Brand America and the new multiplicity

brand america.jpg

News on the latest in the anti-American feeling abroad and it’s consequences for American brands.

According to the Edelman company’s annual “trust barometer,” a survey of 1,500 opinion leaders throughout the world, 32 percent of Europeans polled in January said they were less likely to purchase products made by companies in the United States because of disagreements with American culture. The Coca-Cola brand, for example, was “trusted” by 69 percent of respondents in the United States but by only 45 percent in Europe and 46 percent in Canada. Procter & Gamble products, which include Vicks, Folgers, Charmin, Clairol and Pampers brands, were trusted by 74 percent of Americans but only 44 percent of Europeans.

Edelman suggests brands avoid ‘treat[ing] Europe as if it had a single, homogenous culture.” Edelman says, “That’s one of the secrets here. There’s no such thing as global media.”

Exactly. And while we’re at it, we might avoid treating America as if it had a single, homogenous culture. This is another way of saying that glib, simple minded anti-Americanism is wrong for many reasons, but the most compelling is that there is no single American mentality or point of view.

Brands that stands for America may once have stood for a monolithic. (This might have been particularly true when they stood for mid-century modernism.) But now they stand for a multiplicity.

Or to put this in a more pugent marketing formulae: Brand America is actually Brand Americans, and Brand Americans are diverse. There are many ways to roll this out. One of the simplest is to argue that Brand America is about the Americans you know, not the country you imagine.

When you think about how hard America has worked to inspire, enable, and various license its multiplicity, it does seem like this should be one of the payoffs: a new versatility when it comes to crafting an image for itself overseas.


O’Brien, Kevin. 2005. U.S. Companies Rethinking Their Marketing in Europe. New York Times. February 14, 2005.

5 thoughts on “Brand America and the new multiplicity

  1. Matt

    One hesitates to even mention how strange it seems that people would care more, when deciding whether or not to purchase Coca-Cola, about how they feel about American culture, than about whether they like the taste of Coca-Cola.

  2. Anonymous

    First off, pretty cheesy to reference a report without a link to the source:
    Unfortunately, the source is powerpoint slides, so a lot of detail is not provided. What’s that about the Devil…?

    –Flaws in the Polled Population
    Those polled are “opinion leaders” not mainstream consumers: college-educated, 35-64, above $75K (or equivalent). As far as I know, mainstream consumers don’t consult with the opinion leaders before they buy. What exactly is the value of state-paid health care? – unstated.

    Europe was defined as 150 people in the UK (all Irish?), France (all Parisian?), and Germany (East, West, or Berlin?). Sure all of Europe isn’t one culture: there are 3!

    The entire poll was done in one month. Stated trust opinions are highly influenced by the latest news, especially in those who “[self-r]eported a significant interest and engagement in the media, economic and policy affairs.”

    –Flaws in the Questions

    Trust in US brands is down. What about trust in European brands? The only European brand in the slides is a bank, and everyone trusts banks more than other businesses. What other European brands were asked about – unstated.

    –Flaws in the Logic

    What people say they do and what they do are often highly divergent.

    How does trust translate to buying? – unstated.

    –Final Word

    Did I mention this survey is done by a company that will be glad to show you how to do an advertising campaign for your products world-wide? Oh, maybe that’s why they cooked up this survey – 99% of leading corporate executives trust survey results more than guesswork.

  3. Dave

    Europeans [particularly those in the UK] remember Coca-Cola’s farcical attempt to launch Daisani as a premium bottled water before admitting that it was in fact nothing more than processed tap water. That’s why we don’t think much of Coke. 🙂

  4. Tom Guarriello

    Despite the flaws in the study cited above, I believe the general message: Europeans are less happy with “America” (we may understand that we’re heterogeneous, but the rest of the world certainly doesn’t) and will therefore SAY (good point made above) that they are less willing to buy American. I can’t help thinking this will hurt sales of US products abroad, just when we were counting on the weak dollar to bolster those sales. I’m not sure we can re-craft our image in the short run; methinks we’ll see several more years of Yank-bashing.

    My wife and I were in Paris over Thanksgiving and found some pretty strident anti-Bush feeling, but did not experience that spilling over into the way we were treated as individuals. But products are simpler to disdain than people. No matter what we might think, there are perfectly good alternatives for people to turn to if they want to reject all things American.

  5. graham

    “ strange it seems that people would care more … about how they feel about American culture, than about whether they like the taste of Coca-Cola.”

    Isn’t that the whole point about brands? You don’t buy Coca Cola because you like the taste; you buy it for the whole world singing in harmony, Norman Rockwell gestalt. The threat to US business is that the moral standing of the US government is a cap on the moral standing of US brands (in the same way the Argentinean government’s credit rating is a cap on an Argentinean company’s rating.)

    It’s also pretty rational from an economic standpoint too. It’s not as if the US economy can exactly stand on its own.

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