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National Brand

Around the surprisingly excellent Superbowl we have the usual display of ads. It’s one of the features of the big event – and for some the main event. But what do these over-produced ads usually bring the advertisers who are spending $20M and more for a minute?

Most of them are here to “build the brand,” or improve the image of the company more than actually sell a product. Anyone who has been in marketing for any length of time will roll their eyes at the idea. It’s usually an excuse for the worst excesses of advertising, the small telenovelas which are really money pretty much down the drain. Targeted advertising, driven by “Big Data,” is what really sells products, after all.

Still, branding is an important exercise all around. People are willing to pay more for a product they feel good about – whether that is corporate responsibility, perception of quality, or a connection to a greater good. And brands are more than corporations sometimes – the value of a brand can also come in a tag that says “Made in USA” or any other nation.

Obama giving the 2012 State of the Union Address.

Obama giving the 2012 State of the Union Address.

Trump is learning about now just how limited the power of the President really is. We live in a system where all power actually rests with Congress, to the extent it’s not in the courts. If there’s one great value to the office it’s the position of “Bully Pulpit,” to quote Theodore Roosevelt – or something of the national Father Figure, to use Lakoff terms.

I could criticize Obama for his failure to make good use of this, especially with his rhetorical skills, but with the extraordinary circumstances we live in now it would seem petty and pointless.

Many people supported Trump for the perception of his ability to run a business, thinking that the same sense of efficiency might come into running the government. More importantly, however, his skill as a brand builder could be particularly useful – if he wasn’t such a narcissistic idiot.

Manufacturing tends to look more like this now.

Manufacturing tends to look more like this now.

Where does the US stand as a brand around the world? What is the value of the brand, “Made in USA”? It’s good to get a baseline so that we can later evaluate the worth of the brand-builder in chief. After all, if we’re really going to return manufacturing to this nation, are people willing to pay some kind of premium for our brand overall?

It turns out that the USA label is indeed the most valuable in the whole world. Germany, the nation of precision and quality, ranks second. People around the planet feel good about buying American for a lot of reasons, many of them tied up in the complex image of us as the Leader of the Free World.

The perception of quality is tied up in this, of course, and it’s what brings Germany so high up on the list. We could probably do a lot to improve that if we really wanted to. Given that the cost of our workers is always going to be high, even if we take reasonable steps to tax profit and not labor so that it evens out. And a great way to justify higher cost is with higher value.

It's all about us!

It’s all about us!

The rest of the list provided by Anholt-GfK has not changed much in the 20 years they have been compiling these ratings by a survey. It’s based mostly on the nation’s position as a global leader, so the quality of goods and services is not the most important thing. But it is definitely reflected in the list, which rounds out the leaders with the UK, France, Canada, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Sweden. There is little doubt that a perception of quality fits into the rankings.

This is important for many reasons, of course. Our ability to influence the course of the world depends on how people feel about our influence even more than our military most of the time. How we use it matters, too, but how much capital we have to invest is very important.

Why discuss this right now? While we have a great brand-builder in the office right now, it’s fair to say that we can reasonably expect the value of our national brand to slip substantially if the circus keeps up. No one is going to have a good feeling about the US if it is nothing but chaos and nonsense.

That will actually cost us – in influence, yes, but ultimately it may cost us jobs. The effect is subtle and hard to measure, sure, but it will be there.

It’s something worth watching. And this is a baseline report. Where it comes to brand, USA is indeed #1. Let’s see how this goes. If it does slip it’s not something we’ll fix with a Superbowl ad, after all.

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