Branding and communication of development assistance


What does the evidence tell us about how the branding and communication of development assistance can impact on the perceptions by different audiences (public, decision makers, beneficiaries) in recipient countries, both in humanitarian situations and in more ‘stable’ contexts?


In recent years, international donors and non-governmental organisations have placed increasing emphasis on prominently branding the development interventions that they fund. Spreading knowledge about the identity of an aid project sponsor is one mechanism by which donor governments conduct local level diplomacy with direct beneficiaries and through which they hope to influence public opinion. The most common method of spreading information about the sponsorship of development interventions is through visual branding . Though branding has been part of U.S. aid policy since the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the emphasis on this foreign policy tool has increased as part of the post-9/11 National Security Strategy. Other donor countries, such as the United Kingdom, have followed suit with their own branding policies.

Although there is a broad assumption that branding improves attitudes toward the donor amongst the recipients of foreign assistance, very little rigorous evidence has been collected to verify this, and the size of the potential effect of branding on recipient attitudes is unknown. In addition, little is know about whether donor’s branding strategies effectively communicate that the foreign donor acts as sponsor of a given intervention. Most of the empirical work that examines the impact of aid on public perceptions takes the form of in-country case studies. The literature appears to focus exclusively on USAID programmes. This includes studies focusing on U.S. ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns in conflict zones, as well as studies focusing on disaster relief aid.

Neither USAID nor any other foreign aid donor has outlined explicitly a branding “theory of change”, and the merits of different communication strategies for branding aid have not been explored in detail in the literature. The USAID branding website links to guidelines about branding and to files containing some of the logos used on USAID materials. The documentation makes it clear that the agency wants to establish its brand, but the specific longterm objectives of this endeavor and the mechanisms of attitudinal change through which they would be realised are not identified.


Suggested citation

Laws, E. (2016). Branding and communication of development assistance (K4D Helpdesk Research Report). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham