Authentic Passion About Colombia

11 years, 3 months ago


Two separate image campaigns reveal a great deal about Colombia, writes Juan-Carlos Molleda.

After decades of violence and a subsequent decline in country reputation, Colombia is innovating with domestic campaigns that transcend to the global stage. Nation-building efforts have evolved into global branding initiatives and image-of-nation strategies aimed to attract foreign investors and tourists; reinforce the country-of-origin stamp to a world commodity, such as coffee; and in general increase the acceptance of ‘Made in Colombia’ products.

This South American nation was the first to claim an association between a country and a world commodity. It also created a sombrero-clad farmer, named Juan Valdez, in 1959 to serve as a coffee ambassador to the world. Since its inception, the international icon that has been impersonated by two professional actors gained wide and immediate name and image recognition and much popularity.

Towards the end of 2004, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (the Federation) assisted by Oregon-based Character (brand-management firm) revamped Juan Valdez’s image to one of a youthful and authentic identity through a national contest that included the active participation of real Colombian coffee growers. The search even became a sort of reality show broadcast on national TV. It became the talk in every town.

The purpose of the new Juan Valdez campaign was to infuse the identification and pride of Colombians, particularly coffee growers, while consolidating the ‘100 % Colombian Coffee’ trademark internationally. An authentic ‘cafetero’ named Carlos Castañeda was chosen to personify the renewed Juan Valdez. For the complete story click

Key message analysis

To further understand the nuances of this campaign, I analyzed the key messages and themes of this effort using Gilmore and Pine’s (2007) five genres of authenticity: Natural, original, exceptional, referential and influential (Authenticity: What consumers really want). We are in the business of identifying and telling sincere stories of genuine people and organizations. To this end, the following aspects formed the essence of this “glocal” campaign:

• Natural authenticity because coffee is a commodity that exists in a natural state.
• Original authenticity, considering that Colombia was the first country to stamp country-of-origin to a world commodity.
• Exceptional authenticity, meaning that Colombian coffee’s production is based on human care since the moment the beans are hand-picked until they are delivered to the world market by an authentic coffee grower functioning as a spokesperson or ambassador and a well-known international icon.
• Referential authenticity because the background and experience of this idyllic coffee grower is a human story focused on shared memories and longings of the Colombian community of coffee growers and worldwide coffee consumers, and conveys the values of this labor-intensive industry.
• Influential authenticity because the campaign called for the preservation of the coffee culture of Colombia and, additionally, to the protection of the natural environment expressed by an accord signed between the Federation and Rainforest Alliance and the Juan Valdez cafes. 

The man in a poncho, wearing a straw hat, carrying a leather bag and standing alongside his mule Conchita attends each major international trade show and the grand opening of coffeehouses in the PROCAFECOL (the Federation’s commercial agency) chain which numbers more than 30 shops in Spain and North and South America, plus distribution in supermarket chains in Central America and Mexico. Profits of the cafes directly benefit coffee growers and their communities (for additional information browse:

Rivers, oceans, plains and mountains of passion

Colombian efforts to tell the world about the traits and entrepreneurial spirit of its people and the resources and beauty of its natural environment have continued with another ‘glocal’ campaign named Colombia es Pasión, or ‘Colombia is Passion.’ This public-private sponsored campaign included essential processes such as conducting research to gauge the views of domestic and international audiences of Colombia and developing tactics that sought to promote its key messages.

The goal of this campaign was to show the good side of Colombia to those who only know about its negative aspects. The official website explains that the campaign “intends to unify all the efforts that Colombians are making in all fields to obtain tangible results in the economic field, the construction of the nation, the change of attitudes and generating unity. It is the brand which will make all our passion become a force which is capable of changing the image of our country abroad.” Plan tactics included recording a CD of original songs interpreted by up and coming singers and a two-store retail operation in Bogotá that sold hundreds of promotional products featuring the campaign’s red heart-shaped logo.

The logo has been licensed by more than 200 companies and stamped on, among other commodities, boxes of roses and fruits destined for export. A cycling team that competes internationally has been given the name of the campaign as well. The official website contains English and German versions ( Promotional videos are found in YouTube and other online sites and social media, including Facebook , myspace and hi5 groups. hi5 is a popular Latin American social networking site.

Simon Anholt, a British author and consultant credited with coining the phrase ‘nation brand’ in 1996 said: “Rebranding requires sweeping societal transformations … not just clever public relations. … South Africa rebranded when it ended apartheid; Ireland when it became a prosperous nation, rather than a mass producer of immigrants; Slovenia when it embraced democracy, joined the European Union and showed that a historically unstable part of Eastern European could be different” (cited by Matt Moffett of The Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2008). Colombia seems to have achieved social, political, and economic transformations, which allows the country to be reintroduced to their people and by extension to the world stage with an authentic story infused with passion.

Lessons learned from these ‘glocal’ campaigns

• To justify a domestic and global country reputation campaign, social, economic or political transformations have occurred;
• the perceived global country’s reputation is not consistent with the nation’s reality;
• research results confirm a contrasting domestic and international reputation;
• a national consensus emerged and a priority goal set by the government and other influential sectors of society;
• private-public partnerships developed, and perhaps multi-sector partnerships with the inclusion of NGOs;
• a multi-platform implementation is carried out;
• themes and key messages should be infused with authentic, real stories and testimonials;
• participation should expand to civil groups and common citizens;
• efforts should be maintained over time with consistent country performance, domestic and foreign policies and actions;
• continuity achieved during the transition of various local and federal government administrations;
• and the dynamic nature of a country’s reputation periodically assessed. 

The interdependence of socioeconomic and political systems, and the immediacy offered by interactive communication technologies and global and pan-regional media allow domestic strategic communication efforts to smoothly jump onto the world springboard. The authentic efforts will render positive results when everyone in the country is onboard and ready to embrace and spread the passion outside their national borders.

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The Author

Juan-Carlos Molleda

Dr. Juan-Carlos Molleda is an associate professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Public Relations of the University of Florida. He received his Bachelor of Science in Social Communication (1990) from Universidad del Zulia in Venezuela, a Master of Science in Corporate and Professional Communications (1997) from Radford University in Virginia, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Journalism and Mass Communications with an emphasis on international public relations and international business (2000) from the University of South Carolina, where he also coordinated applied communication research projects. Between 1987 and 1993, he obtained his major work experience from a Venezuelan financial consortium, acting as manager of public relations, corporate communication, and advertising and promotions. In 2003, Dr. Molleda accomplished a ‘Professional Summer’ working for the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller Latin America, Miami.

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