2010 and the power of perception

31 July 2008

Faced with growing xenophobia, its highest unemployment rate since World War II, a domestic football league beset by match-fixing and a national team that had just crashed out of the Euro 2004 championship, Germany had hit a low point in the third quarter of 2004.

Two years and one World Cup later, and the country once divided by the infamous Berlin Wall was a nation transformed.

Dr Nikolaus Eberl, author of BrandOvation: How Germany won the World Cup of Nation Branding, Eberl believes South Africa is where Germany was 22 months before they hosted the 2006 Fifa World Cup.

Speaking at the 2010 National Communication Partnership Conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday said that Germany “was in a collective depression” in the third quarter of 2004.

Realising that it was seen by the world as a militaristic nation of scientists and engineers, Germany embarked on a campaign to make its people, in the services industry in particular, as friendly as possible – going as far as producing a “friendliness manual” that gave Germans cultural tips and taught them how to greet foreigners in their own language.

“The 2006 World Cup changed the state of the German nation so dramatically that, by now, Germany is the second most valuable nation brand on the Nation Brand Index, consumer confidence is at a 27-year high, unemployment dropped by 29% in one year, foreign tourism is up 31% and, for the first time in 38 years, the government balanced the budget and declared a profit.

“The 2006 Fifa World Cup transformed the faces of 82-million people within 31 days,” Eberl said – and the media played a major role to play in changing perceptions of the country, both internationally and among Germans themselves.

African and South African communicators and the media, as well as the people of South Africa prior to and during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, would be responsible for changing international perceptions of the country and the continent.

South Africa, Eberl said, needed to tap into its culture of Ubuntu in order to win the hearts of international visitors in 2010. South Africa, and Africa, also needed to make its heroes known to the world.

Irvin Khoza, chairperson of South Africa’s 2010 organising committee, told the conference that “perception is reality, and it must be the central purpose of any communication strategy to manage popular perception, and it must be done in a bold and innovative manner.”

Moeketsi Mosola, chief executive of South African Tourism and acting CEO of the International Marketing Council, told the conference that what happened in and around Soccer City in Johannesburg, or the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, in June and July of 2010 would influence global perceptions about Botswana, Uganda, Cameroon and Tunisia.

“Hosting such an event means every aspect of South African and African society will come under the microscope of the international media,” Mosola said, and the country and the continent had to “make the most of opportunities which we probably won’t have again for a very long time.

“We must use the opportunity to build African solidarity and encourage growth in a global economy. We must do this so that we can speak for ourselves, and not be spoken for,” Mosola said.

Source: BuaNews