Sunday, February 18, 2007

Branding Africa

I've been thinking a lot about branding lately. According to Wikipedia, "Brand recognition and other reactions are created by the accumulation of experiences with the specific product or service, both directly relating to its use, and through the influence of advertising, design, and media commentary. A brand is a symbolic embodiment of all the information connected to a company, product or service. A brand serves to create associations and expectations among products made by a producer. A brand often includes an explicit logo, fonts, color schemes, symbols, sound which may be developed to represent implicit values, ideas, and even personality. The brand, and "branding" have become increasingly important components of culture and the economy, now being described as 'cultural accessories and personal philosophies.'"

That said the impetus for me writing today is a “
Have Your Say” piece I saw on the BBC the other day. The title was “How would you rebrand Africa?” There is a summit going on in Abuja to discuss how Africa can be rebranded in the media. According to the BBC, “News reports about Africa are often dominated by negative stereotypes. The result is that people around the world are left knowing very little about the continent. Participants hope the summit will help give a more balanced view and move away from negative reporting.” I believe this to be true as well, but it’s a complicated issue. Stereotypes are based on some reality and it would be reckless for the media to ignore negative stories such as the war in Darfur, kidnappings in Nigeria, and HIV/AIDS. But, there has to be some sort of balance. Otherwise, Americans will continue to only think of Africa as a country full of war, famine and lions, as evident to me during my school presentations.

I thought a lot about this the other week at a reading of “
In Darfur” at the Guthrie. The journalist who is trying to break the story about Darfur is being threatened by her editor that she may have to leave Sudan to cover “art” in J-burg. It bothered me a bit during the play because I felt like the writer of the play was trying to say that “art” in Africa doesn’t matter. How do you find that balance?! In telling stories that need to be told because of the gravity of the situation. In telling stories that need to be told because art and dance and music is alive. I asked myself, why don’t people in the US know about FESPACO? We certainly know about Cannes. What is news and what sells? Again, how do editors in the US find that balance of telling all truths? And at the end of the day, how do journalists make average Americans care about death and life on the continent?

After searching and searching on the internet for information about the summit, I finally came across the site. The title of the summit is
Africa’s International Media Summit and this was the 2nd summit held. The president of Nigeria said “As a country, we believe in the ‘good in Africa’ and are confident that the RE-BRANDING OF AFRICA project will spell a re-opening and reawakening of the excellent opportunities and possibilities of the new and emerging Africa. The Summit is coming at a time the Continent of Africa, has a dire need for a change in perceptions and impressions. The role of The Media in this ‘mission’ cannot be over-emphasized. The Media is the most significant segment of African society and must take a decisive and more committed position in Africa’s renaissance process.” Reading the introduction, the negative realities were addressed, but again the call came for African and international news agencies to also cover positive accomplishments. Is this a tactic for more tourism or business developments? I wonder how the continent is portrayed in Chinese media. Also, Oprah’s photo was shown with the title “The African Diaspora.” I wonder if she made it.

Another reason I've been thinking about branding is because of our business. Rabi and I have been having discussions about where we want the business to go and what we're trying to say. We obviously want people to recognize our products, our logo, our image immediately when they see us. For our logo, we picked a picture of Rabi's dad's village. The
name of the business also explains a bit about Rabi's culture. Everything I do on the management side, everything Rabi makes on the artistic side, all has a reason. It all goes back to Rabi's artist statement. Rabi wants people to better know his country and his culture. Although I want that too, I am also in a sense fulfilling Peace Corps' 3rd goal for Volunteers. To teach Americans about life in my host country. In the end, I wonder if it really matters. I hope so.

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