At TV Ark, there is a 1989 Coca-Cola commercial, where a bunch of teenagers are singing a song called ‘Tomorrow’. This was shown worldwide, at the end of a decade that I remember as being relatively US-friendly.
Ronald Reagan had been in the White House most of the decade, and we in New Zealand tended to look favourably upon imported TV commercials. They had higher production values than our own, and hearing an American accent was no great sin.
How times have changed. I have spoken many times about how Brand America can be restored, and I still believe ﬁrmly in that, given the decency of most Americans. But this acceptance has diminished. A higher hurdle needs to be cleared if nationality is brought into the dialogue.
You don’t really notice the gulf till you view the ad again, and think, ‘That made me feel good about Coca-Cola. It was a darned good song.’ And, maybe, ‘Go, USA!’
But I dare say most New Zealanders—used to seeing locally made TV commercials now that are rather ingenious—think American ones are inferior these days. Companies do not do better by having an American connection: those commercials are now dubbed with an antipodean accent, particularly those from S. C. Johnson.
Today, it’s American commerce as well as politics that have some folks upset about the US. In Fairfax’s The Dominion Post today, the top headline in the international pages was, ‘Bush admits secret CIA jails’. This certainly wasn’t the main thrust of the President’s speech that he gave overnight (New Zealand time). Ownership by American companies of local brands such as Keri (orange juice) by Coca-Cola is downplayed. The Ford Motor Co. supports the All Blacks’ rugby team, localizing itself.
So what is the solution? Just like with anything else, I believe it lies in the connection between people. We know the US has less than a stellar nation branding programme, because it cannot decide which department should oversee it. Cynics will say that such a programme, when delivered by the USA, will be overly commercial and insincere. One such example was covered by Neill Archer Roan on his blog when entering Washington, DC—and if it was indicative, then Brand America needs more serious thought.
Freedom and liberty are still marketable values, and these can be so well tied to any marketing done by the United States. During the Reagan era, the marketing was done relatively well. Even with the President’s father’s term, the Gulf War was marketed well, along the lines of Kuwaiti freedom from an Iraqi aggressor. Defence, even of another, is easier to market than war.
The concern comes with the misunderstanding—or misdeeds, depending on your political afﬁliation—of the current administration’s foreign policy, which probably provides the greatest thrust for anti-American sentiment. In New Zealand, Republican administrations do seem to be regularly met with negative press if one compares the lack of outrage over President Clinton’s decision to enter Kosovo without a UN resolution, and the serious outrage over President Bush’s decision over Iraq.
The goodwill the US had with 9-11 seems to have faded into history if I look at the mood here, though of course we are still touched by the individual stories and tragedies.
But the second element is more clear-cut. American commerce, from the likes of Wal-mart et al, give a negative image of the United States abroad. Where, once upon a time, the likes of S. C. Johnson would be positive because of its family values, today’s American company is associated with doing little for the environment. Despite the efforts of ethical American ﬁrms engaged in social responsibility, the companies that spring to mind with being leaders from their nation are Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Both were grilled by politicians earlier this week for contributing to childhood obesity, and the fact both companies are American may not be a coincidence.
It stresses the need to not only engage in corporate social responsibility, but to be seen doing so.
Right now, after all, the trend is not about monolithic brands doing good, but niche brands breaking through glass ceilings. So bigger ﬁrms have this obstacle to ﬁght, at least till a sense of corporate branding rationalism—how’s that for a new term?—re-emerges.
That could happen if a large enough company can be seen to do good, and others wish to be seen to be aligned to it. Bill Gates may well have kicked off yet another revolution in CSR, with his and his wife’s Foundation. That’s something we could not have predicted ﬁve years ago when we wrote the Medinge Manifesto and hatched the idea for Beyond Branding. Microsoft? Aren’t those the guys who made dodgy operating systems?
Back then, Simon Anholt (I followed) spoke of the E-initiatives programme from Hewlett–Packard, about equipping third-world nations with IT infrastructure, and how that was compatible with its obligations to Wall Street.
These are great American initiatives, but neither is tied to the image of the US as a whole. If anything, the Gates Foundation highlights where American governmental efforts and those of American big business fall short—Mr and Mrs Gates are seen as world citizens, transcending borders, just like their causes. Unless you followed U2 or rock, you’d have to think twice about where Bono comes from.
Somehow, they may be emerging above their countries of origin. Maybe the Gateses and Bono and Angelina Jolie are world citizens. And maybe nations are beginning to lose meaning in this interconnected world of ours, where we reach out to other individuals, because of who they are, and not whose passport they hold.
Del.icio.us tags: brand branding Brand America America USA US American world citizen Microsoft Wal-mart Coca-Cola McDonald’s Bill Gates politics commerce business CSR social responsibility Posted by Jack Yan, 04:38
I would agree with you about U.S. doing a poor job of branding. I think another issue is philosophy and politics. The left in the U.S. and other nations has become very anti-U.S. They keeping finding fault with the U.S. instead of taking note of all the good that it does. They also don't take note of the dismal failures of their darling Europeans. Kosovo festered for years and yet the Europeans didn't do jack about it. They attempted to buy the Iranians off and the Iranians told them to take a flying leap. Bush's patriotism and his willingness to go it along if necessary have really inflamed the left causing them to be even more anti-U.S. which in turn has turn hurt sales of U.S. products overseas.
In terms of child obesity with Coca-cola and McDonald's, I think folks have been using them as scapegoats. The real issue concerning child obesity is the lack of parenting. Too many parents are using the tv or the gameboy as a surrogate babysitter. The result is that American children are getting less and less exercise. Because of that, it is hardly surprising that they are blimping out. I had the same problem when I was a kid. Later, when I ended up living with my Dad and future step-mom, they decided to do something about it. They got rid of all the potato chips, cookies, candy and other fattening foods. During summer vacation, they also kicked me out of the house and wouldn't let me back in till 6 p.m. I was forced to get out and play i.e. exercise. Not surprisingly, my obesity problem disappeared along with the weight.
"And maybe nations are beginning to lose meaning in this interconnected world of ours, where we reach out to other individuals, because of who they are, and not whose passport they hold."
The whole post struck a chord with me, but this last part is what I really connected with. I've mentioned before my struggles with being a US citizen but finding that I share more of the external views of the US than those of my neighbors. The two areas that continually align me more with the international view of the US are what you mention above: US foreign policy and US corporate behavior/motives.
While I am optimistic that things will change for the better here, it seems that any forward progress is balanced by a bit of backwards progress. I have no idea what to do about the political problems we have, but I've felt for a long time that wholesale change in the structure and motives of corporations is needed in order to make any real progress there.
Regarding the last part of your post, when I think about these dilemmas and perhaps my lack of a 'good fit' here, I almost always come to the same conclusion. What it really comes to for me is that I don't really notice or look for borders. I am drawn to people that are passionate, motivated, care about similar issues, and have good hearts. Thank you for this reminder about how important it is to see 'who people are.'
Thank you, Ron and Peter. Still feeling sick so I won’t be able to address everything you very kindly wrote.
Ron, I agree with your points. The divisions within the US have led to a very confused message about your country. On obesity, parents do indeed need to take more responsibility: they are the ones giving money to their kids to buy Coca-Cola and McDonald’s products. Sounds like your father and stepmother did a pretty good job with getting you ﬁt.
Peter, I sense there will be a case of two steps forward, one step back. Maybe if we can identify what went wrong in the last, say, 15 years, we can redress the balance. I remember that in the 1980s and 1990s, it was delightful to deal with trusting, worldly American ﬁrms. Now, I am greeted with suspicion ﬁrst—and that includes my US staff. When I did a survey of young people’s attitudes in 2002–3, American kids sensed the borders a lot more than kids in Australia and New Zealand, who looked at the global community. (They had cited 9-11 as their reason.)
The borders are becoming a hot issue here in the U.S. Illegal immigration has brought the issue to the forefront. Illegal immigration also shows how easy it would be for terrorists to slip into the U.S. AND bring in a bomb or bombs with them. 9-11 destroyed our sense of security in that if push came to shove, we could always retreat to our border. We can't hide behind that any longer. If we try that now, the terrorists will come to us and we'll still be attacked.Post a Comment
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