Is Brand America In Trouble?

Brand America has some problems, according to panelists participating in the "Red, White and Blue" seminar at NYC's Advertising Week today. The country’s global reputation has declined since the Trump administration came into power. By some accounts, there will be a substantial drop in tourism, depriving the economy of billions of dollars.

During the session, industry leaders gathered to discuss and debate the complexity of the American brand.

"How has brand USA become one person?" asked Weber Shandwick's Jack Leslie. "I take some of the data with a grain of salt.” The country has been deeply divided at times throughout its history, he notes. If there is one thing about America's brand, he says, it's that it is “messy, complicated and boorish.”  

Edelman's Richard Edelman points out that before Trump, Brand America didn’t exactly have a stellar ranking. "We are not so great to start with."

What should an organization do when it finds itself embroiled in a White House controversy, such as NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem?



The PR gurus suggested an NFL owner sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick to send a strong message that individuals are entitled to take stands on issues they believe in without getting blackballed from their profession. Trump has suggested that players taking a knee in protest be fired.

Amusement Park's Jimmy Smith, Mekanism's Jason Harris and McCann Worldgroup Rob Reilly pitched how they would turn around the image of brand USA.

Smith says the root of the issue is internally looking at ourselves and then everything will flow out.

Harris asserts the country may not be as divided as the media portrays, pointing to research showing that 71% of the country believes more dollars should be earmarked for education. "There is common ground,” he said. “We need to focus on our commonalities, before we start addressing a larger global issue.”

Reilly says it isn't a brand problem, but a product problem. Fixing the problem requires a different approach. Not that it’s easy, but addressing problems like infrastructure and immigration will help spread more positive sentiments organically, he said.

DDB's Keith Reinhard and Mavenmagnet's Ritu Ghuwalewala revealed their research on the brand reputation in the UK for two iconic American brands: Budweiser and Nike. The research focused on two campaigns surrounding the immigration issue, Bud's immigration message was positively received and boosted its brand rep sharply, whereas Nike took a hit on brand metrics following its campaign.

Reinhard said Budweiser's immigrant campaign, by portraying the travels of its founder and what he was able to achieve, resonated with people. It reinforced the legitimate notion that hardworking people can accomplish a lot, no matter where they come from.   

Nike, by comparison, introduced the Equality campaign alongside an open letter by the CEO that didn't resonate with people, at least not in a good way. "People started talking about the hypocrisy of the brand" in light of Nike's factory practices.

The lesson there: "Make sure you clean up your brand," said Reinhard.


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