Skip to main content

A church in Armenia's Ararat region is seen in front of Mount Ararat.Misha Japaridze/The Associated Press

For a country trying to advertise itself to the world, the anniversary of a genocide would not seem to be the ideal PR opportunity.

But for Armenia, which is conscious of how little awareness it has in many other countries, major news coverage represents a relatively rare opportunity. In 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, more foreign media than usual will be telling stories about Armenia. That is why the country has set a strict timeline for a rebranding project that will seek to attract more investment and tourists to its borders – starting in 2015, when it will be the focus of more attention. And it is bringing a Canadian advertising agency on board to help.

On Tuesday, Toronto-based Cundari Group announced that, in partnership with New York agency GK Brand, it has won the contract for Armenia's brand development project.

The contract is with the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, a public-private partnership between the government and Armenian business leaders, both within the country and abroad.

A team from Cundari will be travelling to Armenia in a couple of weeks to begin the process of developing the country's brand strategy. It's not unfamiliar territory: Cundari helped to create a new brand strategy for Washington, D.C., in 2008, and has done similar projects for the city of Calgary, Ontario's Niagara region, and Yonkers, N.Y., among others. Armenia is the farthest-flung project it has yet tackled.

"We understand that place branding is very different from product or service branding," said Kelly Frances, Cundari's senior vice-president of sales and marketing. "You really have to take in the perspective not just of residents of the place, but of businesses, potential visitors, potential investors. You have to look at the brand from many different vantage points."

The team will be designing a new logo for Armenia, but the project goes far beyond that. It will be developing a strategy to attract foreign investment, and also to transform the country's growing tourism industry.

At the moment, the vast majority of tourists come from the Armenian diaspora – a welcome segment to be sure, but also one that tends to stay with family and not to spend as much during their visit. In the first quarter of 2013, for example, only about 16 per cent of tourists visiting Armenia stayed in hotels or other parts of the "lodging industry" while the rest stayed with friends or relatives, or in rented apartments.

A key goal will be an advertising campaign to attract more lucrative, foreign tourists. The key target markets will be Russia, Georgia and Iran, which are all nearby. It will also be doing some promotion in urban centres in Germany and France.

But it will have to combat low brand awareness. In an interview with a local news agency last month, the chief executive officer of the National Competitiveness Foundation highlighted this challenge.

"When we speak of Armenia, the first things that come to mind are Christianity, Armenian genocide, churches, Armenian apricot[s]," Arman Khachaturyan told the Mediamax news agency. "… Our goal is to present Armenia not only to people who have some idea of our country but particularly, to those people who have no idea at all."

Because it is not a beach destination, it will be advertising itself to tourists who are interested in culture and history. A project is under way, for example, to revitalize the more than 1,000-year-old Tatev monastery. The ad agencies will now be charged with creating a communications plan by the time Armenia is in the public eye next year.