This past Friday's Wharton Nation Brand Conference featured speakers discussing nation branding's effect on international trade.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

A Wharton conference this weekend challenged students to consider how countries are like brands.

This past Friday, policymakers, academics and corporate executives from countries ranging from Brazil to China gathered in Huntsman Hall for the Wharton Nation Brand Conference. Issues discussed included how a nation’s image on the world stage affects its international trade, foreign direct investment and overall economic prosperity.

One of Penn’s business fraternities, the Beta Nu Chapter of Delta Sigma Pi, organized the event together with Wharton professor David I. Reibstein to give Penn students and faculty special access to noteworthy speakers’ perspectives on the field of “nation branding.”

One panel delved into the concept of how a nation’s global image is branded through international sports. The speakers exchanged views on whether Brazil should have hosted the 2016 Olympics in the first place.

“The World Cup and Olympics were really bad decisions for Brazil,” author of "Brazillionaires" Alex Cuadros said.

Cuadros highlighted that what should have benefitted Rio’s poor ended up benefitting the well-connected. He also pushed audiences to consider what the realistic cost for Brazil was, despite its attempt to transform itself for the better.

Fellow Brazilian Tulio Milman of Grupo RBS said the Olympics was “great for Brazil.”

Despite the diverging perspectives, speakers agreed that the media set a low bar for success in nations such as Brazil.

Another panel, “China Transforming,” was conducted by 2003 Wharton graduate and current Vice President of Alibaba Brian Wong. Wong executed his presentation by not only debunking the stereotypical myths about China’s industry, but also by using his company as an example of a Chinese company equally worthy of consumer appreciation on the international market.

“We believe what we’re doing is not only relevant for China but for the entire world,” he said.

Wong deconstructed the notion that China is a “copycat,” low-cost exporter that lacks real innovation. Alibaba’s innovative ideas have included introducing e-commerce centers in local villages as a means of solving poverty through technology.

Wong demonstrated how Chinese companies need to stick to their values in order to fulfill their long-term visions. Alibaba wants to reach 2 billion consumers by 2020, a goal its leaders hope can be fulfilled with China’s growing consumerism.

Wong’s portion of the conference particularly appealed to students interested in the Chinese job market.

“It opened my eyes up to the opportunities there are in China…I realized how Chinese companies are innovating on an equal platform with Western companies,” College freshman Clifford Tong said. 

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