By Josef Blumenfeld, founder of Tradewind Strategies.
There was a time when Made in the USA was the highest accolade a product could carry. The world’s consumers lined up to buy American products and capture a taste of the American dream. Levis hugged the figures of the world’s “in” crowd. Cadillac was used as a synonym to describe a level of high quality. We even sang about buying the world a Coke.
How times have changed. Today, Levis has a global brand value below that of Spanish retailer Zara. General Motors is gasping for breath while Toyota and BMW race ahead. Mecca-Cola competes for shelf space in European grocery stores.
It’s clear that the world’s passion for American brands has been tempered. American companies comprise 68 of the world’s top brands, but huge swaths of the world’s consumer markets hold negative views of the US and US businesses. In some countries, double-digit percentages of the population actively boycott American brands.
There’s no question that the war in Iraq and America’s pursuit of its own self-interest has spurred much of this anti-Americanism. But the war is only the latest catalyst, albeit one that may portend a sea-change for American brands.
Several US publications have looked at the implications of weakened acceptance of American brands. In some markets, consumer support is merely declining; in others it’s in freefall. Polls by Seattle-based GMI show that 67% of French consumers and 58% of Germany’s harbor negative impressions of US companies. Other research found that 20% of respondents in Europe and Canada say they consciously avoid buying US products. Similar percentages in China and Japan echo that disturbing trend.
Of course, many American brands continue to thrive in global markets. Marlboro cigarettes remain a top seller in most markets. Tiffany & Co. sparkles with customers; many are happy to get on waiting lists for hot products. Clothes from The Gap complement haute couture on Parisian shoppers. American technology leaders Microsoft, IBM, Intel, HP, Cisco, and others provide the tools and innovations that fuel the global digital economy. Starbuck’s serves coffee to consumers around the world and test markets pioneering innovations such as its digital music business in trend-setting Asian cities. Defying skeptics and surprising even some optimists, Starbuck’s now has 10 outlets in café-cultured Paris, a market some said would send the American brand back to the US in shame.
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