Barcelona City Brand. The Image Impact of Violence and Riots of Protests in Spanish General Strike 29M 2012

Barcelona, Spain, a crisis, a general strike.

Barcelona counts with one of the best city brand reputation according to many different sources. This valuable intangible asset is the source sustaining a powerful tourist sector.

In the meantime, Spain is currently suffering an extraordinary deep and long economic crisis.  According to INE, the Spanish National Institute of Statitics, Spain is again in a recession period, as first quarter 2012 experienced a negative growth of 0.3% GDP.

Source: INE, Estimación avance de la Contabilidad Nacional Nrimestral, 30 April 2012

Unemployment is reaching all time highs with an unemployment rate of 24%, a record among all countries in Europe.

The Conservative Partido Popular (PP) won past general elections in November 2011 with an absolute majority, after eight years of Socialist Government by PSOE.

Since the new PP Government came into power, it has applied a wide range of reforms, cut spending and tax increases. It has introduced the biggest reform in the labor market regulations in the democratic period, in order to increase labor market flexibility.

This labor reform was the origin of the call by the leading labor unions in Spain for a general Strike in all country, last 29 March 2012.

We have shown in this blog an analysis about the impact of the debate about the strike in the social media the days before 29M. We found out that the labor union most present in Twitter messages was CC.OO, a left wing union.

Pacific protests in all cities in Spain, violent protests in Barcelona

The aim of this post is to provide empirical evidence about a relevant issue for cities and countries reputation and image: the international media impact of protests, violence and riots.

The strike was widely followed in all cities and places in Spain. Manifestations were organized in main cities in Spain in the evening, after 6pm, as a way to provide visibility to the popular support to the protests. As expected, reivindicative protests gathered crowds in all cities.

They followed almost all a pacific profile… except in Barcelona city.

Small well organized groups of protesters, apparently not connected with main labor unions, launched violent actions in centric streets in Barcelona. There were burning of some trash containers, paitings and graffitties in showcases, destructions in bank offices, and a Starbucks coffee was eventually destroyed by fire. There were clashes against protesters and police, and there were injured protesters by anti-riot equipped police.

As all these events happened in main commercial streets in Barcelona, they reached strong visibility as photographers and media were present covering the evolution of the main manifestation.

The result? All media attention was turned to Barcelona events. Soon media, specially international media, talked about the Athens-like athmosphere of crisis and social collapse reaching Barcelona and Spain.

Examples of international media coverage of violence and riots in Barcelona

The general strike in Spain was carefully followed by many international observers as a termometer of the street and social opposition to the severe economic measures imposed by the new government in Spain. These adjustment measures are considered by many international organizations and experts to be essential to avoid a financial rescue in Spain. But also international observers fear that the extent of the cuts and sacrifices may be too dramatic and could deepen the recession and create a situation of social chaos.

How did international media explain to their readers the result and consequences of the general strike in Spain? By showing, almost unanimously, images of violence in the streets in Barcelona.

In order to proof that this event was considered as a relevant issue in the current global crisis, we show some examples of the cover page of some leading international papers the day after, 30 March 2012. In many cases strike in Spain was the main cover page news, and in many cases the main cover page photo was an image of violence in Barcelona.



As shown in the selected examples, all the images chosen to illustrate the strike were about incidents in Barcelona, and all of them show violence and destruction. All of them mentionned Barcelona in very visible way.

Measuring the impact of violence and riots in Barcelona city brand

How to measure the damage that this extremely negative media coverage has in Barcelona city branding and reputation?

There are different strategies for measuring the impact of this communication crisis. A standard approach used by brand and media consulting firms is to monitor the number of impacts in national and international media, by the number of appearances in newspapers, TV and online content. We have applied this technique to assess the impact in many of the crisis monitored and presented in this blog and in our main academic site Media, Reputation and Intangibles center, Universidad de Navarra.

The approach that we follow this time is somehow unusual. It consists in monitoring the images chosen by newspapers and news providers talking about Barcelona during a short period of time.

We have applied this technique in a similar way in other cases, like the impact of the accusation by German authorities against cucumbers from Spain as cause of a deadly e coli strain in Germany. This accusation was soon proven to be false, but it had devastating negative reputation effects in Spanish export agricultural sector. We also conducted an image analysis for measuring the brand impact of an extraordinary promotion made by Telepizza.

Here we have monitored the images used by newspapers and also online news providers writting in English in articles mentionning explicitly to Barcelona in the body of the article and in the image selected to accompany the text.

We are not conducting a full city brand analysis, but just an analysis about the impact of the images about the strike in Barcelona city branding. If we were presenting a report about Barcelona city brand, we would present in this post all Barcelona city brand drivers, with its weaknesses and strenghts. Following the goal of this post, we restrict the presentation of the city brand results to gauge the negative impact of images of violence and clashes.

Nevertheless, in order to provide an insight of the extent of the reputation damages, we will provide information about the presence of images of two other main city international ambassadors of brand Barcelona: Football Club Barcelona and Gaudí monuments in Barcelona.

We use our own data set of international newspapers for capturing the news, and we apply correction measures provinding weights to images accoring to their relevance.

The following figure presents the size of news associated to the strike in Barcelona, for all news around that day: news between 26 March and 1st April.

The empirical results are self-speaking. The images of violence had a devastating negative effect in the short term international image of city of Barcelona, as they flooded international newspapers. Rioting images represented the main image association to Barcelona, with a weighted share of 48.2%. Compared to the strike, the images about FC Barcelona sport performance took only 6.8% of image spots. Sagrada Familia and other Gaudí buildings and monuments reached a share of 11%.

In the following figure we present the image portfolio of Barcelona one week later, for images used to illustrate news about Barcelona published between 31 March to 6 April. This refer already to news published two-three days after the strike-related incidents.

We find that awful images about violence and destruction around the general strike had a sustained impact, as they still represented 11.1% of image association to Barcelona. Positive city branding images related to FC Barcelona success increased to 51.5%. This corresponds to the impact of the wins against Athletic Club Bilbao in Spanish Liga and vs Milan AC in UEFA Champions League. Contribution of Gaudí keeps stable at 8.1%.

The combination of the two previous figures is telling us how relevant is currently FC Barcelona as international ambassador of the brand Barcelona (remember that we included news referring explicitly both to Barcelona and Spain as a geolocator,  criteria essential for creating city branding effects).

Figures are also showing us that the impact of scandals and crisis like the violence during the general strike day completely overcome all other city brand elements, as the presence of FC Barcelona almost disappears by comparison with the huge impact of the images of violence.

Appendix. Barcelona as city of violent protests, in the news.

Excerpts of news articles about events after 29 March clashes in Barcelona.

The European Central Bank will face a deteriorating economy with its key weapons muzzled when its policymakers meet Thursday in Barcelona, Spain, surrounded by heightened security against potentially violent protests.


Spanish authorities are deploying an extra 2,000 police and have tightened border controls for the event. Spain has suspended the provisions of the Schengen treaty — which allows people to cross borders of participating countries without passport checks — to keep out violence-minded protesters.

The city saw clashes in March between police and protesters during a general strike over government cutbacks as well as demonstrations for May Day this week.

‘ECB hands tied as it faces weak economy, protests’, CBS News, May2,  2012

In Spain, trade unions estimated that more than one million people had protested in 80 cities, with the largest gatherings in Madrid and Barcelona. While organizers said 100,000 protesters had shown up in Barcelona, however, the police offered a starkly lower estimate of 15,000.

Spain has slipped into a recession for the second time in three years, joining 11 other European countries officially in recession. Labor unions have warned of mounting unrest if the center-right government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pushes ahead with austerity measures to meet its budget-deficit targets while 5.6 million people — almost a quarter of Spain’s work force — are unemployed.

Austerity Pain Fills Europe With Protests on May Day, New York Times, May 1, 2012

(Reuters) – Spain has temporarily banned passport-free travel from most of Europe and drafted in 2,000 extra police to Barcelona to prevent violent protests when the European Central Bank governing council meets in the city next week.

The conservative government fears activists from other countries will join Spanish demonstrators protesting against austerity measures during the May 3 meeting, following violent incidents during a one-day general strike in March.

‘Spain steps up security for Barcelona ECB meeting’ Reuters UK, April 27, 2012

(In Spanish)

El día más comprometido desde el punto de vista de la seguridad será el 3 de mayo, jueves, al ser la jornada en la que se celebra propiamente la reunión del BCE. Es el momento en que podrían producirse manifestaciones no comunicadas encaminadas a entorpecer la celebración del evento o a protestar por su sola existencia. En estos casos, las organizaciones que las promueven tratan de acercarse tanto como es posible al escenario de la reunión. El principal trabajo policial, de darse este supuesto, sería evitar que se llegara hasta el hotel. Si a pesar de ello los manifestantes lo lograran, se encontrarían con una instalación hotelera blindada por efectivos y vehículos policiales como última línea de contención.

El esfuerzo desde el punto de vista del despliegue será muy importante. Como muestra de la importancia que han otorgado a este acontecimiento las administraciones, el dispositivo contará, además, con vigilancia aérea mediante helicópteros de los tres cuerpos. Ni la Generalitat ni el Gobierno español quieren nuevas portadas de la prensa internacional con fotos de Barcelona con rasgos de guerrilla urbana.

Barcelona se blinda ante citas como el primero de mayo o la cumbre del BCE, La Vanguardia, April 29, 2012

Barcelona afronta hoy un examen sobre su imagen exterior con la celebración de la cumbre del Banco Central Europeo (BCE). Los recientes altercados en la huelga general del pasado 29 de mayo y en el paro universitario -que hoy se repite- mantienen demasiado fresco el recuerdo que llevó a la capital catalana a las portadas internacionales.

(…) El ministro del Interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz, ya subrayó hace días la importancia de que Barcelona, Cataluña y España transmitan una imagen “de seguridad y convivencia pacífica” al mundo durante esta cita.

La cumbre del BCE examina la imagen de Barcelona, El Mundo,  May 3, 2012

“No está justificado”, aseguraron ayer miércoles fuentes de la policía catalana, en referencia a los 3.500 policías y guardias civiles que el Ministerio de Interior ha movilizado para los tres días que dura la reunión. En un principio, tenían que ser 2.500, pero finalmente Interior envió 1.000 policías más. Estos se suman a 4.500 mossos. Otras fuentes, sin embargo, justifican la medida excepcional por el temor que han causado los graves incidentes de la huelga en Barcelona y por cómo un episodio similar podría afectar a la imagen internacional de España y a su economía.

La policía blinda Barcelona, El País, May 3, 2012

(new content coming)