In a week of birthdays – Canada’s 145th and America’s 236th – it seems appropriate for the Zimbabwean immigrant (and occasional marketer) to take a personal look at two very special brands in my orbit.
This is not new territory. Two years ago three friends and I wrote a blog post on the immense difficulties associated with nation branding. Two years on, in a scenario where Friedman’s Flat World is in full effect, new ideas are now more likely to spring from New Delhi than New York. Where audiences for nation branding efforts are just as likely to be citizens as potential tourists, foreign investors or immigrants pondering “is that country where our future will be?, this stuff really does matter.
So how are these nation brands positioned now?
Canada has emerged relatively unscathed from the global meltdown. Our G8 standing is solid. Our cultural exports are sought out globally – yes I’m including rioting Norwegian teens lusting over Justin Bieber in that list. Canadian musicians top almost every chart and genre possible. We participated in overthrowing Gaddafi and walked out on Kyoto. Canada is flexing political and brand muscle we’ve not had historically.
And then we release this (re)branding effort on the United States. My thoughts? I get that many Americans are woefully ignorant of their Northern neighbours. I’m just not sure any of these factoids fall into the category of “thank f**k you clarified Canada made that, I was genuinely losing sleep” If Canada is more purposefully striding on to the world stage, is this somewhat apologetic effort our best foot forward?
And then there’s Brand America…
Still the land of Hope and Glory. Still the most powerful economic and military nation on Earth. However you can’t argue the last several years haven’t been kind to the land of the free and home of the brave. Economic hardships abound. Political brinkmanship between the Democrats and Republicans that, to an outsider, beggars belief. Agonizing debates over health care, international debt and gay marriage have almost shut the place down. If Canada is flexing brand muscle it’s not had before, Brand America hasn’t looked so perplexed and unsure of itself and its vision than at any time I can remember.
Two great efforts at positioning Brand America spring to mind. Chrysler’s (in)famous “Half-Time in America” spot with Clint Eastwood highlighted an honesty about the country I found both moving and incredibly sincere. On the other extreme JWT’s “Land of Dreams” campaign, in heavy rotation here in Canada, does a remarkable job of polishing up the image most of us still have of America. It’s a place of potential, a place of opportunity for everyone, a real land of dreams. You can knock the Polyanna casting and settings but the insight still rings true.
So marketers, which brand challenge would you step up to?
The historically civil, somewhat muted and “polite” brand struggling to internalize its new lustre and global confidence. Or, the formerly admired and revered brand that hasn’t quite catalyzed the “Hope” message that the current POTUS campaigned on.
Could you (re)build a brand with authenticity, with a differentiated point of view, that remains attractive as globally the spotlight seems to be moving from the West to the East? Where would you start?
Is there a more important branding task to tackle?
For a fuller read on America’s global standing, I point you to two fantastic sources. Pew’s recent global study released in June and Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s superlative book “That Used to be Us”. Both are well worth the time IMHO.
Its unlikely there’s a person on the planet who hasn’t seen this spot from beer maker Molson. In many ways its the default POV on Canadians. Polite, demure, slightly apologetic.
And, finally, an infinitely lighter take on nation branding or inter-national rivalry. Still amusing a decade later.