The Last Days of Brand America

A few savvy American companies have known this for some time now, but it took the recent global protests of “American” products to make the rest of corporate America rethink how they promote themselves around the world.

Brand America isn’t so popular anymore. And those companies most associated with the United States are billing extra hours with their in-country crisis PR firms. McDonald’s is doing its utmost lately to stress its “un-Americaness.” According to a recent New York Times article:

The French operators of McDonald’s have worked hard to distinguish themselves from their United States parent, offering unique menu fare, designing the restaurants to look different from the American stores and even establishing a brand identity for McDonald’s as “McDos.” They also run campaigns stressing the local nature of their operations.

Boycotts cut both ways

Coca-Cola is stressing how local boycotts hurt the local economy more than they hurt the US. Also from the Times:

“Boycotts hurt the local economy, the local bottlers, the local employees” in the more than 200 countries outside the United States in which Coca-Cola products are sold, said Kelly Brooks, a spokesman for the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta.

Ironically, Americans are also hurting American companies by boycotting “French” goods. Consider Michelin, which has seen sales drop as patriotic consumers boycott the products. The only problem is that Michelin North America is an American company headquartered out of North Carolina, with 20,000 employees working in seven states.

The lines between “us” and “them” are fading.

It is getting more and more challenging to tell what products are from what country. Chrysler is owned by a German company. Saab is owned by an American company. Nissan is largely controlled by Renault, a French company. And this is just the car industry.

The good news about globalization is that it’s getting more and more difficult to ignore the world. Why? Because the world is increasingly populated by your customers. You need the French to buy your software and they need you to buy their wine. Every day, global, symbiotic relationships are multiplying, bringing companies and customers closer together.

The bad news about globalization is that companies need to work a little bit harder to be successful globally. When the world loved America, American companies didn’t think twice about waving the flag, as long as it helped sell their products. But those post-Cold War days also made American companies a little bit lazy. In the year ahead, the companies that can balance global strategy with local sensitivity are going to succeed. The learning curve is steep, but the growth curve even steeper.

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