The role of nation branding in fostering peace and unity

Moldova is an Eastern European country and located between Ukraine and Russia. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the country saw thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing across their border, and as a former Soviet republic, the country was facing a communication crisis; lines were being drawn between those who had previously expressed pro-Russian and pro-EU sentiment, and the country was facing a wave of fake news aimed at further dividing their citizenry. 

To combat this, the nation branding team needed a common message – one that united the country and showed their commitment to peace in the world. Irina Tolstousov, Head of Country Branding for Invest Moldova and one of our 2023 City Nation Place Awards jurors, explains how they launched the ‘Moldova For Peace’ campaign, how it’s impacted their citizen engagement one year on, and what it means for the country’s soft power influence.


Thank you for joining us, Irina – both for the interview and as a member of our CNP Awards jury! Last year, you won the Best Citizen Engagement Strategy with ‘Moldova For Peace’, a campaign that aimed to unite Moldovan citizens in the face of Russian aggression. A year on, what impact has this made? Have you changed the way you communicate with your citizens?

From the very beginning of the crisis, Moldovan citizens have been very empathic  and responsive to the needs of Ukrainian refugees that arrived by the thousands looking for shelter and safety On top of this initial response, the implementation of the 'Moldova For Peace' campaign successfully fostered an even greater sense of unity and solidarity in the face of Russian aggression. It encouraged citizens to come together and actively participate in initiatives aimed at safeguarding their country's sovereignty and peace. One of the notable outcomes has been increased civic engagement, with citizens becoming more involved in the decision-making processes that shape their nation's future.

As for communication with citizens, our approach is to maintain a transparent and inclusive dialogue. We understand the importance of continuous engagement and have used various communication channels, including social media, public events, and citizen feedback platforms, to encourage a direct and meaningful relationship with the people. The 'Moldova For Peace' campaign has shown us the power of connecting with citizens on an emotional level, instilling a shared sense of purpose, and keeping them informed throughout the journey.

What was the soft power impact of your strategy? Has it helped to shape international perceptions as well as domestic ones?

The campaign has had a significant soft power impact, both locally and internationally. Locally, the campaign has strengthened national pride and unity, reinforcing citizens' belief in their ability to overcome challenges. By promoting a positive image of Moldova's resilience and determination, it has positively influenced how citizens view their country and its potential.

On the international stage, the campaign has played a crucial role in shaping perceptions about Moldova. It showcased the nation's commitment to peace and stability, presenting Moldova as a responsible and engaged country. This shift in international perceptions has opened up new opportunities for diplomatic cooperation, foreign investments, tourism and strengthened relationships with other nations.

What considerations need to be taken into account when misinformation and propaganda are rife? What should nation brand organisations do to ensure that they’re still recognised as a trusted voice for their citizens?


In times when misinformation and propaganda are prevalent, organisations responsible for nation brand promotion must prioritise transparency, credibility, and accuracy in their communications. To be recognised as a trusted voice for citizens, they need to ensure that all information shared is accurate and verifiable. Nation brand organisations also need to encourage a two-way communication with citizens, acknowledging their concerns, and providing fact-based responses. Finally, you also need to promote media literacy among citizens to help them identify and discern misinformation, to rapidly address false information and clarify misconceptions to prevent them from spreading. Collaboration with reputable media organisations and fact-checking agencies is also extremely important in combating misinformation effectively.

When you start talking at nation level, citizen engagement can become a challenge given how many different communities you’re representing – particularly when war is exacerbating already potentially divisive lines. What would be your advice for a country that is looking to unite their citizens under a single brand?

To unite citizens under a single brand amidst potential divisions, a country must focus on common values, shared heritage, and inclusive narratives that celebrate diversity. They should highlight aspects of national identity that resonate with all communities, emphasising what unites them rather than what sets them apart. The distributed messages need to be developed in a very careful manner, as to include diverse perspectives and experiences, ensuring that different communities feel represented and included.

After all, we are all striving to attain common goals. Our vision for the future is progress and development, appealing to the aspirations of all citizens. I believe we have a responsibility as an organisation to implement projects and campaigns that foster social cohesion, encourage dialogue, and bridge divisions between communities.

Looking forward to the City Nation Place Awards 2023, what would you be looking for in a potential winner?

As a member of the jury for the City Nation Place Awards 2023, I would be looking for campaigns that demonstrate innovation, creativity, and tangible results in the field of place branding. Winning initiatives should have a clear and impactful strategy that effectively engages citizens and stakeholders. Additionally, successful entries should show how the place branding efforts have positively influenced the perception of the location on both national and international levels. Finally, I believe that at the core of each activity and entry should be authenticity.

Finally, what was the last place brand or marketing campaign you saw that really impressed you?

One impressive example that stands out is the coldest town in Norway, which unexpectedly applied for the Summer Olympic Games during a time when the entire region was in the spotlight. However, what truly made this campaign extraordinary was how they transformed their bid into a powerful message of sustainability, projecting a long-term vision and strategic approach. It demonstrated that even in the face of challenges, embracing a forward-thinking perspective can lead to remarkable outcomes.

Another campaign that caught my attention was that of Vilnius, which took a unique approach to promoting the city. They showcased a strong sense of irony and humour and proved that despite similarities, each destination has its own identity and charm. This example resonates with Moldova, a young country still in the early stages of country brand promotion. It emphasises the importance of learning from those who have already embarked on this journey, recognising that progress can happen at different paces and that cooperation and mutual learning are more valuable than mere competition.

By drawing inspiration from such successful initiatives, Moldova can chart its own path towards image promotion and development, embracing its uniqueness and building a sustainable future.

Wonderful. Thank you for sharing that, Irina. We look forward to hearing your thoughts when we come to the judging for the City Nation Place Awards.

The City Nation Place Awards are open for entry! Submit your success story before September 7th for your chance to win.

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The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.