Top 10 Flags as Brands

These Brands Run The World… Literally

By Oscar Hammond

If I were to ask you what the most important symbols of belonging are on the planet, what would your answer be? Would it be the Apple logo? Would it be the Christian Cross?

My answer to that question would be national flags. After all, countries are the ultimate organisation of tribalism and belonging.

A flag is the first thing a country will erect as it gains independence, and the last thing that will fall as the country does, so what could be more powerful when it comes to belonging?

For such a recent phenomenon flags have had such a massive affect on the human race. Wars have been raged, and nations have raced to the moon just to impart the importance of their flag on others.

Some people obsess over their own flag as a point of personal pride, turning them into a focal point for their nationalism, while others love all flags for a multitude of reasons.

So what makes a good flag, and what is it about flags that drive people crazy?

My theory is that flags are to countries what logo’s are to businesses.

Whether it’s someone wearing the new Jordan shoes or a classroom filled with MacBook’s, it’s a proven fact that logo’s hold power.

The people that flaunt logos in order to belong to some sort of elusive club are no different to those who fly an Australian or American flag on their front lawn. It’s all about belonging.

The cardinal rule of flag design is to have every part of your flag impart meaning, to have a belief. From this rule people can derive belief from their flag and be sure it stands for something.

When a country has a nice flag this can lead to the aforementioned belonging and in turn change the behaviour of citizens to be more proud and increasingly nationalistic. It all starts with a good flag.

The belief that a flag symbolises causes belonging which in turn affects behaviour on a scale no other brand can hope to replicate.

I might get in trouble for saying this, but if you’re looking for the Australian flag on this list you wont find it. To me, the Australian flag is everything a flag shouldn’t be and remains our flag purely because it has been our flag. Just because something has been, doesn’t mean it should be.

With an out dated Union Jack that implies we are on par with other British Dominions, and an otherwise bland design, any self respecting Australian flag lover should wish to go the way of Canada and hope for a change that reflects modern Australia. If you don’t agree, I present to you Canada’s old flag:

Compared to their new one:

So with that out of the way, lets move on to the list.

10) Nepal

Notorious in the vexillology (study of flags) community for being the only flag not to be a quadrilateral, the Nepalese flag is perhaps the most unique in the world.

While this uniqueness does fuel local Nepalese love for their country, the placement of the flag on this list goes beyond its interesting shape.

Having been there myself, its clear that the people of Nepal are deeply proud of their country. This is reflected in their flag with the triangular peaks reflecting their national treasure, the Himalayas.

The symbols are the crescent moon and the rising sun symbolising Nepal’s hope for the longevity of the moon and sun, while the red and blue stand for bravery and peace respectively.

Beyond it’s design, the flag represents the feeling of individuality and pride that Nepal has, and while it’s not as universally recognised as other flags, it instantly distinguishes Nepal from any other country.

9) Brazil

As an Australian I would be extremely proud to stand under a flag that looks half as good as the Brazilian flag, especially considering we share similar national colours.

The visually striking green and gold is flown across the country as an avatar for Brazil’s progress into the developed world. The lush green shows the countries main geography, the Amazon, while the gold stands for their wealth.

The motto in the middle translates Order in Progress, reminiscing Brazils independence movement and ensuring a unified goal for the 200 million Brazilians looking for something to stand for.

In general, Brazilians are proud of their flag seeing it as the ‘peacock tail plumage’ of their country.

8) South Africa

The South African flag is the most modern flag on this list, only dating back to 1994. This flag is a true testament towards direct and intentional design used to reflect the nature of a modern country, and the people respond to it in kind.

Its purposeful design is all about fostering unity after decades of apartheid and violence. It remains one of the lasting legacies of then-president Nelson Mandela.

The various colours represent various people groups in the nation and it incorporates the yellow black and green of the African Nationals Colours to tie back to the people’s ancient roots.

It is well loved, frequently flown and one of the worlds most recognizable flags, landing it a good spot on this list.

7) Macedonia

So this is a bit of a weird one, and one I’m sure some of you have never even seen or heard of, and that’s okay.

Macedonia is a funny little country with an ongoing identity crisis. If you weren’t aware, Macedonia and Greece have been fighting over the lineage of the legendary Alexander the Great ever since Macedonian independence, and this flag is a middle finger to the Greeks, the sun being a symbol of Alexander.

Now I really like this flag, but this placement is more than simple favouritism. I find the Macedonian flag to be a very interesting case study into national identity, historical belief and the power of constructed belonging.

Macedonia pins the hopes of a prosperous future entirely on national identity and this flag acts as a rallying symbol to stand behind. This makes the country one of the most unique in the world, as a nation entirely dependent on what it is and was, not what it can offer or how many resources it can hoard.

This flag symbolises the hopes of a nation and the people of Macedonia eat it up, even if the rest of the world remains unaware.

6) Japan

This is just a really nice flag.

Its simplicity catches the eye and represents the sun, an important part of Japan’s identity as ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’.

While this flag isn’t as worshipped as other flags higher in the list, the idea of the sun representing Japan is an idea that goes back centuries and is well imbedded into Japanese culture.

The flag, rather than being the source of a national symbol of belonging, reflects said symbol and displays it for the world to see.

It’s very impressive when a national flag can sum up the belief of a country with such a simple and beautiful design, and it is for this reason that the flag snags a high spot on the list.

There’s not a whole lot more to say about the flag other than the fact that it is well loved and does its job as a ‘logo’ really well. Recognisable and illustrative of the country it flies for, it’s harder to get better than this without exceptional flag branding.

5) Canada

I used this flag earlier as an example of what Australia’s flag could be as it is a fantastic example of what a simple change in flag design can do for national identity.

Before their change in 1965 Canada was struggling with identity and breaking out from under the shadow of the UK. This redesign almost solely turned this around and today Canada has one of the strongest national identities in the world.

To me the Canadian flag is more than a nice looking flag with a good design, it’s a flag that illustrates the importance that a flag has in the individuality and independence of a country. It isn’t a superfluous symbol, rather a central point in belief and belonging in the 21st century.

4) United Kingdom

The Union jack is probably the second most recognisable flag in the world, and by far the most incorporated flag in the world, featuring on our very own Australian flag and a dozen others.

So what makes the Union Jack special aside from its notoriety?

I’ve always loved the design of the Union Jack, sporting the English St. George’s Cross, the Scottish Saltire and the Irish St. Patrick’s Saltire. Incorporating all three of these national symbols equally was a huge symbol of national unity after the tense union of Scotland, England and Ireland back in 1801.

Since that time the Union Jack has always been a symbol of power and unity as it spearheaded British colonial efforts abroad. At the height of the British Empire in 1922 this flag held sway over a quarter of the worlds population and was plastered across almost a quarter of the earths total land area. The sun never truly set on the British Empire.

In recent times the Union Jack has been the centre contention of separatist movements yet as a symbol it remains the guiding light of British sovereignty and is highly respected by its citizens.

3) Denmark

This might be a curveball to some of you out there at first glance.

The flag of the Danes is very simple, not globally recognizable and as far as design goes, it’s quite understated. Yet, to the Danes, their flag the Dannebrog is Denmark.

You’ll find this type flag worship only one other place on this list (number 1), and the Danes go all out, flying this flag atop many houses and adorning multiple storefronts.

Simply, the Danish are very proud of their flag and as a reflection of that, very proud of their country. Much of this comes from the fact that the Dannebrog is easily the oldest flag in the world, and comes from a place of myth, falling from the sky in 1219.

This symbol European Christendom worldwide has influenced neighbouring countries to adopt similar flag styles, leading to dozens of countries and municipalities mirroring the cross design of the Dannebrogthat’s how respected it is.

2) Turkey

This one might be hard to understand without visiting Turkey, but trust me, Turkish people adore their flag and as a logo, it does its job incredibly well.

Symbolism, belief, pride, belonging. These are what Turkish people see when looking at their flag. In the words of a Turkish person:

“There is no such flag that has a true heroic and national meanings in its colors, only the Turkish flag’s red can describe a nation’s whole history from Middle Asia to Anatolia…”

Really, this far down the list you know the drill. Turkish people love their flag, they are inspired wholly by what the flag says and it leads to overwhelming pride and belonging.

In it’s home country this flag is beyond respected, it’s worshiped. It acts as a force of unity in a country that is so often divided and otherwise tumultuous.

I challenge you to name one brand or symbol that is non-religious that can hold a torch to the kind of power these top flags hold.

1) America

Was there ever any doubt?

I’m no American patriot, but is there any other flag in the world that can get close to Ol’ Glory?

As easily the most recognisable flag in the world, the stars and stripes take flags as branding to a different level. Americans practically worship the thing, and burning one is akin to treason.

How do you go past a flag that causes so much emotion in people around the world? Whether it’s hate, worship or simple recognition, everyone feels something when they look at this flag.

We’ve had many years of American culture emanating throughout the rest of the world, whether it’s through entertainment, through military dominance or through political discourse, the world sees this flag flying almost daily across multiple mediums.

I think it’s safe to say that the American flag is unique on the list as perhaps the only flag that everyone in the world would recognise, so how could it not be number one?