The Sound of Nation Branding: Moving from Struggle to Prosperity

What’s the sound of the American Revolution? Of The Civil Rights Movement? Of your wedding?

People seek to consecrate the most important life and historical moments—both personal and national—with meaningful music that stirs the emotions, emblazons a memory, and brings gravitas to the event. Neurologically, meaningful music sets off a constellation of activity in our brains upon first listen and then triggers the same memory and reaction each successive time it is heard, transporting us across time and space to that same feeling in an instant. This is not a learned behavior. As human beings, we’re wired for this.

Sixty-seven years ago, the song “Hatikvah” became the unofficial national anthem of Israel (see video below). It was the perfect song, one that had gained popularity as a Jewish work song in the late 1800’s and was then chosen as the official anthem of the Zionist Congress in 1933. “Hatikvah” became the unofficial national anthem on Friday, May 14, 1948, the day the British Mandate over Palestine expired. On that day, David Ben-Gurion read aloud the Declaration of the Establishment of the State at a ceremony at the Tel Aviv Museum. The reading of the Declaration was punctuated by a live performance of “Hatikvah” by a thirty-person ensemble from the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra, piped in from a separate room in the museum, enshrining the song in history and inextricably linking it to the birth of the new state.

As long as deep in the heart
The soul of a Jew yearns
And forward to the East
To Zion, an eye looks
Our hope will not be lost
The hope of two thousand years
To be a free nation in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem

“Hatikvah” has outlasted many challengers over the years. Notable contenders were songs from a failed contest in 1897 to create a new “hymn”’ for the cause, just before the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. In 1967 another challenge came from a bill that was drafted but ultimately tabled in the Israeli Knesset to change the national anthem to Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” (see video below). ​​​​But “Hatikvah” has overcome all challengers, in part because of the historic Ben-Gurion moment, but mostly because of its clear message, Jewish liturgical feel (which comes from its minor sounding melody), and its uncanny ability to bring people together—even the diverse factions of secular and religious parties in Israel and supporters worldwide. I know if I were charged with creating an anthem for a new nation today, I’d most certainly base it on a folk song that was already ingrained in the culture and awash with meaning and memory—one that had already stood the test of time.

Itzhak Perlman called “Hatikvah” “the most beautiful national anthem in the world.” But “Hatikvah” has a new challenge, and it’s the same challenge that stands in the way of nation building for the state of Israel. The lyrics of “Hatikvah” and the song’s minor sounding expression (which to other cultures often sounds sad rather than religious) remind much of the world of one thing—struggle. Actually, for many people around the globe the Israel nation brand is synonymous with struggle—for a homeland, for security, and for survival. This is not to suggest that Israel doesn’t face existential threats. It most certainly does. But the issue is that this singular positioning of its global brand makes Israel a lightning rod for more struggle and even a target for blame for situations beyond its control. This reminds me of a quote from Mother Teresa, whom many consider a modern Catholic saint. “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” Mother Teresa knew the power of framing issues to drive true change.

Now, in contrast, consider the national anthem of the United States with its “rockets red glare” and “banner” that “yet waves,” coupled with its heroic (though hard to sing) melody. This song triggers memories and emotions evoking the American spirit, melting-pot culture, and unparalleled entrepreneurship. To much of the world, the brand of the United States is anchored in freedom and possibility—which drives goodwill that contributes greatly to the country’s image, and ultimately GDP, which has helped create and reinforce one of the strongest nation brands in the world.

What if Israel were to reach beyond the theme of struggle and have its nation brand stand for something much more inspiring? Its real story is much richer. What if Israel stood for prosperity—a nation firmly on the path of growth, success, and value creation for the world economy? What if people around the world knew Israel primarily as the home of the vibrant community of young minds creating breakthrough cyber-security, agricultural technologies, medical and biotech innovations, and popular global entertainment within its borders? Israel is already known as a renowned travel destination because it is an epicenter of world history, religion, and culture. But what if prosperity was the first thing to come to mind rather than struggle? How much direct impact would all this have on nation-brand value to drive a higher standard of living, investment, and ultimately increased GDP, higher global standing, and greater national security? Israel must begin to take credit for all that it is and all that it contributes to the global community and marketplace.

Actually, “Hatikvah” could help. One of the powers of a great melody is that it can be reinterpreted over and over again in a myriad of styles and instrumentations, each projecting very different emotional stories. A great melody can itself be adapted to a range of stories. In fact there’s a time-honored tradition of reinvention in nearly every musical form.

To help map the richer story, there could be innovative interpretations that evoke the stories of breakthrough technology and entrepreneurship—arrangements that are optimistic, instrumental, and youth-oriented to capture the essence of this “startup nation” and happy or motivating to bring focus to prosperity as a whole (see Spotify Playlist below). A quick review of currently available arrangements of “Hatikvah” online reveals that more than 80% of these interpretations defer to the standard religious sounding (and for many, sad sounding) arrangement that is very similar to the one from the Ben-Gurion declaration in 1948. ​

“One of the powers of a great melody is that it can be reinterpreted over and over again in a myriad of styles and instrumentations, each projecting very different emotional stories.”

This playlist of 3 distinct versions of Israel’s “Hatikvah” challenges the perception that the country’s national anthem is a sad melody of struggle, a theme which has long defined Israel’s national brand.

Spotify Playlist:​​
Track 1 by Accent evokes technology, modern sensibility, and youth
Track 2 by John Williams stirs patriotic emotions
Track 3 evokes optimism and opens the mind to possibilities

What if a public-private partnership to help add dimension to the Israel brand story began by commissioning a variety of interpretations from Israeli artists that could be used as the emotional engine for this movement for a richer more multi-faceted nation-brand story? Then, what if fragments of these arrangements, tiny sonic signatures, were applied each time there was any type of media communication about Israel, creating added value for a product or service? What if it were apparent at business and government conferences and in corporate marketing?

Not unlike “Intel Inside,” this sound of “Israel Inside” would trigger the same emotional reaction as “Hatikvah” and give Israel credit for its contributions to that product or service where currently Israel gets none. Furthermore, these sonic signatures could provide a signal that would attract and activate Israel-supporting potential customers around the world and trigger purchase behavior.

The tech ecosystem, tourism, and the business marketplace—ubiquitously filled with products, mobility, apps, digital videos, social media, and tech conferences—are rich with opportunities to hear and be reminded of “Israel Inside.” Nearly every device, space, and video today is already sound-ready. More than a campaign, this is a way to organically get credit for real contributions Israel makes to the world culture and economy and could do much to elevate Israel’s nation brand, change perceptions, and ultimately impact GDP. Sonic signatures are a massive source of potential free media exposure to bring needed attention in order to the shift the conversation to prosperity.

The time has come for Israel to fully embrace its status as a global brand and take charge of shaping the conversation about that brand to trigger a new nation building effort. This is possible only if Israel shifts and diversifies its brand story, and brings attention to changing hearts and minds using all the tools at its disposal. One underleveraged tool is the power of sound and music as an emotional engine for change, and for Israel this could be particularly potent. It’s a simple, actionable way to change the conversation.

Can a song or a sound build a nation? Not by itself. But “Hatikvah,” reinvented thoughtfully, would be powerful emotional engine—a symbol. Adding depth of meaning to that symbol can be a catalyst for changing perceptions and making people think differently. And when people think differently, social and economic realities can change dramatically for the better. And that would truly drive more social and business prosperity.

Joel Beckerman is Founder and Lead Composer of Made Music Studio. Talk to him on Twitter @joelbeckerman.

This article was originally published as part of the Wharton Israeli Conference

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