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Saturday 20 December  
Selling a Dutch brand in Germany
Maurice Laparlière's picture
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Holland is a good brand, poorly sold

Published on : 19 December 2010 - 8:00am | By Maurice Laparlière (Photo:
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In the list of countries with the most attractive image, the Netherlands is in 12th place. This is quite a feat for such a small country.

But how should we promote the Holland brand? Hundreds of people from the marketing agencies, the civil service and business, who represent the Netherlands abroad have come together this week to discuss this issue.

If you ask ten Dutch people “what makes us proud to be Dutch?” you’ll get ten different answers.

No one has a problem naming 

  • windmills
  • cheese
  • tulips

Nor is it difficult to cite

  • the country’s heroic struggle against water
  • Golden Age artist Rembrandt van Rijn

And it stands to reason that the Dutch are proud of

  • making it to the World Cup final last summer
  • the fact that just about everyone here can skate and cycle

But people start having difficulty when it comes to

  • raw fish with onions
  • Dutch frankness
  • the Red Light District in Amsterdam
  • the right to abortion and euthanasia

Dutch perks
US historian and author Russell Shorto, guest speaker at the annual conference on the image of the Netherlands, thinks the Dutch reputation for “tolerance” is misleading. There are plenty of people in the Netherlands, especially in the more conservative areas, who couldn’t be characterised as particularly tolerant.

Mr Shorto, who has two children, would like to suggest another 'unique selling point' for the Netherlands. He was flabbergasted when he first received child allowance. One of the many perks the Dutch are entitled to.

Government funding to bring up your children is unthinkable in America. Fair’s fair, the Dutch pay quite a lot of tax for it. According to Mr Shorto, having a financial safety net eases a lot of social tension. The Dutch don’t have to worry too much about getting sacked or sickness insurance. And that makes them relatively relaxed.

The figures are clear. The Netherlands has a large number of multinationals and is one of the world’s biggest investors. Far bigger that its tiny number of inhabitants warrants. For instance, worldwide the Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural products.

In spite of all this, the Netherlands still has difficulty selling itself. Mark Zellenrath of engineering company Arcadis which helped out in the United States after hurricane Katrina saw what happened there.

“Everyone is glad that we helped. Americans watched how we went to work and took over. The Chinese are good at that too. People have no idea that the Dutch have a lot more technical solutions up their sleeves. A complete lack of marketing on our part.”

Solving impossible problems
The Netherlands is notorious for sending rival trade missions to foreign countries. First Japan gets a visit from a delegation from Rotterdam, and a day later it’s Amsterdam’s turn. The two delegations have no idea that they are fishing in the same pond. Totally confused, the Japanese go for the Spanish option.

Economic diplomacy can open doors, says Henk Jan Bakker, a foreign ministry civil servant.

“Even at the highest level, companies are helped. You would think top companies like Shell could look after its own affairs. Well, not always.”

In 2007, the company was confronted by lots of unexpected financial claims from environmental organisations, when it tried to invest in a large oil and gas project in Siberia.

The Dutch are also very good at solving seemingly impossible problems. Not just in the field of water management, but also in the area of logistics, agriculture and technology.

The delegates to the conference have agreed to be less modest in the future. They promise to be more concrete and give more examples of Dutch achievements and to embrace the new media. Next year, ‘Brand Holland’ will also be promoted via Twitter and Facebook.

So what makes Dutch trouble shooters so unique?

This is what I heard at the conference:

“Thanks to our tolerance and openness, the most junior employee is allowed to challenge the boss here. That can be very refreshing. But in a hierarchic culture, like in Germany, Sweden and America, that is unheard of.”




sidra khan 11 February 2013 - 9:17am / pakistan

This is really what I was searching for. I am feeling joyful to came here.I would like to thank you for sharing such info with us,I like to advise you that Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. GTA San Andreas

George Barnathan 26 March 2011 - 3:55am

Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. An excellent read. I will definitely be back.

Anonymous 22 December 2010 - 6:01am / you know

I am rather inclined to believe, someone said, that this is the land God gave to Cain.

Barcino 22 December 2010 - 1:20am / Bolivian Empire

The only thing I like about NEDERLANDS is TANJA neijeimer.
RudGuly is black so he belongs to the BOLIVIAN EMPIRE again
jasmin: I came to know about lovely Netherlands through RNW
best wishes! However INDIA belongs to SCO and Russian
presidente is today making sure it happen Global security
ONU membership for INDIA 2years. By the way BRAZIL is that Empire!

VNCcommunicationcounsel 21 December 2010 - 3:29am / Netherlands

Dear editors,

Would you please make up your mind? What is getting promotion: The Netherlands, or the upstart Holland provinces?
If the latter, you can rest assured that the other ten provinces will counter that type of branding with everything they got.
If the first, then please write so!

Shame on you, Radio NETHERLANDS!

Dhr. drs. VHJM van Neerven MSW MA
editor-in-chief VNCcommunicationcounsel
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Anonymous 22 December 2010 - 9:16am / USA

As a foreign reader, I find nothing offensive or shameful about this article. Radio Nederland has won numerous awards over the years for overall objectivity and public appeal, and was probably set up for the purpose of promoting a positive national image for the Netherlands, and has done so far more effectively than most overall, without being obviously propagandistic (as many other international news agencies are so offensively conspicuous about), per the awards given. Bon courage, RNW! I now want some Gouda cheese and Windmill cookies.

VNCcommunicationcounsel 27 December 2010 - 6:06am / Netherlands (Not Holland)

"As a foreign reader, I find nothing offensive or shameful about this article."
That's because you are a foreigner and clearly not informed on the history of the Low Lands (far more than the Netherlands is now), so you don't know sensitivities here. It's very simple: Do not call an Irishman English or a South-African an Afrikaander. That will get people's heckles up. Same goes for the Netherlands and Holland. Calling the whole nation Holland is offensive, period.
Indeed, RNW has an outstanding track record. That is why it should be ashamed to make such a beginners' mistake.

Vera Gottlieb 20 December 2010 - 5:32pm / Germany

I boycott Shell whenever, wherever possible.

Alfonso Mtz-M 20 December 2010 - 11:39am

I wonder if self-employment is enough for someone to legally be able to move to the Netherlands.

jasmin 20 December 2010 - 5:47am / India

I came to know about lovely Netherlands through RNW. So, guess, RNW is doing a great job promoting Holland! Best wishes!

Anonymous 20 December 2010 - 5:19am / USA

Actually I think the Netherlands has a very positive image in most of the United States because the general perception is that the Dutch are courteous and have a sense of humor while also being frank. The centuries-old democratic traditions (that other countries don't have) logically have something to do with that... people seeing each other worthy of respect as equals, and things you mention like making sure all children grow up with their material needs met adequately, plus assured health care... of course such things make a happy, well-adjusted society, without arrogance, and a positive attitude that people notice. You may recall that US Secretary of State Clinton remarked that she saw Dutch society as a positive model, overall, and most Americans who have much knowledge or experience with world cultures probably agree. In recent months, it seems like Holland has been associated with lots of noise from some of its more extremist public figures (not mentioning any names here, to avoid a ruckus) and that could be a source of any perceived problems at this time. And the USA is dealing with a remarkably similar problem due to extensive media attention to irrational extremist parties who are not really representative of the general population, even though they falsely claim they are popular or populists and get tons of corporate media attention. Media projection and perception of course matters, and Radio Nederland has been good for most of the last 40 years for telling it like it is without being unconstructively negative or exaggerating marginal issues.

christopher cholewa 19 December 2010 - 3:52pm / United States

tolerance yes-always in increments-moderation is the key.the photo heading this story is important.Shell-or Royal Dutch Shell-i know this.Amstel Bier-known in Chicago very well-as is Heineken Bier.And OCE-a Dutch firm with a local presence-10km from here.Akzo Nobel-KLM-Philips-Douwe Egberts.i could go on and on.investment is very envogue in East Europe-China-South Asia-sure.The possibilities are endless.Here in the U.S.A.-people need much more input with big business multi-nationals.we all must be socially aware-we live in a global community sure-business knows no borders-but roots of originality and differences between one place and another must be emphasized.we must rediscover this.

Anonymous 19 December 2010 - 2:09pm / Canada

Sorry folks but the message is well and truly out amongst the international community.

The myth of the Netherlands being an open and tolerant country and an attractive place for inward investment has been blown wide apart. The message is very clear, Foreigners are not welcome and international companies should look elsewhere to invest. After all there's plenty of alternatives in Europe who are far more welcoming.....

Anonymous 20 December 2010 - 5:43am / USA

The Dutch, as a rule, are friendly and courteous and good-humored, but not foolish. I'm not sure what the official policy on wolves and vultures is.

christopher cholewa 19 December 2010 - 3:57pm

tolerance is the key.and we need to rediscover ourselves-and where we come from-and what is unique.Nederland-Canada-Germany-China-USA-all distinct-yes we have commonality-but we have differences.after all we travel we are mobile-when i travel-i like to experience the differences-and adapt them to my everyday life.

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