Joanna Landau
Expert in Country Branding and Best Selling Author

Cracking the Millennial Code

In May 2013, Time Magazine published an article entitled “The Me Me Me Generation”. It was a scathing attempt at making sense of the Millennial generation, the largest and most diverse generation to date. It included statements such as “What millennials are most famous for besides narcissism is its effect: entitlement.”, and “What they do understand is how to turn themselves into brands, with “friend” and “follower” tallies that serve as sales figures.”. Fast forward almost 6 years, this is still what most people think of when they think of Millennials.

Taking into account that by 2025 Millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce, and that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and WeWork’s Adam Neumann, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Austria’s Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz, are all Millennials, perhaps they deserve a second, less patronising glance. Because Millennials aren’t just kids staring blankly at their cellphones; they are politicians, artists, business men and women and social activists, and their impact and influence is beyond compare. They know how to harness communities and rally people to action. They are not to be belittled, not least because they are also our children and grandchildren and it matters what they think, especially about Israel.

Global polls in recent years have consistently shown that people aged 40 and above have a much better perception of Israel than do Millennials. In the 2018 Best Countries index, a ranking published in US News every year of perceptions towards 80 countries, Israel ranked 30th overall. But when singling out the Millennials’ Picks from the 22,000 people interviewed, Israel dropped to the 49th place. No other country has such a generational difference in the entire ranking! This generational disparity is significant and should worry anyone who cares about Israel and/or long-term Jewish identity. The conclusion is simple: Millennials aren’t buying what Israel is selling.

As someone who has been engaging Millennials with Israel for several years now through Vibe Israel, the nonprofit I established to change hearts and minds about Israel, I was alarmed by this and had to find out more. We commissioned Bloom Consulting, the leading place branding agency based in London and Madrid, to do global research on how young people perceive Israel. The survey (conducted in July 2018) included 3,950 respondents in 12 states/countries (in North America, South America, Western Europe and Australia), and focused on three main profiles (98% non-Jewish): Millennials (ages 22-38), Gen Z (ages 14-21), and the person who most influences the household: their Moms (up to age 52). The results that came in enabled us to start cracking the Millennial code when it comes to finding ways to dramatically transform this generation’s perceptions of Israel.

The three main conclusions from the research were: (1) An overwhelming majority of the respondents (84%) were not familiar with the BDS movement, begging the question how strategic is it that so much of the available funding and resources is spent on fighting BDS and so little is invested in complementary efforts to improve Israel’s image; (2) Although violence and warfare were the first associations most respondents had with Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict itself did not even appear in the first five associations with Israel. In other words, despite popular opinion that Israel’s image crisis is due to the Conflict, this seems not to be the case (people are more concerned with their personal safety than developing an opinion about the Conflict); and (3) Despite the rich multicultural offering Israel has, as well as its business, scientific and cultural contributions, the world sees Israel almost exclusively as a religious country with very little to offer people who are not religious. Since there is a global trend amongst young people away from religion, our consultants concluded that Israel’s current messaging is losing relevance and attractiveness in the eyes of the next generation.

We also found that Millennials, Gen Z’ers and their Mothers do not know much about Israel at all. When asked “What does Israel do best?”, most people answered, “Don’t know”. When asked “Tell us about the coolest thing you’ve heard/seen/read about Israel recently”, almost 60% said “Don’t know” and “Nothing”. Bottom line: in a world of information overload, in which young people have learned to filter out anything that doesn’t interest them, Israel – for better or for worse – isn’t a major player at all. In fact, it’s not even in the minor leagues. Some might argue that’s a good thing, that no news is good news. But as the late Elie Wiesel Z”L said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference” – we cannot afford entire generations to become indifferent to Israel.

And yet – if you’re a Singaporean techie, you know Israel is a global leader in high-tech; if you’re a gay Brazilian, you know Israel is home to one of the best Gay Pride Parades the world has to offer; if you’re a Swedish Eurovision fanatic, you can’t wait to come to Tel Aviv this May; if you’re an avid cycler from the UK, you found Israel an incredible backdrop for the Giro 2018; if you’re a Californian vegan, you’re quickly discovering that Israel is the vegan capital of the world; and if you’re a foodie not living on Mars, you can’t wait to check out Erez Komarovsky’s new restaurant in New York. These success stories are proofs of concept for a much broader “Big Bet” solution: there is a way to engage Millennials positively with Israel. It’s called “Country Branding”, and it’s what every other country does – so why not Israel?

Country Branding is the art of ensuring that when people hear the name of a country, the desired feeling, emotion or perception pops into their mind. It is a methodolgy used by countries, cities and regions the world over to enhance their global reputation. With the help of Bloom Consulting, whose clients include Australia, Sweden, Costa Rica and Paraguay, we have developed a Country Branding strategy for Israel with over 20 projects to be implemented over the next 5 years.

Presenting President Rivlin with Vibe Israel’s “Israel Brand Narratives Book”. The book reveals the narratives of Israel’s brand and includes Communication Guidelines on how to convey them.
Photo Credit: Mark Neiman, GPO

We believe the rebranding of Israel is not just an Israeli story, it is a global story of the Jewish people. But the clock is ticking and the window of opportunity is closing. New ideas are not a luxury – they are a necessity. This is one such idea worth renewing and I invite anyone who cares about Israel and wants to strengthen its global reputation and ensure that their own Millennial children feel positive about their Jewish Identity as it relates to Israel, to join us in dramatically transforming global perceptions of Israel.

About the Author
Joanna is an expert in country branding, passionate about Israel, and fascinated by the nexus between the two: how to leverage Israel’s competitive advantages and share its story with the world. Author of the best-selling book, “Ethical Tribing: Connecting the Next Generation to Israel in the Digital Era,” she is a consultant and speaker about country branding, Israel’s soft power, and the unique challenges Israel faces when building its global reputation, especially online. In 2011, Joanna founded Vibe Israel, a non-profit that leverages country branding techniques and social media to promote Israel to the next generation. In her tenure as CEO, the organization generated over a billion positive mentions about Israel online. Joanna served as a paramedic in the IDF and earned BA and MA degrees in Law from Cambridge University and an MBA, cum laude, from Reichman University in Israel. She worked as a lawyer in the tech industry and founded two internet-based startups. ​ Joanna serves as a director of the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa's marketing arm, Tel Aviv Global & Tourism. She is a governor of Tel Aviv University and a member of the International Education Committee of Taglit-Birthright. In 2022, she received the Forum Dvorah Award for Foreign Policy, and in 2017 she was chosen by Forbes Israel as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Israel. Born in London and raised in Israel, she lives in Tel-Aviv with her husband, 3 children, and 2 dogs.
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