For centuries, nations have flown flags, simple blocks of color and accompanying symbols carefully chosen to represent their ideals and ways of living to outsiders. Nowadays, people are seemingly more likely to go to war in a comments thread under the banner of yet another Apple versus Everybody Else brand battle. So, considering that flags are essentially brands, what would we make of them if we subjected them to the same close analysis?
The United States Flag
The stars and stripes are surely one of the world’s most recognizable flags, the intense nationalism of the United States as a nation ensuring that it’s a flag with plenty of iconic meaning. The fifty stars stand for the fifty states, the thirteen stripes the original rebel colonies of the civil war. This a flag that is often used in branding: not just when mass produced on souvenirs, car stickers and plastered on products, but even as the basis of many American brands (think Pepsi). The flag itself follows Americans to new conquests and is often taken to stand for the ideals of the nation.
Even if you didn’t have that knowledge, there’s a remarkable amount you can (somewhat coincidentally) infer from the American brand. Inclusiveness and tolerance are suggested by the stars and stripes, but the use of only two colors suggests a heavily polarized nation (the blue and red suggest political affiliations, but there are certainly many divisions they could stand for). Stars are not uncommon on flags, but with so many on the flag, there’s little surprise that America was first on the moon, and is a nation that to this day aspires to exploring space.
Whereas Russia has adopted a tri-color typical of a republic, the flag of the People’s Republic of China retains its communist design cues: the red background representing revolution, the four smaller stars steered by the larger, which represents the ruling Communist party. Whilst space is certainly in the future of this nation, its past is still visible, and that vast expanses of red space suggests a degree of isolation and lack of representation.
Flag of the United Kingdom
Whereas the US’ flag speaks of the exploration of space, the multiple crosses of the UK’s Union flag reminds us of a time when British interests covered the globe, especially through the domination of the seas (as indicated by the blue background). Similar themes of polarity and conservative versus liberal identity dominate, but the foreground of the red cross indicates the UK’s slightly more liberal, socialist leanings.
Flag of Wales
“Here be dragons”. And hey, it works.
Were the Canada flag green, it would fit rather precisely with modern branding concerns. As it is, the detached maple-leaf and red coloration speaks of an autumnal nation, a pleasant (but never warm) nation of unspoilt wilderness and redwood trees.
Despite have been in official usage for 140 years (and a motif in flags far more ancient than this) the Japanese Hinomaru still feels like a contemporary design. The simplicity of shapes and the boldness of the red on white has much in common with post-war design: coincidentally, when Japan rose to become one of the world’s most important industrial powers.
South Korea’s Flag
The South Korean Taegeukgi is a flag that has deep traditional meaning, whilst appearing uncannily modern. At the center is the Taegeuk, which represents ‘the ultimate reality from which all things and values originate’, according to oriental philosophy. The black marks (trigrams) have a similar traditional origin, but the way they codify elements of nature, and their superficial appearance (one could say they looks something like QR codes), reminds us of a modern Korea at the forefront of technology.
“The beaches are nice, but cold”.
Flag of Kenya
The Kenyan flag is a bold, eye-catching designs in a not a-typical African-vein (though Yellow is another commonly incorporated ‘African’ color absent in the Kenyan flag). The black signals the black majority, red the struggle for independence, green the land and the spears and shield represent the defense of the whole. But as a brand, the flag symbolizes the attraction of Kenya’s people, spirit, nature and culture.
Nepal’s flag is probably the most unconventional national flag, and the ‘branding’ is very much official: this mountainous nation is represented by twin triangles, which are also said to depict the Hinduism and Buddhism at the core of national beliefs. The blue border is said to represent peace and harmony, the red the brave spirit of its people and the sun and the moon represent the hope of permanence in the nation.
At any rate, the flag establishes the nation as a place of intense spirituality and inner meaning, an unconventional attraction for tourists.