An interview by Rebrand Tasmania, given regarding the identity representation of the island.

An International Perspective from

Place Branding Expert Sebastian Guerrini

Having tapped into a rich mix of local viewpoints, we thought it was time to hear what an identity designer with a true outsiders perspective had to say about the Tasmanian brand.

Firstly, how would you describe your understanding and knowledge of the island of Tasmania?

I have to admit that my first contact with Tasmania came from the Tasmanian Devil cartoon when I was a child. Then I met people from Tasmania during my travels, who taught me more about the islands.

As an international designer that is heavily involved in place branding, what does the current Tasmanian State Government brand communicate to you about our state?, and show me different things. While “Discover” represents the strength of the landscape and nature, TAS and Iris portray through their pages, a cold and neutral atmosphere, giving the feeling of an unfriendly and bureaucratic Tasmania. With respect to the logos, Discover is synthesized by a dynamic and modern symbol but if the reader is not familiar with the figure, the shape of the island, it fails to convey any meaning. In my view, this form does not effectively convey either a smile or an island. Meanwhile, the Tasmanian brand present in TAS, is friendly and nice but maybe a little outdated, failing to seduce from its graphics or setting clear attributes in the current context. This is due to it representing nature but from a graphic piece that would be more fitting for a zoo, and which consequently fails to awaken the magic force, strength or mystery of Tasmania that could be conveyed.

In conclusion, I believe that the way Tasmania is represented places the archipelago in a limited and hesitant role, which is not able to structure an image that contains and projects to the viewer the energy that a place like Tasmania has. All of this is within a particular scenario, whereby the brands of Australia and New Zealand do manage to convey great energy.

Which cities/states/nations worldwide do you believe have branded themselves particularly well and why?

We must first define what a well carried out branding project is. Second what we mean by brand, if we just mean the design of a symbol or if we are referring to the politics of image and effective communication.

Barcelona, since the Olympics, when they developed an image policy, has sustained a strong image over time through good design, good strategy and good communications. It works steadily and is open to amendments. Thus, these symbols have helped anchor concrete actions leading to direct benefits for the city, that is to say that the symbol was never dissociated from its meaning.

Another interesting case is that of Brazil, which works its brand in an integrated way involving the different areas of the nation.

Finally, I liked the work done in Germany about changing the black from its flag for the European blue. Rather than something that failed, it provoked a series of discussions that made the brand successful despite its supposed failure.

Through your PHD research, did you uncover strong connections between the ideas of identity employed in state branding and the real individual understanding of national identity? I.e. Do you think place branding is a very powerful tool when used correctly?

Yes, I understand that if the brands of origin gather the best of life in common, they can help that community realize some shared positive values. To do so, these communities should look for and use selectively the symbols that bind and do not divide. Such symbols should integrate, not exclude, arouse optimism and motivate those related to it to think about the common good. However, for this ideal scenario, it is necessary that the story that the brand transmits, to be representative of the community. Otherwise, you run the risk of distorting reality, which can cause a boomerang effect for the job.

In my PhD research, I argued that national identities are arbitrary constructions that are installed by their States, States which are led by hegemonic groups. These States project symbolic fiction through stories that are absorbed mainly by schoolchildren, communities and families. This, in turn, helps structure a common vision of what the Nation is. The media used by the State are, among others, textbooks, the flag, coat of arms, monuments, banknotes, stamps, propaganda, public architecture, uniforms and also the brands of origin.

Regarding the comparison with New Zealand, I would recommend Tasmania to take a look at itself. I think the most important part of this work is to be clear what the specific objectives for the brand are and in what time period. The content of this research is essential to assess any further action, because this content is measurable, strategic and can ensure that an investment made by Tasmania bears fruit. 

It is therefore important to understand that these brands are important not only for tourism, exportation or for political credibility, but for people who build day by day the present and future of the islands. The children of the island, whether they like it or not, need references about where they stand and how their society is constituted. Otherwise anomie will be left for them as the only reference.

Tasmania as a destination is often compared to NZ, who are often described as leading the way in how they brand and market their clean/green image internationally (see From an international perspective how would you compare the image you have of New Zealand vs Tasmania?

New Zealand is the force of nature tamed and bounded within a geographical and thematic space, and in line with this we might recall the image they convey through the All Blacks, with all their tattoos and expressions. Tasmania appears to be nature in its purest form, i.e. it seems to be perhaps the most neglected and hidden place in the world. For a foreigner it is hard to imagine that there is a population and activities there, which, depending on the needs of Tasmania, can help you install different interpretations that pique the interest of viewers.

Do you know of any other examples where a place brand has been developed by the people, via an open online discussion?

With regard to methodology, I think you first have to see what you are looking to create from the brand. The public effect seeks to make the viewer the modifier or reinforcer of what Tasmania means, thus ensuring that their definitions and attitudes about the archipelago are consistent with the strategy set. If we accept this, the debate itself might have a positive effect that the brand, before birth, brings to its people.

Second, I believe that the greatest difficulty that a job like this has is not to achieve the design of a beautiful symbol, but to reach consensus among all stakeholders towards a shared horizon. These parties are the online communities and even business groups and the parliament, since what is being discussed is as important as what the Tasmanian model aims for the coming years.

In this regard, if the majority consensus reinforces an accepted axis of action, it will have achieved a breakthrough towards the ideal brand. This consensus can be, for example, that Tasmania aims from their brand just to attract tourists and to be represented solely by its nature or not.

Furthermore, this consensus will help designers and creatives to focus their action on a concrete objective, and that means the evaluation of their work will not be an arbitrary task.

Third, I believe the greatest resource for spreading the brand name of a place is its people. They consist of both residents who travel the world using a T-shirt with the logo of their home, and entrepreneurs that take the brand as their own and place it spontaneously in their advertising and products. This suggests that if the mark is the result of social and political consensus within Tasmania, it will have a greater chance of being adopted by its entire people. I’ve had very rewarding experiences with some projects that I used with this approach and recommend it.

Do you have any other thoughts/comments/ideas about this crowd-sourcing experiment we are conducting?

I would tell you my vision on the subject: a brand of origin tells a story. It is a story that is simply a myth told to those who hear it about what will happen if they are linked with the place that the brand represents. In this way, that story / brand is a promise of results, emotions, experiences and attitudes that will be found in that place. So what the design of these brands does is to tell a good story. This can be achieved only from an abstract gesture that could be complemented by good communication or by an illustrative representation of alleged facts. In this sense, there is no aesthetic determinism, but there is a demand that the message of the brand be understandable, straightforward and clear. Above all these things, it must convey the sense of place and the soul of its people. This will mean that the brand tells a unique story that will endure over time and that will charm from its authenticity.