It is now time to return to the question of why governments, in order to set their nation apart, recruit consultants from the same pool and distinguish themselves as cool. Why is it that every nation chooses to use similar tools and methods of distinction in claiming to be particular and specific, as does Finland in the quote above? Why is it that every nation wants to be creative, innovative and close to nature? No one is forcing countries to do this, yet nation branding is clearly driven by a strong sense of compulsion. It is legitimized as necessary not only for the country’s competitiveness, but also for its very ‘survival’ (Cool Japan Strategy 2012). There are three main explanations why distinction is produced using the same tools in different countries. First, despite all the rhetoric about distinction, nation branding is not in fact only about distinction, but about gaining prestige and wanting to be part of the (imagined) game in which nations compete against one another – over how competitive they are. Second, using the same policy advisers and easily recognizable visual means gives legitimacy not only to the country itself, but also to the ruling elites within the nation. Third, as Pertti Alasuutari (2015, p. 15) eloquently explains, the synchronization of national policies takes place ‘because governments are convinced that it is good for them, and hence global governance works particularly through knowledge production and consultancy’. As a result, nations act like a shoal of fish, synchronizing their movements with one another, yet moving in the same direction (Alasuutari 2015, pp. 12-13). In other words, nations share the social imaginary (Taylor 2002) about global competition, about how nations are related to one another and what they need to do in order to gain competitiveness in these circumstances of globalization, competition and increasing media complexity. Striving to be different is part of the process of becoming and remaining a credible and legitimate nation state among
other nation states. Differentiation, however, needs to be done in particular ways in order to fit in with the values of the social imaginary, in order to be part of the global system of nations and world culture. What they are ultimately sharing then is the similarity of being different (cf. Comaroff and Comaroff 2008; Alasuutari and Qadir 2014; Alasuutari 2015): each nation thinks of itself as unique and authentic, and uses certain practices and means to demonstrate this. These practices and means have usually been used before, by ‘forerunners’ that have done well in various rankings. Modelling one’s actions on other nations’ actions is not, however, considered as copying, since each nation sees itself as responding to national interests and enhancing its own competitiveness among other nations (Alasuutari 2015). They are simply ‘keeping up’ with what everyone else is doing. This is how every nation seems authentic in its own as well as in others’ eyes, but in a way that is appreciated in the global system of modernizing nations. Authenticity must be of the attractive kind, the kind that expresses something which others desire, and something that will attract tourists, investors, skilled workers, media attention and soft power. Since only the right kind of authenticity is attractive and desirable, it needs to be manufactured: identified, communicated and commodified. Authenticity must be of the cool kind. Authenticity is often considered to be a problematic concept. It is frequently pointed out that nothing is, or can be, authentic in our globalized, culturally hybrid world. Indeed, in the global conditions of circulating cultural influences, meanings, images, texts and representations, even rituals, customs and shared consumer cultures, it is virtually impossible to find an authentic cultural environment or feature – if there ever was one. But this does not render authenticity a meaningless subject of research inquiry; quite the contrary. While it is easy to dismiss authenticity as a theoretical concept and social reality, the concept nevertheless lies at the core not only of consumer culture and branding, but also of defining nation in relation to other nations. Authenticity is a concept for making judgements, talking about the world, expressing preferences about our relationships to things in the world (Potter 2010, p. 13). Furthermore, and even more importantly, authenticity is the necessary discursive counterpart to the ‘artificiality’ of modernity and spreading consumer culture. The obsession with authenticity is a mechanism for dealing with what is called the vice of the modern disenchantment in the ‘global culture of the moderns’ (Alasuutari 2015; see also Latour 2013). It is therefore crucial to understand how authenticity is used in globally circulating transnational practices that result in the synchronization of national practices. The emphasis on authenticity within the nations employing these practices is the means through which they maintain their sense of self, and faith in the imagined nation (cf. Anderson 1983/1991). Alasuutari (2015) discusses the culture of ‘the tribe of the moderns’, human beings living on the globe. These moderns share certain values and belief systems in common that lead modern ‘clans’ (i.e. nation states) to voluntarily synchronize their decision-making and practices, while sustaining the imagined sense of authentic community. The core values of ‘the moderns’ include the idea
of constant progress through rational, scientific thinking, and identifying and choosing ‘best practices’. These values are those of modernization and the developed West: progressiveness, ‘modernity’, success, competitiveness, innovativeness, creativity. . . . Modernity is perceived as thoroughly rational, its institutions exempt from affective baggage. However, as Mazzarella (2009, pp. 298-299) points out, affect is necessary for any institution that seeks public efficacy. It is necessary for institutions to seek ‘affective resonance’, which may be found in shared values and executed through techniques of branding. This is how nation branding may be seen as a contemporary, ritualized means not only in managing affects related to nation, but also in commodifying them. Authenticity, in fact, is one of the core values of contemporary Western modernity, the antithesis of mass-produced artificiality. In this chapter I argue that nation-branding processes manage the dialogical relationship between modernity and authenticity, and at the same time distinguish between two types of attractive and desirable authenticity. On the one hand, the world of nation branding includes the modern, rational and controlled type of authenticity, which refers to the ability to create and innovate new things, to be the cool forerunner. On the other hand, there is also a more exotic, ethnic and traditional type of authenticity, which serves as a source of commodified attractiveness (cf. Comaroff and Comaroff 2008). Both of these have their roots in the conceptual history of authenticity. Branding provides a technique through which these two types of authenticity are discursively managed, manufactured and manipulated, commodified and communicated, for the purpose of creating competitiveness, and as a result sustaining the global system of modern nations. In order to attract the right kind of attention, branders seek to commodify experiences. Producing competitive advantage requires constant creativity and tapping into the concept of authenticity, which becomes ‘a critical quality that consumers crave and brands seek to be identified with’ (Powell 2013, p. 53). Banet-Weiser (2013, p. 9) emphasizes that brands are an economic strategy of capitalism, but first and foremost they are ‘cultural spaces in which individuals feel safe, secure, relevant and authentic’. Frank (1997, p. 72) similarly points out that in the search for all things cool, there is a ‘simultaneous craving for authenticity and suspicion of tradition’ (Frank 1997, p. 27). This suspicion of tradition and the craving for authenticity is part of the attraction of cool, which at once makes it seem like an individualistic choice and a commodifiable mass product, popular for wide audiences. Coolness is important because it conveys the right kind of attractive authenticity, a way of being different and original in a desirable, ‘modern’, fashionable way. Cool is metonymically entangled with rebellion, authenticity and individualism, as well as being collectively desirable and in fashion, all values of the modern imagination. In this chapter, I will first trace authenticity and the roots of the concept in the history of thought and in relation to the concept’s use in contemporary practices of nation branding. I will then look into the ways in which nation branding (1)
strives to define and manufacture the essential core self of the nation; (2) encourages living that core essence to the full and uses national culture in doing so; and (3) is used to seek attention and recognition from other nations. The chapter uses empirical data from nation-branding projects in Finland, Sweden and Japan.