Skip to main content

The less transparent, the more attractive? A critical perspective on transparency and place branding


According to recent surveys, transparency has become a key issue in business decisions. Foreign firms increasingly view transparent economic policies as crucial in their investment planning. Evidence has shown that clear and predictable environments play an important role in companies’ decisions to develop their activities in a specific place. Nowadays, place branding scholars and practitioners alike call for more transparency and responsibility in branding strategies, assuming that trust, enhanced by transparency, is needed to improve the attractiveness of a place. In a study by a major consulting firm, investors in Switzerland specifically mentioned stability and transparency as the most important location factors. However, the country scores poorly in terms of financial transparency. This paradox reveals a degree of confusion about the nature of transparency, which is addressed in this article. We argue that, while transparency of the regulatory framework can effectively improve the attractiveness of a place, opacity of legal requirements may also attract foreign investors. In this sense, transparency of and required by the rules can be at odds. A nuanced approach to transparency and a more detailed analysis are needed to provide a clearer explanation of the relationship between transparency and the attractiveness of a place.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Alaux, C., Serval, S. and Zeller C. (2015) Marketing territorial des petits et moyens territoires: Identité, image et relations. Gestion et Management Public 4: 61–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Anholt, S. (2009) Places: Identity, Image And Reputation. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Anholt, S. and van Gelder, S. (2003) Branding for good? In: N. Ind (ed.) Beyond Branding: How the New Values of Transparency and Integrity are Changing the World of Brands. London, UK: Kogan Page Publishers, pp. 56–68.

    Google Scholar 

  • Anttiroiko, A-V. (2014) The Political Economy of City Branding. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Babey, N. and Giauque D. (2009) Management Urbain: Essai sur le Mimétisme et la Différenciation. Quebec: Presses de l’Université Laval.

    Google Scholar 

  • Balderjahn, I. (2014) Standortmarketing. Munich: UVK Lucius UTB.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baume, S. and Papadopoulos, Y. (2012) Bentham revisited: Transparency as a “Magic” concept, its justifications and its skeptics. In: Proceedings of the Transatlantic Conference on Transparency Research, June 7. Utrecht, The Netherlands: University of Utrecht.

  • Best, J. (2005) The Limits of Transparency: Ambiguity and the History of International Finance. Ithaca, NY, USA: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bevan, A.A. and Estrin, S. (2004) The determinants of foreign direct investment into European transition economies. Journal of Comparative Economics 32(4): 775–787.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bianchini, F. and Ghilardi, L. (2007) Thinking culturally about place. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 3(4): 280–286.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Birnleitner, H. (2014) Attractiveness of countries for foreign direct investments from the macro-economic perspective. In: Proceedings of the fikusz’14, 14 november. Budapest, Hungary: Obuda University.

  • Bosley, C. and Kolesnikova, M. (2013) Swiss Reject Tougher Regulation of Commodities Trading. Bloomberg, 27 March, (online), retrieved,, accessed 14 January 2016.

  • Braun, E. (2008) City Marketing: Towards an Integrated Approach. Rotterdam: Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM).

    Google Scholar 

  • Broulis, P. (2016) Conference on Tax Reforms in the Canton of Vaud. University of Lausanne, Bâtiment l’IDHEAP, Lausanne, Switzerland, 29 February.

  • Carpenter, M.A. and Dunung, SP. (2011) International Business: Opportunities and Challenges in a Flattening World. Washington, D.C.: Flat World Knowledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chiomento, B., Robinson, P. and Miolo, A. (2014) Setting Standards: Switzerland as a Business Location 2014. EY’s attractiveness survey, (online), retrieved,, accessed 13 December 2015.

  • Drabek, Z. and Payne, W. (2002) The impact of transparency on foreign direct investment. Journal of Economic Integration 17(4): 777–810.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elliott, R.K. and Jacobson, P.D. (1994) Costs and benefits of business information disclosure. Accounting Horizons 8(4): 80–96.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eshuis, J., Klijn, E.-H. and Braun, E. (2014) Place marketing and citizen participation: Branding as strategy to address the emotional dimension of policy making? International Review of Administrative Sciences 80(1): 151–171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • European Commission. (2015) European Innovation Scorecard 2015. Report prepared for the directorate-general – internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, (online), retrieved,, accessed 26 March 2016.

  • Federal Council. (2013) Background Report: Commodities, Report of the Interdepartemental Plattform on Commodities to the Federal Council, (online), retrieved,

  • Feige, S., Fischer, PM., von Matt, D. et al (2014) Swissness ou l’identité suisse pour les PME: image de la Suisse et valeur ajoutée dans le marketing international. PostFinance Report, (online), retrieved,, accessed 7 November 2015.

  • Florini, A. (2000) Does the Invisible Hand Need a Transparent Glove? The Politics of Transparency. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Annual Conference on Development Economics: 163–184.

  • Franklin, J. (2014) Swiss Charge ex-HSBC Staffer with Industrial Espionage. Reuters, 11 December, (online), retrieved,, accessed 6 January 2016.

  • FutureBrand. (2015) FutureBrand Launches the Country Brand Index. FutureBrand news, 11 November, (online), retrieved,, accessed 8 January 2016.

  • Garessus, E. (2016) Le « système immunitaire de la Suisse » s’affaiblit, selon l’historien James Breiding. Le Temps, 16 February, (online), retrieved,, accessed 13 February 2016.

  • Gelos, R.G. and Wie, S.-J. (2002) Transparency and International Investor Behavior. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER Working Paper No. 9260.

  • Gillies, A. (2013) Crafting a strategic response to the commodity-development conundrum. A response to “Commodities and Switzerland: Development Policy Challenges and Policy Options” by Werner Thut. International Development Policy| Revue internationale de politique de développement 4(2): 153–193.

  • Globerman, S. and Shapiro, D.M. (1999) The impact of government policies on foreign direct investment: The canadian experience. Journal of International Business Studies 30(3): 513–532.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Govers, R. and Go, F. (2009) Place Branding: Glocal, Virtual and Physical Identities, Constructed, Imagined and Experienced. Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK and New York, NY, USA: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Grimmelikhuijsen, SG., Porumbescu, G., Hong, B. et al (2013) The effect of transparency on trust in government: A cross‐national comparative experiment. Public Administration Review 73(4): 575–586.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guo, Y. and Woo, J.J. (2016) Singapore and Switzerland: Secrets to Small State Success. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Habib, M. and Zurawicki, L. (2002) Corruption and foreign direct investment. Journal of International Business Studies 33(2): 291–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heald, D. and Hood, C. (eds.) (2006) Transparency: The Key to Better Governance? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • IMD. (2015) 2015 IMD World Competitiveness Scoreboard. IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, (online), retrieved,, accessed 18 January 2016.

  • IMF. (2001) Standards and Codes: The IMF’s Role. IMF Staff report, April, (online), retrieved,, accessed 21 January 2016.

  • Ind, N. (ed.) (2003) Beyond Branding. How the New Values Of Transparency and Integrity are Changing the World of Brands. London, UK and Sterling, VA, USA: Kogan Page Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jacobsen, B.P. (2012) Place brand equity: A model for establishing the effectiveness of place brands. Journal of Place Management and Development 5(3): 253–271.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Johannesen, N. and Zucman, G. (2014) The end of bank secrecy? An evaluation of the G20 tax haven crackdown. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 6(1): 65–91.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kalandides, A. and Kavaratzis, M. (2012) From “necessary evil” to necessity: Stakeholders’ involvement in place branding. Journal of Place Management and Development 5(1): 7–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kapferer, J.-N. (2013) Ré-inventer les marques: La fin des marques telles que nous les connaissons. Paris: Editions Eyrolles.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kavaratzis, M. (2004) From city marketing to city branding: Towards a theoretical framework for developing city brands. Place Branding 1(1): 58–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kavaratzis, M. (2009) Cities and their brands: Lessons from corporate branding. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 5(1): 26–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kotler, P. (2002) Marketing Places. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • KPMG. (2016) The Home for Business? Assessing the Competitiveness of the UK. KPMG report, March, (online), retrieved,, accessed 26 June 2016.

  • Laulajainen, R. and Stafford, H.A. (1995) Corporate Geography: Business Location Principles and Cases. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Mabillard, V. and Pasquier, M. (2016) Transparency and trust in government (2007-2014): A comparative study. In: E-Proceedings of the 9th Trans European Dialogue Conference. 4-5 February 2016. Ljubljana, Slovenia: University of Ljubljana.

  • Mayes, R. (2008) A place in the sun: The politics of place, identity and branding. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 4(2): 124–135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mazars and Marccus Partners. (2009) Transparency Directive Assessment Report for the European Commission Internal Market and Services DG, (online), retrieved,

  • Mishrif, A. (2010) Investing in the Middle East: The Political Economy of European Direct Investment in Egypt. London: IB Tauris.

    Google Scholar 

  • New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. (2016) New Zealand’s Investment Advantage, (online), retrieved,, accessed 24 June 2016.

  • OECD. (2011) Attractiveness for Innovation: Location Factors for International Investment. Paris: OECD Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • OECD. (2015) Policy Framework for Investment. Paris: OECD Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pasquier, M. and Zumofen, R. (2015) Image resilience after multiple crises: The case of Switzerland in the United States. Die Unternehmung 69(2): 182–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pasquier, M., Richard, MW. and Yersin, N. (2009) Das Image der Schweiz im Ausland: mit Fallbeispiel China. Bern: Haupt Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pinson, J. (2016) From the Olympic dream to a down to earth approach: Lausanne’s sports events hosting strategy. Sport in Society 19(6): 828–839.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Presence Switzerland. (2014) Switzerland Seen from Outside in 2014: Switzerland’s Image Shaped by Direct Diplomacy and Foreign Policy. Presence Switzerland report, 23 December, (online), retrieved,, accessed 9 November 2015.

  • Reis, JG. and Farole, T. (2012) Trade Competitiveness Diagnostic Toolkit. Washington, DC: World Bank Publications.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Ruijer, E. and Meijer, A. (2016) National transparency regimes: Rules or principles? A comparative analysis of the United States and the Netherlands. International Journal of Public Administration, advance online publication 28 January 2016. doi: 10.1080/01900692.2015.1057343.

  • Savoia, R., Hess, J. and Fischli, N. (2013) IP: Switzerland Remains Attractive for IP Exploitation. International Tax Review, 12 March, (online), retrieved,, accessed 23 February 2016.

  • Schlaepfer, RC. and Reppas, R. (2013) Trends in International Investment Flows from and to SWITZERLAND. Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce Yearbook 2013, (online), retrieved,, accessed 12 December 2015.

  • Schwab, K. (2015) The Global Competitiveness Report 2015–2016. Geneva: World Economic Forum.

    Google Scholar 

  • SECO. (2015) Economic Governance. State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) report, (online), retrieved,, accessed 18 January 2016.

  • Smarzynska, B.K. and Wei, S.-J. (2000) Corruption and Composition of Foreign Direct Investment: Firm-Level Evidence. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER Working Paper No. 7969.

  • Snieska, V. and Zykiene I. (2015) City attractiveness for investment: Characteristics and underlying factors. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 213(1): 48–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • The Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index. (2009) The Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index SM. Report prepared for Switzerland, August, (online), retrieved,, accessed 12 March 2015.

  • The Boston Consulting Group. (2012) Multinational Companies in Geneva and Vaud: Growth Engine at Risk! Joint study with the Swiss-American chamber of commerce, June, (online), retrieved,, accessed 7 March 2016.

  • The Good Country Index. (2016) The Good Country Index. Overall rankings, Version 1.1, (online), retrieved,, accessed 4 March 2016.

  • TJN. (2015) Financial Secrecy Index. 2015 Results,, accessed 17 February 2016.

  • U.S. Department of State. (2011) Department of State: 2014 Investment Climate Statement. U.S. Department of State report, June, (online), retrieved,, accessed 25 February 2016.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vuignier, R. (2016) Place Marketing and Place Branding: A systematic (and Tentatively Exhaustive) Literature Review. Lausanne, Switzerland: Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP). Working Paper 5/2016.

  • Wrage, A. (2015) Ownership of Privately-Held Companies: Privacy Versus Transparency. Forbes, 18 August, (online), retrieved,, accessed 12 March 2016.

  • Yin, R.K. (2012). Applications of Case Study Research. Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: SAGE Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zavattaro, S.M. (2014) Place Branding Through Phases of the Image: Balancing Image and Substance. Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK and New York, NY, USA: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Zenker, S. and Jacobsen, B.P. (2015) Inter-Regional Place Branding. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhao, J.H., Kim, S,H. and Du, J. (2003) The impact of corruption and transparency on foreign direct investment: An empirical analysis. MIR: Management International Review: 41–62.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Renaud Vuignier.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mabillard, V., Vuignier, R. The less transparent, the more attractive? A critical perspective on transparency and place branding. Place Brand Public Dipl 13, 348–359 (2017).

Download citation

  • Revised:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • place branding
  • transparency
  • investment
  • attractiveness
  • marketing
  • Switzerland
  • nation branding
  • country branding