• Transform magazine
  • September 25, 2020

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Nation branding: Jamaica

singer_bob_marley_sm.jpg

With a brand that simultaneously presents a welcoming, cheerful facade and a darker, more sinister underbelly, Jamaica’s nation brand presents difficulties to its economy. Can it successfully position itself as neither a perennial resort nor a crime-ridden Caribbean island and achieve its full potential internationally? Samantha North reports

Jamaica undoubtedly has a strong and unique nation brand. The island is a successful tourist destination and performs well in a range of key cultural exports. Jamaica’s athletes, such as Usain Bolt, and its musicians, such as Bob Marley, have achieved iconic status internationally.

The popular image of Jamaica is that of a land of beaches, of ‘one love,’ a party place where people go to forget their worries and have a good time. Nation brand expert Simon Anholt describes Jamaica as an “Extraordinary country,” with a national identity, “Well worth protecting.”

However, the Jamaican brand remains problematic. There are a number of serious issues at play, in particular crime. The country has also developed a reputation as one of the most homophobic places in the world. For a country with an image heavily reliant on the sunny and positive, this dark side presents an especially troublesome and confusing dichotomy.

Various nation branding researchers have tried to address these issues. One of the most prominent, the Jamaican-born, Rhode Island-based academic Dr Hume Johnson, who is on a mission to reimagine Brand Jamaica. She believes the brand, despite its worldwide potency, is not yet consistent enough among Jamaicans themselves, “If you were to ask a Jamaican what is ‘Brand Jamaica’ they may tell you they’ve heard of the expression, but they could never tell you what Brand Jamaica is or what it means. This is because a coherent Brand Jamaica identity doesn’t exist. It remains undeveloped.” She believes that Jamaica should aim for two goals – first, to acknowledge and address the negative elements of its image, namely crime, corruption and lack of tolerance.

The second goal is to introduce important new layers to ‘Brand Jamaica’. The country is already famous for music, sport and its relaxed lifestyle. But to attract foreign investment and international talent, Jamaica needs to develop its reputation as a place where these can thrive in safety and security.

“The outside world sees Jamaica as the nation of reggae and Bob Marley, of beautiful beaches and tropical weather, of top class sprinters, and the Jamaican people as laid back and extremely affable,” says Johnson.

She adds, “On the other hand, there’s more than an undercurrent of concern from outsiders about the nation’s so-called crime problem and generalised lack of safety, a perception of our people as lazy, happy-go-lucky marijuana smokers, and a place where every day is a party. All these impressions are limited and inadequate.”

A fresh approach is needed to revitalise the Jamaican economy and position the country as a credible contender on the world stage. Jamaica should seek to move beyond its traditional industries towards different arenas, such as the creative industries and sports tourism. But first it must address the inherent conflicts in its nation brand.

Johnson says, “Jamaica can leverage its long list of music and sports stars, its expertise in sprint technique and the creative industries and its advancement in business and innovation. This will have the effect of reinventing Jamaica as a global competitor in areas beyond traditional sectors such as tourism.”

A shift in Jamaica’s image will not happen overnight. The process could begin by making robust changes to policy and creating grass-roots initiatives to engage civil society. If Jamaica can promote itself as a nation committed to change, this will be an important first step towards rebalancing the negative aspects of its identity and developing Brand Jamaica in new directions.

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