Almost anyone who can attract enough attention from the media can make a fortune, often from their name alone. This phenomenon is reflected most clearly in the cult of celebrity where some individuals, mainly in the US and the UK, who have done little that might be regarded as being of significance or of value, have managed to turn themselves into a saleable brand.
In doing so most have been able to protect their name and brand to the extent of taking legal action against those who might seek to use it to market products without paying a royalty or a licensing fee.
Not so with the name of a country which cannot be protected in the same way unless it is allied to a product that is covered by a legally enforceable trademark, geographical indication or a regulation that requires a single origin.
Even then it is not always easy to enforce as I discovered not long ago while working with the Caribbean rum industry on European trade policy issues. At the time it came to the attention of some of my colleagues that a product was being marketed in Romania that was subsequently finding its way into other parts of Europe, with a label that in English described the product as being Jamaica Rum. With some difficulty we obtained a bottle which testing proved not only had no connection with any rum product from Jamaica, but was not even made from sugar cane molasses.
The problem then was to try to have the European Commission enforce its own complex regulation and which defines spirits drinks and how they are labelled, over which many countries and regions, including the Caribbean, had spent years arguing.
The point of this story is that then and now, Jamaica, and others in the region, need to do much more to protect and promote national identity through ensuring whenever possible that the country’s name appears on genuinely Jamaican made products that are sold internationally, whether they be rum, hot pepper sauce, music or mangoes.
From the perspective of tourism this is free advertising and marketing. It reinforces the image of Jamaica as a destination and well managed, enables visitors not only to take home the taste or sound of the country, but also to continue purchasing it in outlets in their home country.
In this latter context in North America and Europe upscale restaurants have been emerging offering for instance Peruvian or Cuban cooking. What is particularly interesting is that in Europe in both of these cases, such restaurants do not really offer more than a few genuine national dishes but seek instead to build around themselves and their country of origin or affiliation an image through glossy cook books, the availability of other products and world class chefs from the country concerned, in an extension of the national brand.
That these commercial ventures have proved successful in some of the smartest and most expensive cities in the world is an indication of how brand Cuba or brand Peru has been able to leverage and promote themselves by association to an affluent market of potential visitors, by extending and enhancing the reality of what in some cases is available only in a limited way at home.