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  • The Curious Tale of the Polish Plumber:Rebranding Nations for New Social and Political Situations
  • Jeffrey K. Johnson (bio)


In recent years, representatives of numerous countries have turned to advertising in an attempt to market the desirable qualities of their respective lands. Generally, these adverts are an attempt at "nation branding" in order to increase tourism. The practice has become quite commonplace and it is not unusual to see a country featured prominently in an advertisement. Although these nation-branding campaigns usually focus on attracting more tourists, a few countries have begun to use advertising for political and social purposes. In 2005, the Eastern European country of Bulgaria began using internal and external advertising in order to prepare for its entrance into the European Union (EU). Bulgaria attempted to redefine its image both at home and abroad in an effort to make the EU transition smoother.1 The Central European country of Poland also faced a geopolitical image problem when it joined the EU in 2004. Poland turned not only to traditional diplomatic avenues, but also to advertising and marketing to present its argument. This novel approach may seem esoteric and unimportant, but in reality it is worthy of notice because in the coming century, advertising and marketing could very well become important tools not only for the business community, but for statesmen as well. The possible new direction of international advertising and marketing gives one pause and requires one to ask what the role of the disciplines are, and how each could and should be used in the coming years.

The Polish Question

In May 2004, the European Union, a political and economic coalition of European nations, formally expanded its ranks to include ten new countries primarily from Central and Eastern Europe. As one might expect, adding ten nations to an already-existing alliance was a complicated and difficult process that was only exacerbated by the historical, economic, and cultural differences between the various parties. Many of the new member nations were former Warsaw Pact states that were economically weaker than their EU allies. This, combined with long memories of past conflicts and nationalistic sentiment, often made for unstable relations between some "old" and "new" states. A prime example of this relationship between different EU members is the connection between founding member France and 2004 inductee Poland. As students of history may be aware, Poland's recent past is an often-harrowing tale that comes partly from being sandwiched between two powerful neighbors, Germany and Russia. It was the Nazi German invasion of Poland that marked the start of World War II, and while the war's end signified independence and freedom for many western countries, it only marked the start of a quasi-Soviet government for Poland. The period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and Poland's induction into the EU gave rise to both new governmental and economic systems. Unfortunately, Poland's economic growth ranked low among both new and old EU member nations, which caused considerable consternation among more established members like Germany and France. In May 2004, as Poland was joining the EU, its unemployment rate was a staggering 18.9%, by far the worst unemployment rate of any EU member. This was more than double the French unemployment rate of 9.4% and the EU average of 9%.2 (By comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate for April 2004 was a much lower 5.5%.3) Despite the fact that France had a much lower jobless rate than Poland, the French economy was struggling, and many French citizens and politicians were worried about what Polish EU membership would mean to France's economy. Many Frenchmen appeared to believe that cheap Polish labor would harm France's economy and cost numerous French citizens their jobs. Radio France journalist Brice Couturier stated that Frenchmen believed their economy was not working well and the French social and economic systems were so fragile that Polish labor could destroy them. He noted, "We know very well that the whole of this society is living on [its] dependence on the next generations. In the civil service in some big countries, people work 32 hours a week…. So...