Jan Cienski in Warsaw -
Poland is a fairly flat country with few striking landmarks, an architectural heritage that pales in comparison with France and Italy, no queen and it has a damp central European climate. The country creates few immediate associations with outsiders except for a grey and cold place known best for vodka, heavy foods, Lech Walesa and John Paul II.
That is the cause of enormous frustration for decades of ambitious branding efforts, as Poles look with envy at sunnier and prettier countries such as Spain and the Czech Republic which have succeeded in fixing a positive international image for themselves.
Now, a group of business and marketing groups has launched a contest to choose a new logo for the country to be used in all international promotion efforts. The three choices are variations on a flattened red spring, and the final selection will be made at the end of October after an online poll.
Those wanting to cast a vote can go here.
The logo, as well as a grammatically clumsy motto, “Polska. Spring Into New”, are the legacy of recently deceased branding guru Wally Olins, who spent a decade trying to come up with an attractive marque for Poland. He settled on “Creative Tension”, in an effort to capture Poland’s resilience to the ups and downs of historical fortune.
“The symbolism of a spring fully expresses our character and latent energy,” explain the organisers, who have so far spent €220,000 of their own money on the effort. “Our wayward, but at the same time constructive, approach to the world. The more we, as a nation, were overwhelmed, the more energy and creative tension we had and the more dynamically we acted.”
Poland has long had great difficulty in defining itself to the outside world. While the government uses the red and white flag and the white eagle that have been Poland’s symbols for a millennium, other agencies from tourism to investment promotion have created a hodge-podge of competing slogans and logos ranging from a red-and-white kite to a weird chess board to a mountain, tree and river framing the word “Polska”.
But the new effort is leaving a lot of Poles cold.
Slawomir Majman, head of the PAIIZ, the Polish investment agency, tweeted that the new design was “weak, graphically archaic, with an unclear message”. His agency has its own logo - two red-and-white sail-like triangles.
Websites have had great fun caricaturing the logo, some suggesting that primary school children could have come up with it.
Others worry that the concept of a spring introduces an element of instability and bounciness – sort of a what springs up must contract down idea.
Anna Szubert, a marketing expert, tells the natemat.pl website that for her springs bring to mind industrial equipment and that Poland might be better off simply relying on its traditional symbols in order to promote itself abroad.
While branding experts have been fretting about finding an attractive way for the country to present itself abroad, Poland has gone ahead and done a pretty good job on its own.
But instead of extolling its unremarkable countryside and fairly bland cuisine, Poland today is seen internationally as an economic success story - the only European country not to fall into recession in more than two decades and the continent’s best example of a post-communist transformation. Poland has created a growing number of innovative businesses like Pesa, a locomotive manufacturer which recently won a €1.2bn contract to supply Deutsche Bahn, or Solaris, which sells buses and trams around the world.
That’s not as sexy as creative tension, but probably better reflects Poland’s long slog from being a communist-run basket case in the late 1980s to a relatively prosperous and relatively normal European country a quarter century later.
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