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Credit: Juliana Kozoski

Australia and New Zealand soar in soft power rankings

Australia and New Zealand have received a positive assessment in the latest Brand Finance Global Soft Power Index 2024 report, highlighting their increasing influence on the global stage.

Both nations have seen significant jumps in their rankings, with Australia moving up by 11 places and New Zealand by 14 places. These advancements reflect their shared values and commitment to sustainable economic growth and social stability.

While Australia has focused on forging trade partnerships, New Zealand has emphasized innovation and emerging technologies in their strategies to enhance soft power. This coordinated effort has led to notable improvements in their rankings, particularly in the ‘future growth potential’ attribute within the Business & Trade pillar.

The Global Soft Power Index is compiled based on a survey of over 170,000 respondents from more than 100 countries, making it the most comprehensive study on global perceptions of nation brands. Soft power, defined as a nation’s ability to influence international actors through attraction and persuasion, is evaluated across 55 metrics to determine each nation’s overall score and ranking.

In addition to their economic endeavors, Australia and New Zealand have also made strides in fostering good relations with other countries. Australia climbed seven spots to secure the 8th position, while New Zealand jumped ten spots to reach 9th in this category. Their collaborative efforts in forums like the Pacific Islands Forum and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation have contributed to this achievement.

Both nations have consistently performed well in the People & Values pillar, characterized by attributes such as generosity, friendliness, and fun. Their contributions to humanitarian assistance in countries like Turkey and Syria have bolstered their reputations in this regard.

The report also highlights the intentional efforts of other nations, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, in enhancing their soft power through nation branding projects, diplomatic initiatives, and hosting major events. These efforts have led to significant improvements in their rankings and perceptions globally.

Mark Crowe, Managing Director of Brand Finance Australasia commented: “Australia’s notable climb by three ranks for Reputation to 6th in the world for this metric and a 5-rank hike for the ‘ease to do business in and with’ attribute can be credited to its consistent efforts in fostering a transparent and supportive business environment, reflecting the nation’s commitment to international trade partnerships, streamlined regulations and efforts to create a welcoming and efficient business ecosystem.

Global survey respondents have a positive perspective of New Zealand when it comes to being ‘influential in arts and entertainment’ as well as being regarded as a ‘leader in sports’ as the nation’s ranking for these attributes rose by seven and three ranks.”

The fifth annual report includes all 193 member nations of United Nations General Assembly for the first time. The report has found that – at a time of global uncertainty and instability – economic credentials are increasingly important contributors to a nation’s soft power. Nation brand attributes such as ‘strong and stable economy’ and ‘products and brands the world loves’ emerge as key drivers of influence and reputation on the global stage. This trend explains the continued dominance of the world’s largest economies like the United States and China as well as smaller developed economies like Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates at the top of the ranking. Dominant nation brands are recording faster soft power growth (average +3.1 points in the top 50) than the rest of the ranking (average -1.3 for those ranked 51-193).

David Haigh, Chairman & CEO of Brand Finance commented: “The Global Soft Power Index 2024 underscores the complex interplay between global events and economic shifts in shaping soft power. As nations navigate these dynamics, the importance of a strategic approach to nation branding, supported by perceptions research and financial analysis, becomes increasingly evident.”

The US leads the rankings with an all-time highest Global Soft Power Index Score of 78.8, an increase from 74.8 in 2023, and earning the top spot for Familiarity and Influence, four out of the eight Soft Power pillars and nine out of the 35 nation brand attributes, including ‘leader in science’, ‘influential in arts and entertainment’, ‘internationally admired leaders’, ‘helpful to countries in need’ and ‘supports global efforts to counter climate change’. However, internal security challenges around gun violence and police brutality as well as involvement in international conflicts seem to be undermining some of its nation brand perceptions, as evidenced by continued rank declines on ‘great place to visit’, ‘good relations with other countries’, ‘safe and secure’ and ‘friendly’ where the US has dropped a further nine places to 112th.

David Haigh, Chairman & CEO of Brand Finance commented: “Donald Trump’s confrontational politics – both domestically and internationally – caused a serious erosion of the nation’s soft power in his final year in office, reflected in the United States temporarily losing its 1st rank in the 2021 Index, since recovered under the Biden administration. The upcoming presidential election in November 2024 will be momentous in terms of future direction for the USA and how the nation is perceived globally.”

The United Kingdom has overcome a soft power risk from temporary instability in late 2022 resulting from tumultuous government changes and the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. This year, the UK ranks 7th in ‘strong and stable economy’ compared to last year’s 12th and improves on ‘politically stable and well governed’ up to 12th from last year’s 16th. The nation’s Global Soft Power Index Score of 71.8 continues an upward trend from 67.3 in the previous year. Like the USA, as the UK is set for a general election this year, it will be interesting to see how the results impact its soft power.

China replaces Germany at the 3rd position in the soft power rankings, improving its overall score by +6.2, from 65.0 to 71.2 – faster than any other nation brand in the Global Soft Power Index this year. This rise is driven by a significant improvement in China’s perceptions across key Business & Trade and Education & Science metrics.

Germany fell to 5th position, after earning top ranking in 2021, and 3rd place in both 2022 and 2023. Germany has experienced stagnation and in many cases erosion in perceptions across the board this year, with a substantial drop of 14 positions in ‘good relations with other countries’ compared to 2023, along with decreases in ‘helpful to countries in need’ and measures of trustworthiness. Nevertheless, Germany achieved the top rank in Governance and, despite some score declines, remains among the leaders in the pursuit of a Sustainable Future.

India, Brazil and South Africa struggle to fulfil their soft power potential, as all three nations have relatively high Familiarity and Influence, especially in their home regions, but rank lower for Reputation. India fell to 29th place, the highest ranked Latin American nation brand Brazil stagnated in 31st and Sub-Saharan Africa ranking leader South Africa dropped to an all-time low in 43rd place.

With the ranking extended to cover all 193 member states of the United Nations, Monaco is the highest-ranked new entrant at 42nd. The world’s lowest-ranked nations are small Pacific Island nations Vanuatu (191st) Nauru (192nd) and Kiribati (193rd) – each limited in influence by population, geography and economic factors.

Hard power harms soft power. Russia, Ukraine and Israel have all ranked lower this year as respondents appear to downgrade countries engaged in military action. Russia continues to fall in soft power rankings, down three places to an all-time low of 16th. While Ukraine is down seven places to 44th, the nation continues to be ranked higher than at any time before Russia invaded. Israel has fallen five ranks to an all-time low ranking of 32nd.

David Haigh, Chairman & CEO of Brand Finance commented: “Our research shows that world opinion on individual countries and their actions differs widely, as demonstrated by the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine. This fractured perception can be traced to a lack of free and fair media and communication, resulting in opinions that are formed based on biased or partial knowledge. The World Economic Forum identifies misinformation, disinformation, fake news and propaganda as the biggest threat to world peace. While global hard power expenditure was a record USD2.2 trillion in 2023 and expected to rise in 2024, we estimate that the combined spending by nation brands on communications is less than USD1 billion. Given the dramatic difference in investment, it is unsurprising that hard power has been dominating soft power.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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