you for your comment.
    Appreciate your taking time out to visit me. :D
    All the best and I'll be visting you @ craftionary!