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Global Soft Power Index 2022: USA bounces back better to top of nation brand ranking

15 March 2022
This article is more than 2 years old.
  • USA reclaims 1st place in ranking after turning corner on COVID-19
  • UK takes 2nd spot and leads Europe, ahead of last year’s leader Germany
  • China up to 4th - its highest position ever, overtaking Japan in Asia
  • Russia’s soft power collapses globally following invasion, attitudes towards Ukraine soar
  • Italy and Spain resurge as memory of health crisis coverage fades
  • Australia and New Zealand cope with impact of COVID-19 isolation
  • UAE distances peers in Middle East and North Africa thanks to EXPO 2020
  • Brazil and South Africa improve scores as salience of large nations grows
  • Maldives ranks highest of 15 new entrants added to 2022 ranking

View Brand Finance's Global Soft Power Index 2022 report here

London, 15th March 2022: The United States of America has bounced back to the top of the Global Soft Power Index ranking in 2022 after turning a corner on the COVID-19 pandemic. Released today, the Global Soft Power Index by Brand Finance is an entirely survey-based annual research study on perceptions of nation brands, capturing opinions of over 100,000 respondents worldwide on 120 nation brands.

The USA led the ranking at the start of 2020 but saw a major deterioration of its perceptions among the general public around the world later that year, resulting in a drop to 6th position at the start of 2021. A poor track record of its first response to the health crisis likely played a role. Now, following a mass vaccination effort, the USA has seen the fastest year-on-year improvement across all 120 nation brands ranked in the Global Soft Power Index, recording a +14.8 point jump from a mere 55.9 out of 100 in 2021 to 70.7 in 2022 – the highest score ever recorded in the Index.

David Haigh, Chairman and CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“The composition of the Global Soft Power Index 2022 has been influenced by how well nations have managed their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The USA reclaims the top spot, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, and China. All four nations have been instrumental in lifting the world out of the health crisis through the development of vaccines.

Across the ranking, perceptions of nation brands are largely recovering to their pre-pandemic levels, with Italy and Spain – both hit hard in the first wave of COVID-19 – seeing some of the most significant improvements this year.”

Alongside continued top performance on several metrics, like Familiarity and Influence, the key behind the USA’s comeback to the top of the ranking is the tremendous change in its COVID-19 Response score – from bottom of the table globally last year to a decent 26th position in 2022. However, the nation has seen improvements on other measures too, such as Reputation (6th – up from 21st), Governance (8th – up from 20th), and People & Values (16th – up from 25th), all of which can be attributed to significantly more positive perceptions of President Biden’s administration, in contrast to President Trump’s alienating America First approach internationally and divisive politics domestically.

Nevertheless, the USA’s scores for the ‘safe and secure’ (41st) statement within Governance and ‘friendly’ (62nd) in People & Values remain drastically low. Violent gun crime and police brutality appear to be affecting perceptions internationally and are likely to remain an ongoing challenge to the USA’s nation brand until these issues are addressed at the root.

UK leapfrogs last year’s leader Germany  

The United Kingdom has rebounded strongly from the tumultuous environment that Brexit and COVID-19 had created in recent years. The country’s Global Soft Power Index score now stands at 64.9, a +7.0 year-on-year increase from 57.9 in 2021, which has seen it move up one place from 3rd to 2nd

David Haigh, Chairman and CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“Whilst the long-term impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is still to be seen, the immediate result has been that of finally introducing some clarity and stability to the political and economic situation following years of conflict and uncertainty. Consequently, contributing greatly to its overall result in the Index, the UK has seen an improvement in the Governance pillar, from 9th to 4th, driven by the positive change in the ‘politically stable and well-governed’ metric.”

Elsewhere, the UK has seen improvements in the Familiarity and COVID-19 Response pillars, thanks to the country’s contribution to the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the effective immunisation programme rolled out by the government.  

Last year’s top-ranked country, Germany, has also seen its Global Soft Power Index score rise to 64.6, but the stronger performances of the US and UK have caused it to fall to 3rd in the ranking. Germany has long acted as a beacon of strength and stability with a grand coalition government under Angela Merkel’s leadership. Now, leading a new red-green-yellow coalition, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has a big task ahead of him to manage the expectations and maintain the standards that have been set.

China up to its highest position ever

China has achieved its best ever performance in the Global Soft Power Index, overtaking Japan as the highest-ranked nation in Asia. China has seen its Global Soft Power Index score increase by +9.9 to 64.2, moving it up from 8th to 4th in the overall ranking. Though China’s performance may be a surprise to some in the Western world, it will have been expected across many developing countries.  

Globally, China ranks 4th for Familiarity, 2nd for Influence, and this year has seen its Reputation score climb back to 2020 levels after last year’s dip. China has also performed particularly well in the Business & Trade pillar, where it now ranks 1st, jumping above the US, Germany, and Japan in the process. China’s economy grew by 8.1% in 2021 and its exports increased by 30% to reach record levels as demand for Chinese goods boomed.  

China tackled the pandemic by implementing a zero-COVID policy, which has seen the continuation of lockdowns and isolation policies, and a robust mass testing and vaccination programme. The response has proven to be successful, and its COVID-19 Response score improved by +1.7 as a result, raising it from 30th to 19th place.

David Haigh, Chairman and CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“The second year of the pandemic has seen China’s perceptions on the global stage improve. China offered aid to countries across the world in the form of donated personal protective equipment and vaccinations – which undoubtedly has helped it move from 52nd to 28th in the ‘generous’ metric of the People & Values pillar.”

Russia’s soft power collapses globally following invasion, attitudes towards Ukraine soar

New research conducted in recent days by Brand Finance has found that the public in most nations around the world blame Russia for the current conflict in Ukraine, with the respondents in India and China being more supportive of the Russian position.

Russia is blamed for the conflict in Ukraine by a majority of respondents in Japan (81%), the United Kingdom (74%), Germany (67%), France (64%), Brazil (63%), and the United States (60%). More respondents in South Africa (48%) and Turkey (42%) blame Russia than any other party. In India, although many (32%) blame Russia, more (46%) blame either USA or NATO. In China, most respondents (52%) blame the USA, with only a small minority (11%) blaming Russia.

Compared to the perceptions captured in the research conducted for the Global Soft Power Index 2022 before the conflict, Russia’s reputation has plummeted by 19% globally as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. It has suffered across all countries researched, although the drop in China (4%) and India (5%) was markedly smaller than elsewhere. At the same time, three nations from the developing world have made a complete U-turn in their opinions of Russia’s influence in the world. Rather than considering Russia to have a net positive influence on the world, respondents in Brazil (-39%), South Africa (-27%), and Turkey (-19%) now consider Russia to have a net negative influence on the world in line with the views of the respondents in Western countries.

Perceptions of Ukraine have improved as a result of Russia’s invasion, with familiarity increasing by an extraordinary 44%, influence by 24%, and reputation by 12%. The global media spotlight on the conflict has also had a positive knock-on effect on perceptions of Ukraine across most other Global Soft Power Index pillars, even those unrelated to the war effort. Further details on the new research is available online from Brand Finance.

Italy and Spain resurge after COVID

Italy (54.7) and Spain (53.0) have observed a significantly improved performance in the Global Soft Power Index this year, with perceptions of both nations resurging following a battering by the COVID-19 pandemic the year before.

David Haigh, Chairman and CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“Initially, both nations suffered overwhelming consequences of the virus, with death rates among the highest in the world. As the intense media spotlight on negative news eased, traditional perceptions of both Italy and Spain as holiday destinations have been able to resurface. Both Italy and Spain have performed well across all metrics, with Italy jumping nine spots to 10th position and Spain close behind in 11th, having ranked 22nd last year.”

Both nations were particularly commended in Culture & Heritage, where Italy ranked 2nd and Spain 5th. They also scored highly in People & Values, with Italy 4th and Spain 9th. Known for being popular tourist destinations with a rich heritage and pleasant climate, both nations are regarded as ‘great places to visit’ with ‘fun’ and ‘friendly’ people, with Italy additionally ranking top of the table for the ‘food the world loves’ for the third year running.

Australia and New Zealand cope with COVID-19 aftermath

In Oceania, both Australia and New Zealand have seen their ranks in the Global Soft Power Index return to their 2020 standing, down from higher marks in 2021.

David Haigh, Chairman and CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“Following the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, both countries garnered a lot of praise for their effective responses, driving their perceptions upwards. This year, they have been overtaken by other nations which rolled out their vaccination programmes quicker and opened their borders earlier. In addition, their COVID-induced retreat from the world has taken a toll on their perceptions around the world.”

Australia is now back to 13th position in the ranking, following a year-long stint in the top 10. State-wide lockdowns were enforced, which led to a restriction of movement and impacted the economy negatively. Internationally, Australia witnessed a decrease in scores across Reputation and People & Values, as the nation sealed itself off from the outside world.

Neighbouring New Zealand claims 21st position globally, down 5 places year on year. Early on, New Zealand was hailed as a global success story due to its approach to the pandemic, ranking 1st in the Global Soft Power Index 2021 for its COVID-19 Response. Its pandemic track record continues to be recognised as exemplary, but the decline of the nation’s mental and physical availability around the world has caused its scores to fall in other areas.

UAE leads in Middle East and North Africa

The United Arab Emirates has claimed 15th place in the Global Soft Power Index ranking, up two spots from 17th in 2021. This is the highest position for any nation brand in the Middle East and North Africa, ahead of Israel (23rd) and Saudi Arabia (24th).

The UAE has performed best on the Business & Trade pillar, counting among the global top 10. Its best metric overall is the ‘easy to do business in and with’ where it comes 4th, followed by ‘strong and stable economy’ where it ranks 8th.

David Haigh, Chairman and CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“The UAE is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic strong, with its trade and investment prowess underscored by the success of the EXPO 2020 exhibition in Dubai. Aligning the working week with most of the world to Monday-Friday is likely to solidify positive perceptions of the UAE as a business-friendly nation in the next Global Soft Power Index survey, but the introduction of federal corporate tax from 2023 may moderate that impact in the following years.”

Another key metric in the Index where the UAE ranks within the top 10 is Influence. The signing and implementation of the Abraham Accords is likely to be the key reason behind the nation’s improvement here as well as in the International Relations pillar, where it claims 11th spot. The UAE has moved up on the ‘good relations with other countries’ statement to 23rd and on ‘helpful to countries in need’ it now ranks 11th, which can be attributed to donations of protective equipment and vaccines over the course of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the UAE’s fastest improvement this year has been recorded in the Education & Science pillar, where the nation has gained +1.0 since 2021. Its focus on high-tech economy and specialised education as well as the bold venture into space exploration with the Emirates Mars Mission have no doubt influenced perceptions of the UAE’s capabilities in this field.

Brazil and South Africa – salience of large nations grows

Brazil leads the charge as the highest-ranked nation in Latin America, jumping 7 spots to 28th position in the ranking. Despite a slight dip in the Culture & Heritage score, it has remained Brazil’s strongest pillar. The nation ranked 9th on this metric, as it continues to be perceived as ‘leaders in sports’ and ‘influential in arts and entertainment’ as well as offering ‘food the world loves’. The largest contribution to its overall score improvement, however, comes from increased Familiarity (+0.7) and the knock-on effect that it has had on almost all metrics across the board. Larger nations are gaining in salience, and Brazil is a clear example of this trend.

Another regional soft power leader, South Africa, has climbed 3 spots in the ranking to 34th position this year, outperforming its neighbours in Sub-Saharan Africa. Like Brazil, South Africa has increased its Familiarity, ushering in score improvements in other soft power pillars, especially Media & Communication, Education & Science, and Business & Trade. Within the latter, the nation continues to be regarded as holding a lot of ‘future growth potential’, ranking 4th globally – its strongest performance across all statements. However, the nation’s Governance scores remain low, with scepticism surrounding its political stability, track record on corruption, rule of law, and security.  

Global Soft Power Index welcomes 15 nations to 2022 ranking

15 nations are added to the Global Soft Power Index 2022, taking the total number of nation brands rated in the study to 120. Highest-ranking Maldives claims 52nd position, thanks to its top score globally for a ‘great place to visit’. The country ranks high on a number of other metrics too, particularly ‘acts to protect the environment’. With 16th spot in the world, Maldives’ environmental activism has not gone unnoticed.

In contrast to the performance of Maldives, three other tropical island new entrants to the Global Soft Power Index 2022 – Mauritius (71st), Seychelles (90th), and Barbados (93rd) – have not been as successful in seizing the same perception-building opportunities around tourism and climate action, claiming much lower ranks.


View Brand Finance's Global Soft Power Index 2022 report here

Note to Editors

The Global Soft Power Index by Brand Finance is an entirely survey-based annual research study on perceptions of nation brands, capturing opinions of over 100,000 respondents worldwide on 120 nation brands.

Soft power is defined as a nation’s ability to influence the preferences and behaviours of various actors in the international arena (states, corporations, communities, publics etc.) through attraction or persuasion rather than coercion.

Full ranking, methodology, charts, commentary, expert contributions, and in-depth articles with interviews on Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, Finland, France, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Finland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States are available in the Global Soft Power Index 2022 report.

New research conducted in recent days by Brand Finance on the perceptions of the Russia-Ukraine conflict was performed on a representative sample of over 5,000 respondents in 10 countries using the methodology of the Global Soft Power Index 2022.

Register for the live stream of the Global Soft Power Summit 2022 taking place today, Tuesday, 15th March 2022 at 09:00-13:00 GMT at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. The Summit will explore the findings of the Global Soft Power Index 2022 as well as of new additional research on how perceptions of nation brands have changed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The agenda will feature a keynote speech by former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt on the future of Europe, as well as two panel discussions moderated by the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi on the role of innovation in driving soft power with HE Sarah Al Amiri, Professor Alexander Stubb, Max Kantelia, and the importance of promotion for building nation brands abroad with Alastair Campbell, Sir Martin Sorrell, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Speakers will be available for interviews upon request. The full agenda and speaker bios can be found here.

Media Contacts

Penny Erricker
Communications Executive
Brand Finance

About Brand Finance

Brand Finance is the world’s leading brand valuation consultancy. Bridging the gap between marketing and finance for more than 25 years, Brand Finance evaluates the strength of brands and quantifies their financial value to help organizations of all kinds make strategic decisions.

Headquartered in London, Brand Finance has offices in over 20 countries, offering services on all continents. Every year, Brand Finance conducts more than 5,000 brand valuations, supported by original market research, and publishes over 100 reports which rank brands across all sectors and countries.

Brand Finance also operates the Global Brand Equity Monitor, conducting original market research annually on over 5,000 brands, surveying more than 150,000 respondents across 38 countries and 31 industry sectors. Combining perceptual data from the Global Brand Equity Monitor with data from its valuation database enables Brand Finance to arm brand leaders with the data and analytics they need to enhance brand and business value.

Brand Finance is a regulated accountancy firm, leading the standardization of the brand valuation industry. Brand Finance was the first to be certified by independent auditors as compliant with both ISO 10668 and ISO 20671 and has received the official endorsement of the Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB) in the United States.

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