Scorn In The USA

“Brand USA is tarnished.”

That’s what U2 frontman turned geopolitical activist Bono told the most recent The Week magazine conference at New York’s Grand Central Station. Couple that with the announcement last week that the State Department has pulled its “Brand USA” project, and you have an ad industry on notice that something may be rotten in the kingdom these days.

Yesterday, The Week held another conference to explore Bono’s comment. Is “Brand USA” tarnished? The panelists – from the worlds of fashion and public relations – were unanimous in their belief that the perception problem is acute for the image of the US from an overseas perspective. But it does not extend to brands that emanate from the US.

“I’m not so sure that perception of the US is a major concern,” said Matthew Freud, chairman of London-based Freud Communications and great-grandson of eminent psychiatrist Sigmund. “What is a concern is that the reality of the US has changed. There is desperate soul searching going on in this country right now. There’s an identity crisis. I don’t see the problem as arrogance. I just think America needs to define what its values are.”



According to the State Department’s campaign, which was supervised by Charlotte Beers, those values were tolerance, equal opportunity and freedom. But the ads developed were not accepted by many countries, and in the end the project was scrapped. Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg hinted that she might have put more emotion into the project, if she had the mission.

“Brands have to have a heart and a conviction and a passion,” she said. “You must let that passion flow. You can be strong and be humble at the same time. Your can show some vulnerability.”

The American media did not come up among the panelists as a catalyst for America’s oversea image problem. Freud said the American media “makes good copy for British hacks.” Panelist Simon Doonan, creative director of Barney’s New York, may have had the best line of the day when he said: “America doesn’t need to worry about opinion polls. Their core values of generosity and optimism are still there. People in England and France don’t like Americans because all they have left anymore is Posh Spice.”

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