USA – The Demise of a Superbrand

Superbrands appear implacable, dominating their respective categories with uniquely crafted visions of a positive future aimed at inspiring legions of loyal consumers. Belonging to a superbrand’s in-group consummated through the purchase of its brand offering is to buy into the promise of something tangible, inspiring and desirable. In the heady world of Superbrands, multi-media communication strategies constantly reinforce the value of brand loyalty, as a strategy to grow the value of future transactional relationships.

Brands exist by reflecting back to us a vision of our aspirations, inner values and desired personality. They offer us unique and innovative ways of communicating our uniqueness to those around us. The fact that this is often little more than marketing puffery is missing the point. Today’s consumers view the likes of Nike, Apple and BMW as symbolic self-identity building blocks allowing them to experience a sense of tribal belonging in an increasingly fragmented and isolating online world.

More recently brands have taken on an altogether more holistic role. Brand owners recognise the value consumers place on brands which take a more responsible stance on pressing global issues. Where governments and the establishment have faltered, brands have occasionally taken the initiative and placed themselves at the heart of debates such as human rights, the environment, gender equality and global poverty. Some of these initiatives have been genuine, others a more cynical attempt at maintaining the brands global standing and attempting to engage with consumers through new channels.

Countries are also superbrands in their own right. Globalisation, social media, and increasing access to the internet have created the perception of a global ‘brandsphere’ in which countries brands compete on a world stage for recognition status and soft power. The USA, Britain, France, Japan and the other developed nations each occupy the same perceptual space as global consumer superbrands. Their history, geography, culture, politics, expertise and actions at a global and local level all contributing towards their positioning, image and the stature of their brand equity.

Brand USA is the undisputed godfather of the country superbrand. Since the birth of TV, the USA has used its size, marketing prowess and global dominance to leverage the strength of its brand franchise across the world. Coke, Levis, Heinz, Kellogg’s, Gap and more recently Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon. Brands which are ubiquitous and linked either consciously or unconsciously in the mind of consumers to the perception of the USA and its embodiment of the American dream.

Until recently brand USA was a prized asset. Who could not be seduced by the Californian lifestyle, the buzz of Manhattan, the cowboy plains of Texas, the glamour of Hollywood? These and the other aspirational visions of the USA explain why consumers around the world engage with brands that portray a ‘made in the USA’ positioning.

However, more recently the country superbrand environment has experienced an upheaval. The dreams of unfettered neoliberalism are being been shattered. Recent geopolitical events have laid bare the dark side of globalisation, the impact of rampant inequality and the consequences of ignoring the structural impact of moving from an industrial based model to one dominated by the free market. The resulting populism backlash has taken many by surprise. The UK has seen nationalism drive the UK’s imminent departure from Europe. Hungry together with several other eastern European bloc countries have become increasingly xenophobic, applying draconian new laws that fly in the face of the values espoused by the EU and risk being annexed.

Meanwhile, the US has voted to elect a president that appeared to understand the anger and resentment felt by those left behind by globalisation and promised to reverse the regional inequalities driven by the demise of many key large industrial sectors. Unfortunately, the catastrophic impact of the rise of Donald Trump is still to play out. His actions and behaviour during the election and his rhetoric and legislature as president have begun to tear apart the country and isolate the region. The US is often now often alone in its views, lampooned and lambasted in equal measure. Alongside, brand USA is showing signs of suffering from a potentially fatal decline in its global statue. Every aspect of its positioning, brand image, personality and value set is being rocked by the almost daily kamikaze actions of Donald Trump and his administration.

Donald Trump rose to power on the back of an ‘America First’ platform. It appears that his actions are achieving the opposite. America is rapidly losing its place in the world and is in danger of losing sight of the values cherished by its founding fathers. If America was undergoing a brand review it would be said that the brand was destroying its equity and required an urgent re-positioning and re-launch. However, no such re-launch is in sight with the Democrats continuing to remain in a state of post-election paralysis. Meanwhile, Donald Trump appears oblivious to the consequences of his actions. He is not and will never be a strategic thinker. He is not capable of grasping that it takes years or decades to build a brand reputation but only moments to destroy it. It seems that the man who portrays himself as king of the deal has so much to learn, not least the nuances of branding, business and how to protect the long-term health of nation.