Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Brand America

The trouble with Brand America (from the blog "The Business of Emotions - Emotions Analysed: Morality Clarified")

The ambitions of emotional marketers no few bounds. Not only toothpaste and motor cars, but entire nation-states can be emotionally branded. If they're not careful.

The idea has a certain superficial plausibility. It reminds me of Benedict Anderson's " imagined communities ". Canada, for example, is an imagined community, in the sense that each of us feels a bond with people far and wide, whom we will never meet.

But these imagined communities have at least a semblance of authenticity. If nation brands are like brand brands, they need not. A society of people is not a commodity; at least, not yet.

The idea of branding places and even entire nations is associated with Simon Anholt, no stranger to marketing himself. He has devised a league table of Nation Brands, the Anholt Nation Brands Index, available here. I quote from its latest report:

When we express a preference for French holidays,
German cars or Italian opera, when we instinctively trust
the policies of the Swedish government, comment on the
ambition of the Japanese, the bluntness of the Americans
or the courtesy of the British, when we avoid investing
in Russia, favour Turkey’s entry into Europe or admire the
heritage of China and India, we are responding to brand
images in exactly the same way as when we’re shopping
for clothing or food.
But these are far bigger brands than Nike or Nestlé.
They are the brands of nations.

There is little doubt that geographical locations, from towns to states and entire nations now take their brand image seriously. To compete, the argument goes, they have to be known for something.

Thus Warwickshire in England is now "Shakespeare's country". Nottingham conjures up an image of Robin Hood and Maid Marion. England likes to think of itself as the home of good manners and parliamentary democracy. America is the land of the free and the American dream. Or it was. Now it seems, it is the mother of all brands .

Everywhere is becoming its own theme park.

Nation brands, the argument goes, effect the competitiveness of actual brands within it. So, for example, if your country behaves badly, the nation brand is tarnished and domestic producers had better look out.

It is interesting to note, then, that Brand America dropped from 3rd to 10th in the latest Nation Brand Index. (Canada rose from 9th to 3rd.)

The obvious explanation is that this was due to the negative evaluation of the Bush administrations actions, at home, and in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, some American politicians openly called for a campaign of re-branding, as if it were all a huge misunderstanding which could be sorted out with better communication.

The problem with America, however, cannot be fixed so easily: The problem is not the brand, but the product, American society itself.


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