Love Anti-American Style

Jan 20, 2005

By David Morse

One outcome of the war in Iraq has been the beating taken by French products and brands sold in the U.S. Consumers have boycotted French wine and cheese. The Sofitel Hotel was forced to lower the French flag. Cafeterias in the House of Representatives renamed french fries as freedom fries.

C’est la Guerre, but perhaps a bit more disconcerting when the shoe is on the other pied. According to a recent article in the London based Financial Times (January 5, 2005), U.S. brands, once synonymous with strength, glamour and cool, may be losing their international dominance.

For example, in European markets, many iconic American brands such as Coca-Cola, Marlboro, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Disney and Gap have reported weak or declining sales. And it’s not just consumer products. Swiss banks have been gaining share from U.S. competitors in the Middle East, France and Germany. American airlines and hotels are losing ground as well.

To combat America’s brand image problem, Keith Reinhard, Chairman of DDB Worldwide, has formed a coalition of companies called Business for Diplomatic Action that includes such global big guns as McDonald’s and PepsiCo. Says Reinhard, “Foreigners are transferring anger at the U.S. government to anger at the U.S. and anger at U.S. business.”

There’s a mounting body of market research that supports the link between U.S. politics and brands. A poll by Global Market Insite (GMI) found that one-fifth of Europeans and Canadians said that their anger over U.S. foreign policy would deter them from buying American brands. A global study by NOP World found that only 35 percent of respondents trust American brands and only 15 percent associate them with honesty, significantly lower ratings since the Iraq war began.

The response by some American companies has been to blur their connection to the States with a focus on local. McDonald’s, for instance, has been running successful ads in Indonesia
since the Iraqi war, celebrating the people that comprise the largest Muslim country in the world. Starbucks has been downplaying its Seattle heritage while emphasizing its support
of the developing world.

In the words of “Brand America” author Simon Anholt, “The world’s love affair with America isn’t exactly over, but it has stopped being a blind and unquestioning kind of love.”

Moderator’s Comment: Is the heyday of the American brand over? Obviously acting locally is good, but should U.S. companies be downplaying their American
heritage when outside the United States? Do consumers really care?

One thing is certain – our standing in the eyes of the world community is not what it used to be.

A BBC World Service poll just released found that nearly half of those surveyed now see the U.S. influence in the world as largely negative; 58 percent
said that President Bush’s re-election to the White House made the world more dangerous.

According to a 2004 poll conducted in Latin America by Research International, 82 percent say we eat too much, 80 percent say we care only about ourselves
and 78 percent say we mistrust non-U.S. people. At least there was a silver lining – six in ten claim they don’t care where a brand comes from as long as it is what they want.

David Morse – Moderator

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