Authentically American

With the Fourth of July--our celebration of all things American--just having passed, I am wondering how "American" we really are when it comes to the brands we love. Have globalization, the Internet, and peripatetic lifestyles influenced our fundamental view of products and brands? Are the brands we believe in most still born and bred in the U.S.A.? Is authenticity tied to local origin? Or has a shift toward luxury, compartmentalization, and quirky innovation transferred our brand love abroad?



Using our BrandAsset® Valuator (BAV), we took a look at those brands possessing the most overall brand power as well as those brands Americans consider the most authentic and original. BAV is a study of over 3,000 brands in the United States and over 30,000 brands in 48 countries. Its brand sets include big and small businesses, products, services, and companies, in a broad range of categories from technology to hospitality, cleaning supplies to cigarettes, media to financial services.



Of the 10 strongest U.S. brands in 2007, six are over 100 years old and nine are 100% American-founded and still headquartered here. The relatively new companies are in technology or media. All 10 are either traded on a U.S. stock exchange or owned by companies that are traded locally.

Top 10 Strongest U.S. Brands

1. Disney
2. Hallmark
3. Coca-Cola
4. Microsoft
5. Sony
6. Hershey's
7. Nike
8. Discovery Channel
9. National Geographic
10. Google

Interestingly, most of these brands represent products we find in our homes or those that link us to family and friends (Disney, Hallmark). No airlines, no banks, no insurance companies, no cars. Even the newer "virtual" brands, such as Microsoft, the Discovery Channel, and Google, can be viewed as centerpieces of family life and even bonding experiences. The more recent rising stars-Microsoft and Google-also help us on the job. This may reflect the degree to which we work more and have integrated work into our lives.

Now, diving a bit deeper and looking at of brand authenticity, we see that of the 10 brands we consider most authentic and original (listed below), seven are over 100 years old and nine are 100% American. The sole exception is A1, created in the United Kingdom but now American owned. All but one of the top 10 are either traded on U.S. stock exchanges or owned by companies that are (M&M's is privately held).

Top 10 Most Authentic Brands in the U.S.

1. Levi's
2. Harley-Davidson
3. National Geographic
4. Coca-Cola
5. Disney
6. A1
7. Hershey's
8. Crayola
9. M&M's
10. Tupperware

It's clear what these brands share: They are the household names we grew up with, the constants that have always been in our lives. Brands that, with only a few exceptions, we developed relationships with in our childhood that have continued through adulthood. The exceptions (Harley-Davidson, Tupperware) are so powerfully unique and differentiated in their essence and products that they occupy a special place in our hearts, even if we aren't users ourselves.

Is this appreciation for our homegrown brands simply nationalism that other countries share, or is it uniquely American? Is it something embedded in our culture that reflects a belief in our originality, our specialness? Apparently it's just us Yanks. Take a look at the list of most authentic brands in the United Kingdom and in Japan:

Top 10 Most Authentic Brands

In the UKIn Japan
2 Harley-Davidson Hermès
3 Jack Daniel's Mikimoto
4 Amoy Burberry
5 Dr. Martens LouisVuitton
6 Sharwood's Gucci
7 Patak's Salvatore Ferragamo
8 Old El Paso Mercedes-Benz
9 Adidas Cartier
10 Wrangler Omega

What, no tea? The Brits seem to define authentic brands as those that are true to their place of origin or are category innovators. To them, authenticity is more about the product itself, regardless of location. Levi's, Harley-Davidson, and Jack Daniel's are stereotypical icons of the American lifestyle. Amoy, Sharwood's, Patak's, and Old El Paso are all brands of condiments and sauces that are "authentically" ethnic-Indian, Chinese, Southwestern. No English (or Welsh or Scottish or Irish) brands make the U.K.'s top 10 list.

The Japanese, who laud luxury brands, relate authenticity to aspirational, often unattainable brands. Unlike Americans, who value down-to-earth, everyday product brands for their authenticity, the Japanese seem to admire greatness-the finest watches, the most beautiful scarves, the most desired handbags. Only one of Japan's top 10 is Japanese-Mikimoto, an upscale jewelry brand. No sauces, no family brands, and no local products they grew up with.

So what did I learn about the brands Americans still love this Independence Day that can help us as marketers? Longevity sure helps. But if your brand doesn't have 100 years of heritage, what else?

  • Don't be afraid of eccentricity. Those newer brands are like no other both in their products and their personality. They find an essential truth about who they are and stick with it.
  • Don't be afraid to take a stand-we still admire individuality.
  • Don't be afraid of wholesomeness and goodness. Sophisticates and committed digitarians may scoff at Hallmark or abandon Coke for Red Bull, but our mass market still respects these brands and continues to give them a lot of rope.
  • Don't be afraid of premium pricing-if A1 were gas, it would cost $45 a gallon. Harley owners pay top dollar for their Hogs. A day at Disneyland can cost a family of four $250 excluding food and transportation.

And lastly, we still love our American brands. Maybe it's xenophobic, but we find comfort in the homegrown, the authentic--the quintessentially American.

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