Is Brand America’s Promise Losing Authenticity?

This weekend, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “The New American Divide”. As I read it, I thought it was a great follow-up to my post on the American Dream. Recall, in that post I shared an overview of a very interesting market research study conducted by the Center For the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. That study suggests the authenticity of Brand America’s Promise is under pressure.

The opening sentence of the WSJ article is “America is coming apart.” The core hypothesis is that there is an expanding inequality in wealth between the richest and poorest in America that is creating a divide that has significant cultural ramifications.

I read another article authored by Jon Talton and published in The Seattle Times titled “Our American Promise is at a Crossroads”.  The article starts by sharing a conversation where the author overheard a well-dressed man talking about the eurozone crisis claim “I’ll tell you what I think it is, it’s the beginning of the end of the world.” Equally disheartening are two statistics Jon shares. A Rasmussen Poll last October found that only 37% of likely voters believed America’s best days are ahead. And, in a Gallup survey, 55% of respondents said it was very or somewhat likely today’s youth would enjoy a better life than their parents.

Jon writes for baby boomers and older the American Promise is – work hard, adapt and apply yourself, and you can achieve. But, he claims “Now that promise is at risk.” Jon believes the nation is divided more than it has been at any time since the Civil War. We are split into the haves, have-nots, and increasingly, never-will-haves.

As sobering as Jon’s article is, my spirit really responded to his concluding statement “We must reclaim something at the heart of the American promise: A balance between individualism and the truth that we’re all in this together. We are not just consumers but citizens, not merely economic actors but souls bound on the same journey.”

I also found a YouTube video about the American Promise I found fascinating. The video was created in 1986 and is introduced by the late NBC news anchor John Chancellor. The video reminded me that the challenges Brand America faces in the authenticity of its promise are not new.

Does it Matter?

I believe you get what you measure.

To the extent we continue to believe America is #1 globally, we will not be motivated to change. And, if the dissonance between what Brand America promises and what people experience is allowed to continue, our nation’s brand equity will erode and our economic prosperity will decline as a result. We risk creating a Generation without hope, without aspiration for a better way of life.  In my opinion we sew the seeds of mediocrity for our children and grandchildren.

To the degree we accept that the authenticity of Brand America’s Promise needs to addressed, I’m optimistic we can create sustainable economic prosperity. We can put our nation on the path to a renaissance. Effective problem solving starts with an objective assessment of the current reality.

For me, the authenticity of Brand America’s Promise is a sleep loss issue.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Not withstanding the strengths of our nation, is the concern about the authenticity of Brand America’s Promise warranted? Do you believe the surveys are reflective of reality? Do you feel your children and grandchildren will be able to achieve the American Dream and will be more prosperous (however you define it) than you?

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4 Comments so far

  1. Ludo Segers

    January 23, 2012

    John, you bring up very good and interesting points.
    The USA is indeed a very good brand. That does not take away that even in the 60s it was already mentioned by many observer that it was a land of great contrast.
    The political landscape is now, more than even, polarised. I read recently that ‘If Ronald Reagan would be a candidate, he would most likely not get elected’. Internationally, the present administration has build many new bridges, and restored (repaired?) the image.
    Nevertheless, this subject matter is so political ‘charged’ that it is often not possible to detach that important element.

  2. Mike Perry

    January 23, 2012

    Ed — Our current situation brings to mind the challenges faced by JFK and Reagan as they assumed the leadership of our nation. They chose to lead with vision and setting positive goals and objectives for the country and its people. The country responded, in spite of our differences. A single common, inspirational goal can work miracles, provided that goal is properly selected and its message effectively crafted. The vision of that goal becomes the brand — as you like to define it — the “promise”.

    I believe in this case there is a failure of leadership and statesmanship. We have the templates — the question that remains is someone willing to follow them?

  3. Martin Bull

    January 26, 2012

    Hmmm. Brand America is an interesting concept – there are probably many different versions. I’m confident that there must be at least one for citizens of the USA, but there are others for the rest of the world, though I doubt that they’re what the US intended or would want. This, of course, assumes that ‘brand’ is what is perceived by the audience as opposed to what is desired by the brand’s proponents. (I’m sure that the rest of the world’s ideas on ‘Brand UK’ are not the same as the government’s or its citizens.)

    I obviously can’t comment on the US citizen’s perspective and I suspect that the views of other audiences would just confuse the issue, but it will be interesting to follow the thread!

  4. Kenneth Wardrop

    January 30, 2012

    As an external observer from Europe I think it is an important time for the US. It is a time to redefine and restate to the world its promise and societal values, values and aspirations which offers greater equality of opportunity and inclusiveness for your citizen’s and that will gain respect around the world. Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address was an encouraging vision in this respect.

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