How American is Your Brand?

A recent article in Slate reports on a study that finds that not all American companies are perceived to be equally American by consumers outside the US. This is hardly news, but certainly worth a read.

The study features a graph that charts which American brands are in danger and which are not. You’ll notice that MasterCard is safe while American Express is in danger.

According to the article: The danger of Americanness is explicit when you compare MasterCard and American Express. They offer similar and unobjectionable services. But MasterCard is safe while American Express polls in the danger zone. “If you look at MasterCard/Visa, it is localized globally,” said Ken Pick, director of global project research at GMI. Visas issued in Germany are linked to German banks. By contrast, American Express shouts out its American citizenship. “Companies that don’t localize the brand are the ones that are going to be at risk of suffering in the long run,” said Pick.

Perhaps American Express should launch country-specific cards, along the lines of German Express, French Express (in their native languages, of course).

Yet the reporter is not fully sold on this study, writing: I don’t think a simple algorithm of Americanness adequately explains the results. Take a look at the safe quadrant. It seems that Europe, the metrosexual continent, is willing to overlook national biases when it comes to personal grooming and pampering. Personal hygiene companies Gillette, Kleenex, Colgate, and Procter & Gamble all avoid trouble. So do apparel companies Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Estée Lauder. (Maybe the French think Estée is français?)

The question every company must ask itself is: How important is it that we be identified with a given country? Is country of origin is part of the brand, itself, like a Jack Daniels or Dom Perignon? Or do you want your product to be culturally agnostic? Both approaches can be equally successful and neither is necessarily right or wrong.

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.