Facing the highest unemployment rate since World War II, having crashed out of the Euro 2004 championship, Germany had hit a low point in 2004, writes Michael Appel.
That was until the thrill of hosting the FIFA World Cup transformed the nation once divided by the infamous Berlin Wall.
Dr Nikolaus Eberl, speaking at the 2010 National Communication Partnership Conference on Tuesday said that if one looked at Germany in quarter three of 2004, it had the highest unemployment since World War II, its domestic football league was in the middle of a match fixing scandal, and the country was facing xenophobia problems.
"We had just crashed out of Euro 2004 and the nation was in a collective depression," he said.
Author of the bestselling book "BrandOvation: How Germany won the World Cup of Nation Branding", Dr Eberl believes South Africa is where Germany was 22 months before they hosted the 2006 world cup.
Germany realised that it was seen by the world as a nation of scientists and engineers, militaristic in nature and not a sport loving country who would welcome the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Germany for the world cup.
He said it was decided that Germany needed to become the exact opposite of what people perceived it to be, and therefore embarked on a campaign to make Germany and the people of Germany, in the services industry in particular, as friendly as possible.
A study conducted found that Germans were unfriendly and therefore the authorities came up with a type of "friendliness manual" which helped Germans learn how to greet foreigners in their own language and gave cultural tips, said Dr Eberl.
"The 2006 world cup changed the state of the German nation so dramatically that by now, Germany is the second most valuable nation brand on the Nation Brand Index, consumer confidence is at a 27-year high, unemployment dropped by 29 percent in one year, foreign tourism is up 31 percent, and for the first time in 38 years, the government balanced the budget and declared a profit.
"The 2006 FIFA World Cup transformed the faces of 82 million people within 31 days," explained Dr Eberl.
He said the media had a major role to play in changing the perceptions of a country.
African and South African communicators and the media, as well as the people of South Africa prior and during the 2010 World Cup will be responsible for changing the international perception of the country and the continent.
Dr Eberl explained that South Africa needs to tap into its culture of Ubuntu in order to win the hearts of international visitors during the world cup. South Africa and Africa also need to make its heroes known to the world.
The most well-known and beloved hero Nelson Mandela, is a symbol of what the country has overcome and what it can achieve in the future, Dr Eberl said, adding that the upcoming world cup had the power to unify the nation, change perceptions and leave a lasting legacy for the people of the continent.
Chairperson of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee Dr Irvin Khoza told the conference that South Africa will be providing the stage for an event that brings nations together and unites the world.
"The game of football defies race, gender, sex, age, and religion. FIFA has a greater membership than the United Nations such is the power of football.
"Unfortunately, perception is reality, and it must be the central purpose of any communication strategy to manage popular perception, and it must be done in a bold and innovative manner," Dr Khoza said.
City Press Editor Khathu Mamaila, speaking on the role of the media in communicating prior to and during the world cup, said when South Africa won the right to host the world cup, there were some people who felt South Africa did not deserve it, or would not be up to the task.
"... but this was a small majority of spoilers. The media has the role to practise good journalism, exploring the facts both good and bad, not just bad," said Mr Mamaila. - BuaNews