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166 Mark Rice-Oxley
the Iraq war-but partly because Americanization is already so advanced in the country, says Mr. Kaspi. He notes one interesting anecdotal sign of u.s. influence­ . and the futility of resistance. France has repeatedly tried to man­ date the use of French language in official capacities to check the advance of English. “But most of the time, the law is impossible to apply, because if you want to be understood around the world you have to speak English,” Kaspi says. In the Philippines, even the best u.s. ideals have caused complications. “The pervasive American influence has saddled us with two legacies,” notes respected local commentator Antonio C. Abaya. “American-style elections, which require the commitment of massive financial resources, which have to be recouped and rolled over many times, which is the main source of corruption in government; and American-style free press in which media feel free to attack and criticize everything that the government does or says, which adds to disunity and loss of confidence in government.” Meanwhile, for all the strength of the u.s. movie industry, sometimes a foreign film resonates more with a local audience than a Hollywood production-and outperforms it. For instance, Japan’s Spirited Away (2001) remains the top-grossing film in that country, surpassing global Hollywood hits like Titanic. In addi­ tion, British TV has influenced and served up competition to U.S. shows, spawning such hits as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, The Weakest Link, and American Idol [called Pop Idol in the UK].
1,000 YEARS FROM NOW
So how much good does American culture bring to the world? And how long will it last? Ian Ralston cautions against sweeping dismissals of u.s. pop culture. British television may be satu­ rated with American sitcoms and movies, but while some are poor, others are quite good, he says. “British culture has always been enriched by foreign influences. In some ways American cul­ ture and media have added to that enrichment.” Others note that it is not all one-way traffic. America may feast largely on a diet of homegrown culture, but it imports modestly as well: soccer, international cuisine, Italian fashion, and, increasingly, British television. As to the question of durability, some experts believe u.s. domination of communication channels makes it inevitable that
Is the World Falling Out of Love with u.s. Brands? 167
its messages will become far more entrenched than those of previ­ ous empires. “The main difference now in favor of American culture is the importance of technology-telephone, Internet, films, all that did not exist in ancient Greece or the Mongol empire,” Kaspi says. “American influence is growing, it’s so easy to get access to U.S. culture; there are no barriers. “Disney is known worldwide now,” he adds. “Plato is more and more unknown, even in Greece.” But not everyone thinks American culture will stand the test of time. “It remains to be seen whether the Monkees and Bee Gees are as durable as Plato,” says Professor Young, with a dab of irony. “Let’s have another look in 4,000 years’ time.”
Questions for Discussion and Writing
1. What problems or losses might the world at large be facing if it is prone to American cultural hegemony? Do you want to see a world that shares a single popular culture, style, or set of artistic ideas? How do Rice-Oxley’s ideas differ from those of Brendon O’Connor in an earlier article? 2. The writer mentions a problem being that other political systems might become personality driven, as (he says) they are in the United States. What does he mean? Is this an element of politics that should be avoided? Why or why not? 3. What are some of the reasons why the cultural empire of the United States might last as long (or longer) than the culture of previous “empires”? 4. Why do you think that Mark Rice-Oxley uses the term “McDomination”? What does he mean by this and where does the term come from? How do you feel about his use of the term and the context in which he uses it?
Is the World Falling Out of Love with U..S.. Brands?
DAN ROBERTS
Dan Roberts is the U.S. Business Editor for The Financial Times (UK). This article appeared in that newspaper on December 29, 2004. Mr. Roberts was recipient ofThe World Leadership Forum Award for the Best Communications Submission at the 2002 Business Journalist of the Year Awards. In this article he investigates how
168 Dan Roberts
American military actions and political decisions affect the percep­ tions of American brands around the world-brands that are synonymous with American culture.
———– + ———­ Joseph Nye, the Harvard academic who coined the phrase “soft power” to describe indirect U.S. influence in the world, likes to recall dining deliberations of a family in India to explain what he means. Asked what attracts them to McDonald’s, the middle­ class parents he cites suggest something more seductive than a Chicken Maharaja Mac and fries cooked in vegetable fat. They say they want to take the children out “for a slice of America.” When burgers can stir such emotional aspirations, it is no accident that 64 of the most valuable 100 global brands, as measured by Interbrand, are owned by U.S. companies. For more than half a century, the U.S. and its products have stood for progress, glamour and freedom in the minds of consumers around the world. But Mr Nye sees a growing challenge for U.S. compa­ nies in the attitudes of people such as John McInally, a Scottish management consultant living in Brussels, whose boycott of U.S. products goes as far as asking that his four-year-old son not be given Coca-Cola at birthday parties. “I used to have a lot of respect for America; now there is mostly fear,” says Mr McInally. “You feel pretty powerless, but the one thing you can do is stop buying American products.” There is little doubt that there are more Mr McInallys in the world today than there were before Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay became household names. Poll after poll has shown that allega­ tions of human rights abuses and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have tarnished the international reputation of the U.S. But geopolitics is easily left behind when shoppers get to the till. Those activists who express their anger at the U.S. through conscious boycotts of its companies remain a small minority. The bigger question worrying the business world is whether the opinion poll data point to a more subtle tarnishing of U.S. brands in the minds of millions of ordinary consumers. If the American dream played such an important role in the growth of iconic U.S. brands, what happens if significant numbers of consumers begin to think of the U.S. as a bit of a nightmare? Mr Nye, a former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and assistant secretary of defence in the Clinton administration, is one of many who are certain of the connection.
Is the World railing Out of Love with U.S. Brands? 169
“U.S. brands have benefited from a sense that it is fashionable, chic and modern to be American,” he says. “The other side of that coin is when U.S. policies become unpopular, there is a cost.” This kind of unconscious brand association is the lifeblood of the marketing industry, and those taking the threat most seri­ ously tend to reside on Madison Avenue, home of New York advertising. Keith Reinhard, chairman of DDB Worldwide, an agency that counts McDonald’s and Budweiser as clients, is lead- Business for Diplomatic Action, a coalition of advertising executives and public relations consultants who want to fix “Brand America’s” problem. “That slice [of America] no longer looks so attractive,” says Mr Reinhard. “Foreigners are transferring anger at the U.S. government to anger at the U.S. and anger at U.S. business.” Others question whether politics is affecting consumer behav­ iour. Why, they ask, are more companies not reporting it? Could it be the era of one-size-fits-all global brands, rather than U.S. dom­ inance of consumer markets, that is coming to an end? Earl Taylor, chief marketing officer of the Marketing Science Institute, a U.S. think-tank, is typical of the sceptics. “Consumers are able to compartmentalise the brands of a country from its foreign policy,” he says. “If there was a simple relationship between U.S. brands and foreign policy we would have seen it decades ago.” Until recently, U.S. companies have either tended to agree or stayed out of the argument. But there is growing evidence that this is a problem they cannot afford to ignore. In European markets such as Germany and France many iconic U.S. names–Coca-Cola, Marlboro, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Disney, Gap-have reported weak or falling sales, though each blames other local factors. Corporate America is not admitting to an image problem just yet, but some companies are at least beginning to talk about it. McDonald’s, for example, recently to join the board of Business for Diplomatic Action. It is also expected to co-host a seminar in March at Hamburger University, its management training centre, to discuss how U.S. companies can be better “world citizens.” John McNeel, an advertising executive at TBWA Worldwide, says the restaurant group’s concern comes as no sur­ prise: “McDonald’s is a very vulnerable brand in this context-not only is it closely associated with America but they have fixed assets all over the world.” PepsiCo, the soft drinks group, also recently joined Business for Diplomatic Action in sponsoring a travel guide for U.S. college students, which aims to help curb the image of the “ugly American” abroad.
170 Dan Roberts
One reason for the growing business interest in this kind of project is that market research increasingly proves the link between politics and brands. signs of trouble appeared in a 2003 study of “power brands” by Roper, the market researcher, which showed popularity scores for leading U.S. companies had slipped. NOP World found similar evidence suggesting that U.S. companies were seen as less trustworthy and honest after the Iraq war. The strongest evidence yet of a link between politics and consumer behaviour was supplied by Global Market Insite (GMI), an independent Seattle polling group, which surveyed 8,000 consumers in eight countries over several months in 2004. In December, one-fifth of the Europeans and Canadians in its sample said their anger over U.S. foreign policy would deter them from buying U.S. brands. Of course, what people tell poll­ sters and what people do in the privacy of the shopping mall can be two entirely different things. But if even a fraction of these people act out their frustration, a significant potential market is lost. Most interesting is work carried out by Research International, part of British media group WPP. Its study of Latin American consumers in 2003 supported the idea that you could hate the U.S. but still support its brands. But a repeat of the study carried out this year had gloomier findings, particularly in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. “The news is not all bad for U.S. brands but we have demon­ strated that younger people in particular react to [U.S. brands] more negatively,” it said. Tom Miller, formerly a pollster with NOP World, is one of many in the profession who feel it is only a matter of time before such attitudes begin to make a serious dent in busi­ ness performance. “Sales can be a lagging indicator, but no matter how you look at this, it’s not good news,” he says. Not all brands are treated the same, of course. GMI’s data show that companies such as Kodak, Kleenex, Visa and Gillette are simply not perceived as American. Users of Microsoft soft­ ware might know its heritage but have few alternatives. Technology companies also seem immune-as the worldwide success of Apple’s iPod and the Chinese purchase of IBM’s consumer PC business demonstrate. But among those consumer companies perceived as American, and vulnerable to boycotts there is a remarkably consistent set of problems in the countries that have seen the biggest swing in public opinion. Coca-Cola, makes 80 per cent of its profits outside North America, sold
Is the World Out of Love with U.S. Brands? 171
16 per cent less beverages to Germans in the third quarter of 2004 than a year previously. McDonald’s blamed falling German sales for virtually eliminating growth across Europe. And Altria sold 24.5 per cent fewer Marlboro cigarettes in France and 18.7 per cent fewer in Germany during the third quarter. In each instance other factors playa role. The falling dollar will also mask problems by inflating repatriated profits and lowering the cost of exports. Marlboro, for example, blames tax changes that encourage customers to trade down to cheaper brands. Coke says German bottling laws have a similar effect. But neither seems able to overcome such obstacles as well as it used to. Some companies say they do not lose much sleep over polit­ ical factors that are outside their control. “What could we do anyway?,” asks one Altria executive. “Fly the French flag? Tell them it wasn’t us that boycotted their wine?” Most importantly, some European companies such as Unilever and Neste have experienced their own problems with weak consumer spending. “It’s too simplistic to say [that] what’s happened in Europe is just a function of anti-Americanism,” says John Quelch, a profes­ sor at Harvard Business School and a leading sceptic about the link between politics and consumer behaviour. “The economic downturn is particularly important in the case of global brands because consumers do not want to pay a premium price and will switch to local brands and private labels.” Yet it is not just discount brands that have been gaining at the expense of American rivals. Swiss private banks claim to be winning savings business from U.S. competitors such as Citigroup in the Middle East, France and Germany. Some rich individuals are said to be concerned at the unpredictability of U.S. foreign policy and risk of asset seizures-a direct threat to the reputation of the U.S. financial system for fairness. Foreign airlines benefit from the fear of terrorist attacks on carriers with strong U.S. associations. Air Canada says it has seen an upsurge in business passengers opting to fly via Canada rather than brave the notorious U.S. visa system. Similar obstacles for overseas students erode U.S. soft power by encouraging them to enrol at British or Canadian universities. Even U.S. hotels abroad now fear being seen as terrorist targets. Barry Sternlicht, executive chairman of Starwood-which owns Sheraton-was one ofthe first business leaders to speak out on anti­ Americanism this year: “Our politicians must remember that our businesses are global and we rely heavily on trade and tourism.”
172 Martha
For many multinationals, the answer increasingly seems to be to downplay any U.S. heritage or even a single global identity. Neville IsdeIl, new chief executive of Coca-Cola, is typical of many business leaders who work hard to stress local credentials with sports sponsorship and customised advertising. “We are not an American brand,” he says. Starbucks, the coffee chain, has thrived by making more of its products’ associations with the developing world than of its own Seattle heritage. But Doug Holt, professor of marketing at the Said School of Business in Oxford, cautions against running away from historic roots entirely. “Local is not always better,” he warns. “People assign value to brands that have succeeded globally; that’s why multinational companies do so well.” If nothing else, the trend reveals a declining confidence in the aspirational pull of the U.S. Simon Anholt, author of Brand America, sums up how far the U.S. has slipped from its pedestal: “The world’s love affair with America isn’t exactly over, but it has stopped being a blind and unquestioning kind of love.”
Questions for Discussion and Writing
1. This article suggests that there are certain products that “mean” America for people in other countries. Make a list of the ones mentioned in this essay and then write down what elements of American life you feel they represent. 2. Are there products and foods from other countries that you feel represent those nations? What kinds of things are you thinking of and what ideas do give you about other cultures? 3. Imagine that you are a salesperson and what you are selling is an image of America. What elements of America would you want to emphasize and what kinds of products and images might you use to present your sales
Exporting the Wrong Picture
MARTHA BAYLES
Martha Bayles is the author ofHole in Our Soul: The Loss ofBeauty and Meaning in American Popular Music (Chicago), teaches humanities at Boston College, and is working on a book about U.S. cultural diplomacy. She has written widely about the role of music in popular culture. Dr. Bayles has also written articles on Miles
Exporting the Wrong Picture 173
Davis for The New York Times and is a contributor to the Wall Street Journal. In this article, published in The Washington Post on August 28, 2005, the writer discusses how the elements ofpopular culture that are exported from the United States influence the views of those overseas, and how they directly impact other cultures.
—–+—-­ When Benjamin Franklin went to France in l776, his assign­ ment was to manipulate the French into supporting the American war for independence. This he accomplished with two stratagems: First, he played the balance-of-power game as deftly as any European diplomat; and second, he waged a subtle but effective campaign of what we now call public diplomacy, or the use of information and culture to foster goodwill toward the nation. For Franklin, this meant turning his dumpy self into a symbol. “He knew that America had a unique and powerful mean­ ing for the enlightened reformers of France,” writes historian Bernard Bailyn, “and that he himself … was the embodiment, the palpable expression, of that meaning.” Hence the fur cap and rustic manner that made Franklin a celebrity among the powdered wigs and gilded ornaments of the court of Louis XVI. Today, as we witness the decline of America’s reputation around the world, we’re paying far more attention to Franklin’s first stratagem than to his second. Indeed, despite a mounting stack of reports recommending drastic changes in the organiza­ tion and funding of public diplomacy, very little of substance has been done. And most Americans, including many who make it their business to analyze public diplomacy, seem unmindful of the negative impression that America has recently been making on the rest of humanity-via our popular culture. A striking pattern has emerged since the end of the Cold War. On the one hand, funding for public diplomacy has been cut by more than 30 percent since 1989, the National Science Board reported last year. On the other hand, while Washington was shrinking its funding for cultural diplomacy, Hollywood was aggressively expanding its exports. The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization reports that between 1986 and 2000 the fees generated by the export of filmed and taped entertainment went from $1.68 billion to $8.85 billion-an increase of 427 percent. Foreign box-office revenue has grown faster than domestic, and now approaches a 2-to-l ratio. The pattern is similar for music, TV and video games.

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