From food to fashion, soft power is the trend!
Happy New Year, may it be strong for all of you!
Though, let it start on a softer side, with 9 picks from Monocle’s magazine annual Soft Power Awards*. To mark its 10th annual Soft Power Survey, the magazine launched its first Soft Power Awards, that is a list of people, embassies and institutions that boost a nation’s image and help building a nation’s brand.
Soft power is a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence. Nowadays, in a mixture of unresolved issues and conflicts, the soft power skills become more and more in a demand, as a great, at hand solution to many. While there are still nations that base their ruling on demand and control, the world of the future is the one of influence. The better we will know to do it softly, the stronger impact we will have.
1. Best national product: Lego for Denmark
Lego was once again the world’s number one toymaker in 2019. This is an extraordinary achievement for a 87 year old family-owned business based in a small village in Denmark. Despite the tremendous competition from the digital gaming world, Lego has seen no slowdown in sales for the past decade. Parents realised that building, creating and exploring in the physical world is crucial for their children’s development. Sustainability is also taken into account, with the company slowly shifting to bio-based plastics, a charitable recycling project - Replay - and a circular-economy rental concept (for those of you who are Romanian and love the circular-economy, please check www.ever.toys, a subscription based toy and games provider with the mission to offer you and your children access to a curated selection of the best and most relevant toys and games). Kristiansen family is planning to open 160 new shops in 2020 and they have just made many Xmass lists with the latest 4,784-piece Star Wars Imperial Destroyer.
2. Best sports ambassador: Michael Leitch for Japan
Michael Leitch was Japan’s national rugby team captain during the 2019 World Cup, where the team managed to get to the quarter-finals, with four straights wins, two of which against Scotland and Ireland, better recognized for this sport. While he is a Kiwi who moved to Japan at the age of 15, Leitch was the second-most recognisable man in Japan after Shinzo Abe (based on a poll in October). How did a foreigner find favour in a nation known for its localism and no passion for rugby? One: mastering Japanese. Two: unwillingness to give up in sport. Three: respect for opponents. Four: commitment to the Japanese cause!
Special mention: Naomi Osaka, who won the Australian Open in 2019 and became number one in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings.
3. Best cultural export: Mexican screen productions
Thanks to Netflix, it is not only the telenovelas that are exported around the world, but also La casa de las Flores (The House of Flowers) series. It was such a hit, that a new season was released in October 2019. This is coming after Roma, which was awarded with 2019 Oscar’s best director award for Alfonso Cuaron. And this was the fifth Mexican winner for best director award in the past six years!
Mexico’s box office revenue has more than doubled in the past 10 years and it is not just the Hollywood productions that are doing well, but also comedies like Mirreyes Contra Godinez and No Manches Frida 2.
4. Best embassy programmes for local entrepreneurs: Netherlands
The Netherlands has created a series of programmes across its embassies to support entrepreneurs through trainings, workshops, as well as by linking them to Dutch businesses. For example, in Athens, the Dutch embassy runs Orange Grove, a project that started in 2013, that helped more than 170 start-ups, out of which more than half were still doing ok five years after. Similar initiatives are running in Africa (Orange corners) and will be expanded to Middle East (Orange Plaza - co-working spaces), Cuba and Costa Rica.
5. Best culinary ambassador: Peruvian food
It is not only the famous Pisco Sour cocktail that travelled the world, but also the renowned Peruvian chef Diego Munoz, formerly in charge with the famous Astrid & Gaston restaurant in Lima, who spread the tasty South American dishes from Russia to Bali. He took the job from other peers like Gaston Acurion (founder of Astrid & Gaston) and Virgilio Martinez. Peruvian dishes are to be found on menus in Buenos Aires, Copenhangen and even New York. Peru officials realised that food is a tourist drive, therefore they built on their country a Superfoods brand, with food exports of almost $50 billion in 2018. Everybody is hungry, so why not to take advatange of the tourists appetite?
6. Best global rebrand: German carmakers
The German car industry suffered significantly when Volkswagen, one of its biggest players, was found guilty in 2015 of cheating about the emission tests in its diesel cars. Only if it was about Volkswagen, but Daimler and Benz faced similar, but not comparable charges. Four years later, these car-makers are set for a greener, partly electric race of the future of transportation. Both BMW and Daimler announced a joined venture, turning them into a single source for ride-sharing, electric-car charging and intelligent parking systems. Volkswagen is following closely, so Germany is now the third in sales of electric cars, which is an extraordinary turn from the long known positioning for luxury. From luxury to eco, “made in Germany” cars still brand the nation!
7. Best literary hit: Margaret Atwood, Canada’s visionary
The “handmaid” - draped in a floor length red cloak and with her head bowed in a strange winged over-sized white hood - has gained a lot of popularity thanks to Margaret Atwood’s book and later on the Hulu series (available on HBO Go) The Handmaid’s Tale. It has also been a symbol in many world protests against the increasingly powerful, populist polical class from Dublin and Buenos Aires to New York and Toronto.
Margaret Atwood has long been a soft power ambassor for Canada, a position that was cemented with her latest work - The Testaments, a Booker-prize winning sequel, published in September 2019 and selling fast, making her a more and more contender for the Nobel prize in literature.
8. Best trendsetter: France
French companies, including LVMH and fellow conglomerate Kering, continue to dominate the luxury ranks. Much of the power of Brand France comes from French craftsmanship. Louis Vuitton opened its 16th leather facility in France in September 2019, while Chanel will open in 2020 19M, a Paris atelier that will house its Metiers d’Art network in a celebration of French savoir faire.
The French touch can be felt from runway to politics, with president Emmanuel Macron introducing the Fashion Pact at the G7 meeting. The Pact is a set of shared objectives to reduce the fashion industry’s environmental impact. Paris Fashion Week remains the premier platform for leading designers across the world, more premium shops are opening on Champs-Elysees, there is no better choice for selling aspiration than France!
9. Best pop sensation: Rosalia, Spain’s favourite flamenco star
Rosalia was invited by another Spanish icon, film director Pedro Almodovar to star in his latest film Pain and Glory, Best Motion Picture in a foreign language award at Golden Globes 2020. Rosalia is the most exciting pop artist coming out of Europe in years, bringing the beautiful flamenco music and art in her debut album Los Angeles. Her second album, El Mal Querer is an outburst to bigger audiences, mixing flamenco with R&B and pop, to fans’s delight. Spain has long enjoyed a national branding on producing world-class footballers, now it was the time to produce a world-class singer!
*This blog post is based on the below article