Brand America’s Global Equity Takes A Hit

1024px-Liberty-shall-not-perish-PennellIt has taken me awhile to come to grips with writing this post. I want to focus on the impact recent events are having on Brand America’s global equity.

But, I also want to avoid stimulating any political or race related commentary. There are plenty of other venues to express those opinions. Hopefully, this post will stimulate consideration of the implications of current events on Brand America’s equity and a discussion of both the implications and potential damage control actions that could be taken to address the equity erosion.

So, with my fingers crossed, here goes …

There is no doubt in my mind that media coverage of high profile media events in Ferguson and Brooklyn along with the release of the Senate’s CIA torture report have had a major negative impact on Brand America’s global equity.

In previous posts, I have commented how global equity research studies have indicated Brand America’s equity is in decline. These quantitative studies (panned by some readers because the message isn’t positive) clearly indicate all is not well with Brand America’s global competitiveness. Our nation is slipping in the eyes of the world. This is the basis for my advocating a refocus on better enabling residents of our Nation to achieve their American Dream.

Now, Brand America’s global equity has been dealt yet another body blow.

For perspective, in my opinion the best articulation of Brand America’s promise was authored by James Truslow Adams – “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” It is this promise that differentiated American from the rest of the world. This promise is quantitatively measured by Xavier University on a monthly basis. You can learn more about the American Dream by listening to Dr. Greg Smith’s TEDxCincy talk.

But, a brand’s equity is determined more by what a product (or nation in this case) does versus what is claimed about it. And the perceived behaviors of our Nation is impacting Brand America’s equity far more than we may want it to or believe it does.

The issue is not what the media reports.

The issue is that the situations occur in the first place to be reported on. In my humble opinion, it is time to take a hard look at how authentic the American Dream is in our Nation, and to determine actions that will help better enable residents to achieve their American Dream. Net, it is time for us to make walking the talk our top priority.

To illustrate the negative impact our behavior is having on Brand America’s equity, here is a small sample of quotes from the foreign press on the three situations noted above. Note, these are the stories shaping global perception of our Nation.

Sample Comments In Foreign Press:

  • “Ferguson is a living example of why we should be immensely grateful that those tactics were never used during the U.K. riots.” London’s – The Metro Newspaper Article About Grand Jury Decision In Ferguson
  • “The dream of a post-racist society, which flared up after the election of [President] Obama, seems further away than ever before.” German – Zeit Online Article About Grand Jury Decision In Ferguson
  • “The sad events in the St. Louis suburb give us the opportunity to ponder how we do things differently, and to realize how comparatively well things work here.” Canada – Globe And Mail Article About Grand Jury Decision In Ferguson
  • “We would like to advise American partners to pay more attention to restoring order in their own country, before imposing their dubious experience on other states.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry Statement About Grand Jury Decision In Ferguson
  • “Cold-blooded murder!” said Jennie Chambers, who works nearby and saw Garner daily. “We saw it on TV, it’s on video. The whole world saw it. Ferguson, now us.” Canada – Globe and Mail Article About Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision
  • “The Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s cases have added to our existing concerns over the longstanding prevalence of racial discrimination faced by African-Americans, particularly in relation to access to justice and discriminatory police practices,” UN News Centre Article Quote From human rights expert Mireille Fanon Mendes France, who currently heads the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
  • “This was the shaming of the West. In 500 horrifying pages, the US Senate’s Intelligence Committee yesterday demolished the boast of the world’s most powerful democracy that it inhabits a higher moral universe than the terrorists it condemns as barbarians.” Daily Mail Comment Article Entitled “A Truly Black Day For The ‘Civilized’ West”

Love to get your thoughts on what can be done to address the damage to Brand America’s global equity and begin strengthening the authenticity of the American Dream.

If you have found other quotes in the foreign press that you’d like to share, please feel free to add them in your comment. The more perspective we can get, the better we will understand the scope of this growing challenge.

Photo Attribution – Joseph Pennell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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3 Comments so far

  1. Cheryl Williams-Kearney

    December 14, 2014

    No comments required. The article and citations were spot on and I’m a Black, female, urban planner from Detroit so I would be the first to say that race is the only factor, but it clearly isn’t.

  2. Tom Buncle

    December 16, 2014

    Interesting assessment, Ed. I applaud your aim to discuss this objectively and avoid political commentary, which is never easy when dealing with a country’s image, particularly back home when citizens’ and outsiders’ views diverge. National pride and critical analysis are seldom comfortable bedfellows. While the mid-20th century ‘American Dream’ may no longer be available to the world’s ‘huddled masses’, as you suggest, I wouldn’t go so far as to say Brand America’s global equity has been dealt a ‘body blow’ – perhaps more of a series of jabs from which it is reeling; but America’s still very much in the first division of global brands.

    I think there are six events, which have cumulatively contributed to some degree to the erosion of America’s international image in recent years. These are issues that have achieved widespread and high profile coverage and stimulated debate in the international media, much of which has tended to portray America in a less than favourable light. I stress, like you, that this is intended to be an objective analysis, based on observation of international media coverage, and in no way a politically partial perspective. Nor is it about what’s right or wrong. As an admirer of all that is good in America and what it has given the world, who also believes that honest, self-critical analysis is essential to progress, I hope this comes across as a fair, balanced perspective. These six issues are:
    – The invasion and subsequent ‘occupation’ of Iraq on what, to many, appeared a less than robust pretext;
    – The recent CIA report on torture and extreme rendition etc., whose impact in terms of undermining trust in the US authorities – both at home and abroad – is yet to be fully understood;
    – Recent racial conflict in Ferguson and Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the police, with its echoes back to Rodney King and others;
    – The spate of school and other shootings over a considerable number of years, coverage of which is usually associated with what in these circumstances can appear, to many other cultures whose gun laws are tighter, as a relatively insensitive or unsympathetic defence of US gun laws by the NRA and the gun lobby. This then tends to be the dominant message that comes through, giving an impression that it represents the majority view amongst US citizens;
    – Banks’ ‘misbehaviour’ and the sub-prime mortgage debacle leading to the global recession that began in 2008;
    – A rise in extreme political views and a decline in tolerance, which appear to be characterised less by reasoned argument and more by ideological opinion, and unsubstantiated dogma, particularly in the run-up to elections.

    I sense that the constant diet of such issues feeding the appetite for blame has stimulated the international media to seek a common thread between these issues (‘decaying values leading to imperial decline’) and debate the moral implications more than they might otherwise have done, had these been less frequent or the fall-out less far-reaching across the globe. This has led to a running narrative in many international media, which seeks to highlight hypocrisy, challenge notions of moral leadership and occasionally, as is so often the case with media in any country, reinforce the benefits of life in their own country by contrasting it with the perceived defects of life in another country (“Look at what’s happening over there. We’re lucky to live here, not there” etc.). It is also a fairly universal, albeit ignoble, reaction by the less powerful to the more powerful, whether in families or nations, to take someone down a peg or two – the ‘tall poppy syndrome’.

    The big question is ‘has this destroyed the American image?’ No, is the short answer. While it has introduced a significant element to the negative side of the balance sheet, which is likely to persist well into the next generation, depending on how the USA addresses these issues and the extent to which future US policy fuels or takes convincing steps to rebut the international media narrative, the positives of such a scenically diverse and economically dynamic country are legion and remain strong. America’s core strengths are enduring and its appeals as a place to visit and do business remain resilient.

    This is not to gloss over these problems or suggest they don’t need to be addressed. They do. But no country is perfect. Nor is it one-dimensional. And most potential customers, visitors and investors are worldly-wise enough to recognise that. As the world’s second largest economy and most globally vocal proponent of ‘democracy’, underpinned by the inspiring principles of its founding fathers, the USA is always going to be in the international media spotlight. And any slippage against these values is bound to attract considerable international debate. On the one hand, this may undermine its moral credibility and reduce its pre-eminent status on the world stage; but, on the other, America’s legendary business energy, its continual innovation and cutting edge research, extensive market opportunities, vibrant contemporary culture, majestically diverse landscape and iconic cities, and welcoming, open-hearted people, all provide durable evidence to reinforce the image of a relentlessly dynamic, fun, forward-looking, stimulating place, which lives at the leading edge of many areas of business, ideas, technology, entertainment and service delivery.

    Inevitably, a country that sets itself out as a beacon of rectitude, or is perceived as an aspirational, global exemplar, is bound to be judged harshly when it fails to live up to the standards it has set for itself and expounds to others. But, I think the situation in which America finds itself is akin to that when a child discovers that his/her parents are not perfect: he/she doesn’t love them any less, but just has a more realistic perspective of them, flaws and all. It’s about growing up and developing a more mature relationship with them. Some of the shine may have come off, but all is not lost. Being perceived as less than perfect is not the end of the world for America, when it is blessed with so many internationally recognised and universally desired assets.

    Perhaps it’s time for America to focus more on its ‘softer’, human, authentic values, which, after all, are what most people experience at an individual level, when they visit – whether that’s for business or vacation…….something that was communicated well in Brand America’s 2012 ‘Land of Dreams’ commercial, evocatively conveyed through one of America’s greatest, most engaging, and most globally influential exports after Hollywood – music. In short, policy, politics and perceived behaviours can damage a country’s image, but people can save a country from itself.

  3. Edward

    December 16, 2014

    Tom – Outstanding feedback, thank you! In addition to your last thought, I believe strongly we should hole elected officials accountable for making it easier to achieve the American Dream. Xavier University’s annual ADCI study provides a statistically validated metric for evaluation of both both state and major MSA elected official performance. A score improvement means residents feel the American Dream is more achievable, while a score reduction implies it is getting harder to achieve. Decisions on asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policies/programs impact the direction of the ADCI score. Using this metric holds elected officials directly accountable to the people they were elected to serve. Based on the principle that you improve what you measure, this approach would serve to put attainment of the American Dream front and center as the gold standard performance objective.

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