Magazines about fashion and design are the most frivolous in the world but, of course, they sometimes want to do something serious. Monocle, a magazine it seems for rich Newyorkers who are almost never at home and enjoy several holidays a year, is giving advice to countries that would like to get rid of their bad image and bad reputation.
Of course, I immediately thought of Iraq.
Editor in chief Tyler Brulé is advising for example Sweden, a country well-known for its fogs, snow, ice and rain to repair its image by “spending a lot of money on expensive photographers and make the world believe that all your summers are sunny and every bare rock poking out of the Baltic is draped with bronzed boys and girls”.
Mister Brulé is comparing spreading international good-will for a country with promoting a certain brand. When we hear the brand name “Mercedes”, we now immediately think of solid luxury cars. Likewise, the international consumer, upon hearing the name of a country, should immediately think of certain pleasures or other positive things.
Brulé is not the one who invented this. If CNN spectators didn’t know a thing in the past about Egypt, now, after years of television spots promoting Egypt, they will associate it with girls in bikinis, on high heels, walking along beaches lined wit palms, next to a sea with crystal clear water where the tourist can dive and talk to exotic fish. Away with pyramids and other old buildings in Luxor where terrorists killed dozens of tourists a few years ago.
Malaysia, a country that those same CNN spectators were not able to pinpoint on the map, has become “truly Asia” after years of advertising, whatever that means, in any case a tourist destination.
It is of course much too early to invite tourists to Iraq. But it would already be a great thing, I thought, if Iraq wasn’t associated exclusively with car bombs, religious killing sprees, failing Americans and a wrongly hanged dictator.
Mr Brulé is advising “heads of state in search of quick fixes” for the bad reputation of their country ten methods.
First: “develop an appealing national cuisine”. China’s human rights record is questionable, says Brulé, but people fly nevertheless to Beijing because of its delicious, varied food. I am afraid this will not work in Iraq because people have forgotten the old recipes after 13 years of embargo and food shortages.
His second advice is: if you don’t have special dishes, “develop a wine, beer, spirits industry”, to suggest to the rest of the world “that there are smart entrepreneurs in your country who are both creative and fun to spend an evening with”. As Iraq counts quite a lot of muslims, this is a non-sensical tip. People do drink here but not enough to create a new brand of whisky.
We can immediately skip the third advice that a country “has to be recognised for being fair and just”. Tourists don’t like their hotel owners to be falsely accused and shot down in the streets or disappearing into some local jail. Well, Iraqis neither.
“Re-engineer the heavens” is Brulé’s fourth tip, aimed mainly at countries where it is often raining cats and dogs. Tourists want sun. An unnecessary advice for Iraq, I presume, because there are now 150,000 US soldiers telling their families that it is bloody hot here.
“A good brand travels,” suggests Brulé in his fifth advice. Would Singapore have achieved its current status without its airline? Countries need great airlines to “capture imaginations on distant shores”, especially when they’re tiny, such as Qatar, now busy promoting its airlines on al-Jazeera. Since Iraqi Airways was saved from privatization and stayed in the hands of one incompetent government after another, and after Turkey closed its airspace for Kurdish airlines, this advice is only something for the far future it seems to me.
Also Brulé’s sixth advice is hopelessly unadapted to Iraq: “Behave yourself”. Polite, well mannered nationals go down a treat in any situation and act as a secondary, if not frontline foreign service, Brulé claims. That is why television spots about Egypt or Qatar show so many nice waiters and stewardesses, while the average foreigner in Iraq might be kidnapped. The seventh advice is hopeless too: “Go easy on religion”. In Iraq!
Tourists bore dinner party guest with tales about punctual trams, efficient airports and comfortable buses. So, “master infrastructure” Brulé says. Well, let’s give some Iraqi ministries a few years. Equally surrealistic for Iraq: “Make products people want”.
Only Brulé’s tenth advice might work, thanks to the Iraqi national football team that recently won the Asia Cup. “If all else fails, throw everything you’ve got at sport programmes up and down your country and aim to scoop gold at the next Olympics and return home with the World Cup.”
My advice to countries with a bad image would be to hire someone else than this expensive Mr Brulé of Monocle in New York.