New Zealand takes another plunge in global soft power rankings

New Zealand has taken a significant plunge in the latest soft power rankings, down five spots and out of the top 25.

Soft power refers to a country's ability to influence others and produce outcomes through reputation and standing rather than through coercion. 

International consultancy firm Brand Finance annually analyses the responses of more than 100,000 people across the globe about countries' brands, considering their familiarity, influence, reputation, and performance in different areas.

The 2023 results, released late on Thursday at an event featuring speeches from former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, show New Zealand has fallen in the rankings. 

New Zealand is now ranked 26th in the world, down from 21st in 2022 and 16th in 2021. That's the biggest fall of any country in the top 35 nations. 

Despite falling in rankings, the report showed New Zealand's soft power score actually improved over the past year, up 1.4 points on the index. Other countries had larger jumps in their scores, surpassing New Zealand.

Russia was the only country to see its soft power score drop, due to the Ukraine invasion. However, it's still placed 13th, down from ninth. Ukraine jumped 14 spots to 37th.

The top three positions are unchanged, with the United States in first, the United Kingdom in second and Germany in third. Japan (fourth) and China (fifth) have swapped places since last year's report. The rest of the top 10 is filled out by France, Canada, Switzerland, Italy and the United Arab of Emirates. 

In New Zealand's proximity is Finland at 22nd, Turkey at 23rd, Qatar at 24th, Austria at 25th, Israel at 27th and India at 28th.

Qatar experienced a jump after hosting the FIFA World Cup, while Finland rose due to a greater focus on environmental sustainability perceptions in this year's index.

In terms of familiarity, New Zealand's ranking fell from 28th to 30th. For reputation, Aotearoa dropped from 13th to 16th. And with influence, it dropped from 33rd to 36th. 

An interesting tidbit about New Zealand is that Aotearoa overperforms despite our small size. The report said the size of a country does typically matter in terms of familiarity. 

"Even a well-regarded small nation – e.g. Singapore – ranks relatively low for Familiarity. As with commercial brands, lack of 'physical and mental availability' handicaps smaller nation brands. In that context, overperformers are Switzerland, Israel, and New Zealand. Underperformers include Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Nigeria – big, non-European nations."

The report includes a section on New Zealand, featuring an interview with the New Zealand Story chief executive David Downs.

Downs said New Zealand has reopened its border over the past year after the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while global media quickly reported on New Zealand closing itself, "it has been much harder to get the message out there that we are again 'open for business'," he said.

"One unexpected challenge of reopening has been labour shortages in some key industries, meaning we have not always been able to extend the same welcome ('manaaki' in our language) that we would like to," he said. 

Downs noted that it's interesting the index shows "the world does not perceive New Zealand as having a consistently strong business environment", despite being "objectively one of the easiest places to do business, least corrupt, most transparent, with strong government and proviate institutations". 

"That feedback show us it is not enough to be good, you have to demonstrate it, and promote your positives."

Asked how the resignation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern may affect New Zealand's influence, Downs said that while Ardern was a "fantastic" ambassador for the country, our brand is not the brand of just an individual. 

"Research and feedback shows that the values of the country, the consistency of behaviour and the work of thousands of 'brand ambassadors' will have the largest enduring impact over time."

Top 30 countries in the Global Soft Power Index

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Germany
  4. Japan
  5. China
  6. France
  7. Canada
  8. Switzerland
  9. Italy
  10. United Arab Emirates
  11. Sweden
  12. Spain
  13. Russia
  14. Australia
  15. South Korea
  16. Netherlands
  17. Norway
  18. Denmark
  19. Saudi Arabia
  20. Belgium
  21. Singapore
  22. Finland
  23. Turkey
  24. Qatar
  25. Austria
  26. New Zealand
  27. Israel
  28. India
  29. Ireland
  30. Portugal