In a barely reported incident last week, two bombs exploded almost
simultaneously in the Karachi outlets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's.
With no sign of an exit strategy from its war in Iraq and one of its major cities
reduced to a swamp, things only seem to go from bad to worse for Brand America.
Fear not, however, because some of America's brightest young graduates, toiling
away in Madison Avenue advertising agencies, are working selflessly to stop
For the last 50 years, marketers of American brands were happy to ally themselves
with the values of their home country - Coca-Cola, Marlboro and Levi's were
paraded as affordable slices of Americana - and consumers everywhere in the
world took them at their word. In turn, those brands became willing ambassadors
for the values which America wanted to portray as its own: liberty, for example,
and material prosperity.
Since the end of the cold war, however, most big US brands have concluded that
their homeland is as much of a hindrance as a help. Maybe it was the launch
of Mecca-Cola in 2003, a soft drink aimed at cashing in on anti-American sentiment
in the Middle East, that finally put the breeze up Brand America. With the insulting
tagline "No more drinking stupid, drink with contentment", the ads
for Mecca-Cola not only offended the marketers at Coca-Cola but also ruffled
a few feathers at the US state department.
Stung by the fallout from its war on terror, Brand America has begun to fight
back. Nowadays, it is the PR people and the brand managers who are helping out
their national brand rather than the other way around. Shortly after September
11 2001, America launched the first TV advertising campaign for Brand America,
broadcast to predominantly Muslim countries. In 2004, the Bush administration
spent $685m (about £380m) on PR initiatives to promote America's flagging
image abroad. Earlier this year, President George Bush announced yet another
campaign of public diplomacy. America, it seems, is to be a listening brand.
"America's public diplomacy should be as much about listening and understanding
as it is about speaking," said the PR woman appointed by Mr Bush to head
the campaign. "I'm eager to listen and to learn."
Whether the marketers can rescue Brand America is a moot point. In his new
book Brand America: The Mother of All Brands, Simon Anholt offers a gloomy diagnosis.
"If Brand America slips far enough in people's esteem, there is a chance
that American brands will one day have to work harder than others to downplay
the negative associations of their country of origin. Or else, like so many
brands from poor countries today ... they might need to conceal their country
of origin." Unless, that is, Brand America gets around to hiring him as