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World gathers to give 'Brand Scotland' a boost

Dancers dressed as Tunnock's teacakes perform during the 2014 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images
Dancers dressed as Tunnock's teacakes perform during the 2014 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony

Wednesday night's opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games – with its inflatable Loch Ness Monster, giant kilts and rolling heather -- raised as many eyebrows as it did smiles. Nonetheless, experts agree that the event is likely to give "Brand Scotland" a much-needed boost.

Some 1 billion viewers across 71 countries are estimated to have tuned in and watched the opening ceremony on Wednesday, which was held at the Celtic Park stadium in Glasgow. The Commonwealth Games is a sporting event which involves athletes from 71 states that mostly used to be part of the British Empire and are now part of the Commonwealth of Nations.

This high level of international exposure is invaluable to a small country like Scotland, according to Brian Coane, partner at The Leith Agency, which is the Games' official marketing and advertising services provider.

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"This is huge for Scotland; it's a perfect way for Scotland to showcase its best bits," Coane told CNBC.

Branding agency Landor Associates CEO Lois Jacobs – who helped produce the two previous Commonwealth Games opening ceremonies – said the Games would make people look at Scotland in a new light.

"Scotland will definitely get a boost from the Games. It's is showing that it's outward looking and inclusive, and showcasing its great culture," she told CNBC.

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Scottish "speed dating"

But the opening ceremony has come in for some criticism for its reliance on clichés, in a section described by Jacobs as "speed-dating" Scotland's best bits. From kilts to Irn-Bru, and the Loch Ness Monster to Tunnock's teacakes, a slew of Scottish icons featured in quick succession at the beginning of the show.

"I understand what they were trying to do – they had to feature all these famous things about Scotland – but the treatment was a little surprising, and I'm not sure the humor of it necessarily translated," Jacobs told CNBC.

David Guy, managing director of Edinburgh-based marketing agency Guy & Co, disagreed. He was at the ceremony and said the amusing start was designed to include everyone – both in the stadium, and at home.

"The humor was self-depreciating. It took iconic images of Scotland and poked a bit of fun at them in a way that showed we don't take ourselves too seriously," he said.

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Dancers perform with a Loch Ness Monster during the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games
Richard Heathcote | Getty Images
Dancers perform with a Loch Ness Monster during the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games

New elements

One of Scotland's main aims when it comes to the Commonwealth Games is to rejuvenate the image it presents beyond its borders. On the one hand, the country is known for its beautiful scenery, golf and single-malt whiskies, and on the other for its love of fast food, cheap alcohol and bad weather.

The Leith Agency's Coane said the Game provided Scotland – and host-city Glasgow in particular – with a way to do this.

"People are familiar with the old, traditional icons of Scotland. This was a great way to present some new elements alongside them," he said.

The Commonwealth Games have already bolstered Scotland's economy, according to the country's government, which said the country had received a £52 million ($88 million) boost in each of the past six years as a result.

One sector of the economy that is set to benefit directly from the sporting event is tourism. It's already substantial in Scotland - with visitors spending a total of £4.6 billion in 2014, according to Visit Scotland – and it expects up to 1 million extra visitors over the 11 days of the Games.

But it's not just tourists that Scotland will be trying to attract, according to The Leith Agency's Coane, who said that countries are now competing to attract more permanent visitors.

Visit here and then come live and work

"Nation branding is now very competitive, with countries saying don't just come and visit – come here to live and work," he said, adding that this was exactly what Scotland was attempting to do during the opening ceremony.

The Commonwealth Games comes at a particularly interesting time for Scotland, with a referendum on the country's independence due in September.

Guy said that this gave Scotland even more opportunity to showcase itself as, "undoubtedly the media attention of the world is directed towards Scotland at the moment."

But he added: "Last night at the opening ceremony there wasn't a whiff of politics in the air and I really don't think politics is going to draw away from the actual games themselves."


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