American brands remain strong—even as America’s own brand diminishes

by | Oct 2, 2017 | Public Relations

While perceptions of Brand America have taken a global turn for the worse recently, American brands are still widely viewed favorably, according to new research from brand solutions firm J. Walter Thompson that deconstructs American brands and their position on the world stage to explore the opportunities and the challenges posed by the climate under the current administration.

The new report, Brand America, was released by JWT’s Innovation Group.

Global attitudes towards the U.S. under the current administration are nuanced

More than 40 percent of respondents from Mexico, Russia and the UK have a negative view of America, directly linked to the events of the past year, and mostly driven by the actions of the U.S. government.

However, 90 percent of Indian respondents view the U.S. very or somewhat positively—higher, even, than the 83 percent of Americans who hold a positive view of their own country.

Despite concerns about “Brand America,” approval ratings of U.S. brands range from 78 percent in the UK to 93 percent in India and China—again, higher than U.S. respondents, whose approval rating of American brands is 90 percent. These figures have changed little since 2012, suggesting that consumers at home and abroad distinguish between “Brand America” and American brands.

American brands remain strong—even as America’s own brand diminishes

Only 15 percent of respondents say it matters whether a brand comes from a country of which they think highly

Terms most readily associated with American brands are “quality,” “innovative” and “expensive,” mentioned by 55 percent, 51 percent and 46 percent of respondents, respectively. The biggest drivers of brand affinity across all respondents are “quality,” “trustworthiness” and “familiarity.”

Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, McDonald’s, Microsoft and Nike were the first American brands that sprang to respondents’ minds.

American brands remain strong—even as America’s own brand diminishes

How brands behave—and their social conscience, especially—is a key concern among respondents

Forty percent of respondents want a brand that values its customers; 22 percent want a brand that does good in the world; and 19 percent want a brand that cares about more than just making money.

Respondents’ understanding of where American brands are from is nuanced, however—in part due to national partnerships and/or national product variation, demonstrating a weakening of the notion of brands having a national identity.

When asked, 31 percent of Indian respondents think Ford is American; 40 percent of Chinese respondents think Facebook is American; 59 percent of Britons think Amazon is American; 63 percent of Mexicans think Coca-Cola is Russian; 62 percent of Americans think Apple is American.

American brands remain strong—even as America’s own brand diminishes

How American brands can preserve their reputations

Moving forward, American brands should be ambitious—by being good to become great, rather than simply focusing on being big, JWT advises. They should provide leadership, and they should think local. They should also be honest and transparent. And they should focus on emotion and experience.

Those American brands that acknowledge the interconnectivity of brands and consumers across national borders and behave in a way that recognizes we are all tied together are more likely to be more people-orientated and successful, the report also suggests.

“Thought leadership and insight are at the core of J. Walter Thompson’s DNA. We constantly strive to understand change, in culture, and in consumers, and what impact this will have on brands,” said Tamara Ingram, CEO of J. Walter Thompson, in a news release. “America the brand is undergoing a critical shift on a global stage right now, and we wanted to understand how these changes were impacting its stable of global powerhouse brands. Our insight? America’s brands continue to endure, though they may need to evolve.”

“Since our study ‘The Political Consumer,’ which we released prior to the U.S. election, we’ve been examining the changing relationship between consumers, brands and the political situation,” added Lucie Greene, worldwide director of the Innovation Group, in the release. “With headlines appearing about the US, and its reputation as a global thought leader evolving in this controversial administration, we wanted to explore how much this was affecting American brands. And further, examine the role of U.S. brands internationally, their origins and values, and how that should change in future. We’re excited to unveil this study with an original global survey of several international markets.”

American brands remain strong—even as America’s own brand diminishes

The report follows indications of a marked change in attitudes towards America in recent months

The number of international visitors to the U.S. in the first quarter of 2017 fell by 4.2 percent—or 700,000 people—year on year, according to the latest figures released by the United States Department of Commerce. The fall equates to a loss of $2.7 billion in spending, according to Oxford Economics.

While 64 percent of respondents expressed confidence in Barack Obama doing the right thing in world affairs during the final year of his presidency, only 22 percent of respondents expressed confidence in Donald Trump, according to Pew Research Center’s annual Global Attitudes survey conducted in 37 countries in spring 2017. Multiple studies have demonstrated that confidence is closely related to consumer spending.

Read the full report here.

The survey by SONAR included 500 people from China, India, Mexico, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. (3,000 in total).

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter