Red, White and… Blue?

You’re invited to AW2020, Advertising Week’s digital event, September 29-October 8 to help work through solutions to some of the advertising and marketing industry’s biggest problems. From climbing unemployment to racial inequality and an unclear future, now is the time, more than ever, to think and work together. Register to learn more.



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It’s no secret that America’s political state is in trouble, and the majority of Americans are unhappy with the outcome of the presidential election and the events that have transpired since. Our country is seemingly more divided and polarized than ever, and ignoring the problem is simply not an option. Countries are brands, and right now, Brand America is facing a PR nightmare. The two-hour-long panel, divided into five subpanels, brought together sixteen of the most prominent leaders in the industry on one stage to discuss the problems our nation is facing and what strategic communicators must do to combat them.

Brand America in 2017: The Facts and the Findings

Countries are brands, and right now, Brand America is in major need of reputation management. Favorability amongst other nations has dropped and un-favorability has risen, distrust and disapproval of our president are up, and Brand America’s pride is injured. Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide, illustrated this data by providing an anecdote from a research experiment he conducted. While visiting France this summer, Reinhard decided to poll people’s views of America by asking strangers on the streets to fill in the blank: “I used to see the US as ______. I now see it as _______.” Of the 125 respondents from countries all over the world, the overwhelming majority had negative views of America. One response sums it up simply: “I used to see the US as bueno. I now see it as no es bueno.”

Cleve Langton and Aditya Ghuwalewala at Mavenmagnet looked at the impact of American politics on US brands in the United Kingdom. Budweiser’s “Born the Hard Way” campaign and Nike’s open letter condemning Trump’s immigration brand are two ways that these have made their political views very clear. Langton and Ghuwalewala analyzed how these two statements were received, and found that the UK responded very differently to each. 50 percent of the discussion around Budweiser was positive, but only 40% of the discussion around Nike’s open letter was positive – consumers felt as if the letter was a direct attack on President Trump and it resulted in political mudslinging. They also felt as though Nike was in no position to be criticizing someone else when there are a multitude of problems in their own company. Consumers like brands whose views align with their own and who take a stand (or maybe more relevant, those who kneel), but it’s important that it’s conveyed in a positive way and not attack the other side – these issues will not be resolved by attacking one another.

Left, Right, Center

One misconception is that Donald Trump is to blame for the decline of America’s favorability. As Weber Shandwick’s chairman Jack Leslie stated, “If there’s one thing about America’s brand, it’s that it’s messy and boisterous.” One of the biggest changes that’s happened in the time between the Bush administration and the current administration is the democratization of brands and the introduction of social media. Brands are now commenting on political issues and current events, and social media gives them a platform to reach more consumers than ever before. Part of the reason Trump won the presidency is due to his use of social media to speak directly to the people at any and all times. Richard Edelman knows that best brands and companies will emulate his techniques (not the content of this technique) in order to create consumer platforms and allow consumers to feel as if they are part of the brand future. It humanizes the brand and makes it relevant to the average American.

While Trump certainly plays a big part in Brand America’s reputation, the race, homophobia and xenophobia has always been here, it’s just now being brought to the attention of mainstream media. Mike Paul, president of Reputation Doctor LLC, highlighted the role that media has played in dividing our country further. It’s not a rich issue or a poor issue, or a black issue or a white issue. Our country needs to come together and work with the “other.” It’s easy to point a finger at Trump, but we need to take a look at ourselves first. Democrats haven’t taken the time to learn and understand who the average American who voted for Trump is, and without doing so, nothing will get resolved.

Global CEO of Y&R David Sable has put together a model by which he can measure the likability and ranking of any country and their views. One of the tools in the algorithm measures a country’s soft power, which includes elements such as entrepreneurship, quality of life and citizenship, and a country’s hard power – the tanks and banks. America ranks number one when it comes to hard power, but doesn’t even make the top ten in terms of soft power, which is what the rest of the world judges us on.

Real Time Brief

While the brands created in America are succeeding globally, Brand America is on the decline. So, where do we go from here? In short, we need to create a global campaign to turn around the image of Brand USA. Rob Reilly, Global Creative Chairman of McCann Worldgroup believes it’s not a brand problem – it’s a product problem. America’s products are infrastructure, schools, immigration, inclusion and inspiration, and right now, these are all failing. America needs to reinvigorate the meaningful role that Brand America plays in the lives of its people, and redefine our key value of equality for all. We have to simply what we want Brand America to stand for.

The panel ended on an exceptional note, with Elicia Greenberg of the Ad Club of New York leaving her seat in the audience to address the panelists, remarking at the lack of women on stage. She ended the panel by reminding the audience to “be the difference.” It’s not about the talk – it’s about the doing. It’s time for advertisers and marketers and creatives to work to fix the problems in our nation and bring Brand America to new and innovative heights.


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