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Jamaica’s Brand at 50

The first weekend in August proved to be one huge celebration for the Caribbean country of Jamaica. While the success of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at the 2012 Olympic Games might have garnered most of the attention, the country was already firmly in the process of celebrating a rather more important milestone: fifty years of Jamaican independence. 

After gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, the fifty years since has seen the country face many development challenges, including persistent budget deficits, high debt, increasing poverty and high levels of violence. But in some senses the future is bright, as while only possessing a population of just 2.8 million, the fifth largest Caribbean country, has crafted a famous, unique and distinct nation-brand, possessing a multitude of cultural assets; something which, in an era whereby the concept and practice of ‘soft power’ and ‘public diplomacy’ is flourishing, is vital.

Standing out amongst the crowd

While the country’s “unique language, culture, exotic cuisine, art and craft rooted in the island’s rich heritage” stands out amongst the more ‘humdrum’ brands of the global marketplace, it has been primarily sport and music – led by its two most marketable individuals in Usain Bolt and Bob Marley – which have primarily made Jamaica into the international brand it is today.

For a nation the size of Jamaica the amount of musical and sporting talent that has emerged from the country is unprecedented. Arguably influencing world music more than any other country its size and eclipsing larger states, the country has been the origin of many popular musical genres including reggae, ska and dub; and internationally recognised musicians including Shaggy, Sean Paul, Lee Scratch Perry, and Bob Marley. During its fifty years of independence, the “island’s bass-heavy sounds, gifted vocalists and musicians and its innovative studio techniques have spread around the globe”; having and continuing to have a profound effect on most musical genres. The Jamaica at 50 at the O2 showcased just this, with a multitude of Jamaican singers, DJs, writers, comedians, actors and poets performing.

The talent pool has additionally transcended to sport, as with a rich sporting heritage, sport is a large part of Jamaican culture and one which is incredibly valuable due to the cultural impact sport achieves. The recent success of Bolt in particular has led to a “major interest in who Jamaicans are as a people, what is our history and what is it that makes us run so fast”. But while Bolt understandably commands the most attention due to his world record-breaking exploits in the last two Olympics he is merely one of a number of renowned sporting heroes to have Jamaican origins. Arthur Wint, the first Jamaican Olympic Gold Medalist; Donald Quarrie, the former 200 metre world record holder; Ricardo Gardner, a prominent Premier League footballer; and now Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who is only the third woman to win back-to-back metres, are all celebrated Jamaican sporting talent;  talent which has been and continues to be the envy of much larger nations.

With the most popular sport on the island being cricket it is logical that the country has excelled in this discipline; producing quality cricketers, part hosting the 2007 Cricket World Cup and making up part of the West Indies team. The West Indies team is one of only 10 ICC member teams who consistently participate in international Test Cricket, and who won the 1975 and 1979 Cricket World Cups. Participation in the Winter Olympics has also raised its profile; generating a mass of publicity. The 1993 Cool Running’s film based loosely on the country’s unlikely appearance at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary is a feel-good story known across the globe.

However, it is the country’s success in athletics that has commanded the most attention, helping Jamaica proudly rank amongst the top sporting nations, primarily in athletics. They claimed six gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games within the sport and continue to claim world records.  This medal total was equal to Russia, more than China, Great Britain and Germany and just one less than the United States. All five are much larger in size and seen as recognised world powers. The clean-sweep of medals in the 2012 men’s 200 metres matched the feat achieved by the Americans in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and has helped to cement the place of Jamaica at the front of sprinting.

While sport and music have been the primary cultural assets it is the  “multifaceted mosaic of international customs and traditions”; the uniqueness of Jamaica which can and has helped to make Jamaica into the recognised brand it is today. Jamaican fashion, cuisine, dance and the Rastafarian movement has added Jamaica’s unique cultural identity.

Known as the birthplace of Rastafarian movement, which although once regarded as a revolutionary threat, has become a crucial cultural resource of Jamaica as it has spread worldwide. Jamaican cuisine, which is a mixture of cooking techniques, flavours, spices and influences, is as diverse and unique as its people, while dance, fashion and arts have proved to be cultural assets which “reflect a cultural consciousness that is uniquely Jamaican. The Olympic team uniforms for the 2012 Olympics incorporated Bob Marley theming and were picked as Time Magazine as one of their favourite uniforms, more than 30 distinctive Jamaican dances have been identified, significant writers including Claude McKay and Louis Simpson hail from the island and while the Jamaican film industry is not widely known it is growing and the creation of the Reggae Film Festival has provided a great boost to the industry.

Desired results?

With a multitude of cultural assets, it uniqueness, distinct relevance and appeal worldwide, “Jamaica without a shadow of a doubt has a very strong brand – probably one of the strongest in the world for the size of the country, its population and economy”. Capitalising on this is essential. Two brand feasibility reports commissioned by the Jamaican government has noted the strength of “Brand Jamaica” with first Simon Anholt and then David Lightle stating that “for a small country, it has a relatively large ‘footprint’ on the stage of world cultures”.

In particular Anholt’s feasibility study in 2006 noted that Jamaica was “sitting on a treasure-house of natural brand equity”. Despite Anholt noted that for decades its brand identity had been recognised, adored, admired and then stolen. While the country produced cultural assets in amazing quantities, Jamaica had not “significantly benefited from its enormous strength as a brand”.  The country therefore vastly needed and still needs to “stop and reverse this centuries-old equity haemorrhage”, and ensure that the country can benefit from its cultural assets. A nation-branding strategy was started to be developed in 2008, and started to be integrated into national development; including the current National Export Strategy, while JAMPRO has utilised the concept of nation-branding as a tool for achieving a competitive advantage for Jamaica’s products and services.

While the country has not officially recognised cultural diplomacy within its national policy it has started to integrate and develop a nation-branding strategy and cultural policy within its national development, including the current National Export Strategy. Jamaica’s Vision 2030 places constructing a successful cultural and branding strategy at its forefront. The JAMPRO has already utilised the concept of nation-branding as a tool for achieving a competitive advantage for Jamaica’s products and services, while the stated aims of the Institute of Jamaica and the JCDC is to “enhance the awareness of our Jamaican cultural and scientific heritage and ethos”, promoting “developing through the use of cultural methods”. Many strategies are in line developing a nuanced cultural diplomacy and nation-branding strategy has helped and will continue to help Jamaica attract others, and be seen as a legitimate and respectable destination.

Where next?

While Prime Minister Portia Simpson Millar has stated that “Jamaica is more than just the “brand” the world recognises as it’s a place of pride for its people, its educational institutions, its sports achievements and its science and technology growth”, given Jamaica’s unique brand identity the strides they have made in recent years have flattered to deceive. Countries of a similar size such as New Zealand, Switzerland and Finland have enjoyed top ten rankings in the Future Brands country branding index, indicating that while Jamaica too could achieve this success there is still work to be done.

It has been recognised that Jamaica’s image has experienced deterioration in recent years, with the Future Brand country branding index (CBI) 2011-2012 only placing Jamaica at 64; a placing which was down two from the year before. While the country excels in some disciplines, its relatively poor performances in others have greatly impacted upon its brand. Its relatively low-quality of life, unflattering record of being one of the most murderous countries in the world and still seen as one of the most homophobic societies in the Western Hemisphere despite its welcoming culture has significantly hindered its public and cultural diplomatic development.  David Lightle has noted that successful branding only came after the governments of particular country’s made “infrastructure and policy commitments that supported the industry”. Reducing poverty, economic and country development must go hand-in-hand with branding efforts.

While many Jamaican strategies with a definition of cultural diplomacy having a unified image and strategy will provide a crucial advantage, domestic “buy-in” into the strategy is essential; no matter how strong and distinctive the brand is. As Lightle has noted the real challenge facing any nation-branding strategy is getting “all the public and private sector stakeholders to unite behind a single effort to create a single overarching brand that answers the question, ‘Who is Jamaica?’, sending one message about the country to the world which encompasses all parts of Jamaican heritage and culture.

Any branding strategy has to be in partnership with other important stakeholders. Bringing it together under a national strategy. Past efforts to unite around a consistent strategy to clearly define, promote and capitalise on the Jamaican brand has not yielded the effective results. There is fresh hope that the National Export Strategy (NES) will provide this. The recent events held and co-ordinated by JAMPRO during London 2012 will have helped. Promotional events such as Jamaican Restaurent Week in August, Jamaica at 50 at the O2 and a special 50-year celebration gala have “showcas[ed] the cultural depth and diversity of Jamaica”, “reflecting and reliv[ing] Jamaica’s half-century of self-rule and focuses on the positive achievements in the nation’s history”, all under the same banner.

Although currently far behind the aim of a creating a “cultural super-state”, there is hope that the developing country can successfully develop and execute a cultural diplomacy strategy helping Jamaica foster positive values and attitudes, combating the negative perceptions that might exist. As has been recognised effective public and cultural diplomacy is required within the 21st Century. While Jamaica need to identify and eventuate the features that make the country unique; different, as the cultural exploits and success of Jamaica musicians, sports stars and artists increase, Jamaica can build a brand that “will become a potent market and cultural force in the global arena”, “purposefully and tactically re-imag[ing], reposition[ing] and promot[ing] Jamaica’s culture and identity abroad”.

While the country has probably one of the strongest brand identities in the world, given the size of the country, on paper; how they continue to leverage it in the next fifty years will determine whether the country can continue to go from strength to strength.


2 comments on “Jamaica’s Brand at 50

  1. Earle Scarlett
    August 13, 2012

    Excellent paper. Spellng error- correct is Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

    For Jamaica to build its brand, it needs to develop simultaneously infrastructure and education policies to enhance the living standard of its inhabitants and prepare them for new challenges in a globalised world. The brain- drain is a factor. Jamaica must position itself diplomatically in a world of changing global power relations to maximise its national and development interests and make its case to international financial institutions and foreign investors. Cultural diplomacy is a powerful tool at the country’s disposal. However, this impetus needs to be calibrated with other diplomatic angles and well targetted and articulated domestic policy.

  2. Anthony Fisher
    August 13, 2012

    Branding Jamaica should focus one of its streams on the Diaspora population which tends to be the most nationalistic and works on a one to one, very effective level.

    Bolt, Shelly-Ann, the Beast and others should be incorporated into the effort which says simply ‘Jamaica delivers’….of course you cant say that if your bureaucracy for starting businesses and the regular impediments persist.

    Finally Portia should take the country out of the dark ages with a reeducation about homosexuality…a hard sell but necessary.

    Lastly, they can hire experienced public diplomacy people who understand soft power……

    Anthony Fisher

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This entry was posted on August 11, 2012 by in Public Diplomacy and tagged , , , , .
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