What is the Trump factor for US brands abroad?

Donald Trump is not the least popular President of the United States abroad.  Well not just yet.  That title is probably still held by George Bush who, thanks to the Iraq war, inspired 11-30 million people onto the streets of 60 countries to protest against him in 2003.  Britain’s biggest peace time rally met him when he visited Buckingham Palace.

And this hurt US business at the time, especially in Europe (and even though most European nations were part of the US-led military alliance).  Our annual trust studies of that time showed consistent trust deficits for US businesses and sales and a general ‘license to operate’ were affected.

During this period, Edelman was hired by the US tourism board to address the significant drop in tourist visitor numbers to the US.  Our strategy was to focus on what people still loved about the US and what would make them look beyond any political reservations.  And the answer was American culture and its most famous manifestation, Hollywood movies.  Our; ‘You’ve seen the movie, now visit the set’ strategy was executed throughout Europe by PR and Ad agencies and helped drive visitor number recovery.

President Trump’s inauguration speech could well establish the need for a new campaign.  “We will follow two simple rules. Buy American and Hire American”.  Because in a phrase the rest of the world has an excuse to do exactly the opposite even before he has had a chance to build a wall or insult other nations and leaders.

Not every US product is an Apple. There are mostly ‘as-good-as’ alternatives available even if their brands are often less attractive. And despite global ownership of multi-nationals and global supply chains, country of origin remains a key element of that branding advantage.  It carries emotional values like freedom (US) or tradition (UK) and tangible promises like style (France) or quality (Germany and Japan).  And national leaders and their policies and statements are the most visible and obvious symbols of their country.  Especially when they are invoking their own citizens to economic nationalism at the expense of everyone else.

‘Made in America’ is suddenly not quite the positive it was yesterday. Perhaps Apple was smart to identify its products as ‘Designed in California, assembled in China’. Donald Trump as global branding issue; discuss!

David Brain

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