Amsterdam, September 2010
The role of government is changing. European social democracies have traded in the welfare state for a more neoliberal agenda. To communicate the farewell of the welfare state and the implementation of austerity measures, governments have turned to marketing. In the Netherlands this led to the development of a new visual identity of the state in 2008. This project investigates the rebranding and its implications.
In the beginning of the 2000s the arrival of populist politician Pim Fortuyn led to a shift in the political landscape. His popularity gave rise to a populist constituency and conservative populist parties like the PVV (Party for Freedom) with its leader Geert Wilders. This changed constituency has brought parties both from the left and the right to embrace a more populist sentiment in their political programmes.
One Nation, One Logo
In this political environment the government ordered the development of a new identity in 2007. Since the 1970s each ministry had commissioned its own identity design. The government chose not to have a unified branding strategy, but rather allow a pluriformity of identity which was highly stimulating for the Dutch graphic design industry. Individual ministry officials commissioned identity designs that would not have been possible in the larger context of nation branding. The purpose of the new identity was not just to create a homogeneous state image, but also to save expenses by centralizing the government visual communication.
Between Rules and Freedom
The design competition was won by Studio Dumbar, who proposed the national coat of arms in a slightly updated version. The national coat of arms is from 1815 when state symbols had to show force and convey military superiority. Some countries still use the national coat of arms as a state logo, but in the Netherlands this visual language is only used for institutions like the military, the police, and the Dutch royal family. By introducing this symbol for achanged the representation of the state into a stronger and stricter agent. The ‘shield’ logo can be viewed as a representation of the 2010 cabinet policies which focussed heavily on security, stricter immigration laws, and more privacy-invading surveillance measures.
The blue colour and the formal typography gave the new state logo a corporate aesthetic. This resonates with a growing tendency of governments treating citizens like clients, describing their services as ‘products’. Branding guru Wally Olins calls this phenomenon ‘corporate patriotism’. This changing role of government is also illustrated by the Dutch Prime Minister. Historically Dutch Prime Ministers began their careers in more public roles like scientists, law professors, union leaders, or government officials. In 2010, Mark Rutte was the first to go from a manager at Dutch multinational Unilever straight to becoming Prime Minister.
The Fluid State
In the Netherlands relations between multinationals and government are becoming more and more intertwined. Politicians are drafted from the ranks of Dutch multinationals like Shell and Unilever, or end up joining their ranks after their time in office. Former Minister of Transport Camiel Eurlings became CEO of KLM, former Minister of Finance Wouter Bos worked at Shell before he went into office, and afterwards went to work for KPMG. Former Minister of Finance Gerrit Zalm is now CEO of ABN AMRO bank. As switching between government and multinationals has become more and more accepted, we should ask ourselves if, and how politicians can still curb corporate interests.
In this project I expanded the government identity to be a more inclusive system. Multinationals and the state already form partnerships on trade missions where foreign policy, culture, and trade agreements go together like milk and cookies. Dutch brands like KLM, Unilever, Shell, Heineken, and Philips deliver the soft power that enforce the Dutch national brand at home and abroad. Even the slogans of multinationals and the state are crafted from the same marketing language, and becoming interchangeable. With this expansion the identity allows for a more flexible and transparent communication for the future government.
Ham, Peter van. ‘Place Branding: the State of the Art’, The Netherlands Institute of International Relations “Clingendael”, 2008.
Olins, Wally. ‘Branding the Nation - the Historical context’. The Journal of Brand Management, April 2002.