Tuesday, October 04, 2005















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Bangladesh in search of a brand name
Syed Fattahul Alim

          THE government is learnt to have decided to launch a serious drive to rebuild the image of the country tarnished by its traditional portrayal as a poor country battered by natural calamities. The recent smear campaign against Bangladesh has tried to expose it as a breeding ground of religious extremists. The aim of the government, or its foreign ministry, to be more precise is to develop a country brand like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Sri Lanka, or even like the state of Kerala in India. A nine-member high-powered body called Strategic Country Promotion Council (SCPC) with the foreign minister at its head is designing the promotional offensive so conceived. It will appoint a branding agency to think up a unique brand name for Bangladesh like Malaysia's 'Truly Asia,' Sri Lanka's "The Pearl of the Indian Ocean" and the like. Besides, SCPC will also make an effort to get shot of the current bad image of Bangladesh and replace it with a more upbeat one as a moderate, democratic developing country. A large number of professionals will be engaged to work on this image-rebuilding endeavour. It has also been informed by a highly placed source in the ministry of foreign affairs that SCPC has meanwhile gone so far as to draft a five-year Bangladesh Strategic Country Promotion Plan (2005-10) that has reviewed the techniques of the traditional promotional agencies at the national level. The plan so drafted may be sent to the prime minister for her endorsement. It has also devised a number of strategies on what countries to address through the promotional drive to be undertaken, identify the appropriate brand name for the country, take an integrated approach on the promotional drive and other related activities.
All these talks about improving the country's image are music to the ears of those who really want to see Bangladesh in a brighter light than it is at the moment. But one may have also qualms about the whole fanfare for the upcoming campaign to create a positive 'brand image' of the country. The people have a very bitter experience about the various committees formed by the government from time to time to get different important businesses done. Most of the time, it is all talk when it comes to delivering the goods. That is because, in the majority of the cases, the committees are the preserves of the government's own people, particularly the bureaucrats and some individuals having close links with the party or parties in power. As a result, the new committees joins the ranks of a hundred and one such committees formed in the past and quickly go right out of the public mind.
The very thought of discovering ourselves afresh with an apt brand name before the international community is itself an exhilarating idea. And if other countries can have their names so projected before the foreign eyes, why should Bangladesh lag behind? In fact, Bangladesh should have developed a positive foreign image for itself long ago for the simple fact that it had never any shortage of necessary features to create a unique brand image for the country. The country is perennially known as the land of many rivers. It was once known as the land of golden fibre, though that appellation is applicable no more due to wrong policy of the successive governments to encourage cultivation of jute in the country. It is also one of the greenest countries on earth. Nature has rather been extravagant in blessing the land with its largesse. The country has the longest sea beach in the world. There are also hills in the southeast and in the northeast. The longest mangrove forest, the Sunderbans, the beauties of the hills and ethnic communities who live there have all contributed to the unique natural and cultural heritage of the country. Do the country really needs any special effort to rediscover its identity to project before the world at large? There is a whole host of gems strewn all over to choose from for an appropriate brand name for Bangladesh. If even a particular agency is employed to reinvent a new identity for the country, one can easily invite suggestions from the people with a promise to reward the best one in the spirit that business companies find names for their new products. The only the difference will be that any name for a country should reflect its natural and cultural heritage as well as be patriotic. In this era of universal commodification of every conceivable object under the sun, even national image can be put on sale. To find a proper brand name for a country means increasing its saleability abroad as a prospective destination for the sightseers, foreign businessmen and investors. As a developing country with few industries, businesses, farms and service agencies to absorb the increasing number of the educated as well as the uneducated employed, it needs the patronage of the rich countries in various sectors of the economy. Hence comes the very idea of selling its name. But when all is said and done, what still remains to be said is that it is not just a matter of putting a name that will do the miracle. Even the best possible name will not be able to impress the foreigner with a fat purse unless the promoters of the country's good name are also able to show and convince the customer that the things on display in this land of untapped possibilities will also be a good buy for him or her. So simply making a committee and finding an impressive brand name for the country is only the first step in the long journey towards the goal of rebuilding the nation's image as an enviable one before the international community.
The history of the successful nations, whether in the recent times or years past, amply demonstrates that the concept of giving a brand name for a country is a latter-day development. In most cases, such name is a part and parcel of a country's history and culture. But the recent trend of giving a country a brand name is an upshot of the growth of the tourism industry and the craze for pulling in foreign investment in the developing nations. However, the people being thus wooed are a very cold and calculating lot. What a particular country has on offer for them is a matter of information and that is not hard to find out in spite of all the campaign, be that positive or negative. But those men of means from overseas will be very keen to know the people in charge of the country they would like to invest in. Here comes the question of the quality of governance, the efficiency of the administrative machinery, the general outlook of the people who run it and the existing infrastructure to support their enterprise if they finally decide to put in their money. To cut a long story short, it is the government of the time that the prospective investor will be interested in before anything else. The same argument applies to the foreign media, the donor governments and their various institutions. Their impression of the developing country in question is moulded more by the image of the government there than by the image of the country as such.
It is hoped that the present leadership of Bangladesh is aware of this foreign bias about the image or brand name of a particular developing country.


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