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7 Jun, 2005

‘Brand America’ Hit By U.S. Foreign Policy

The ‘deep unpopularity’ of US foreign policy is ‘dragging down’ its ‘nation brand’ and “may begin to have an effect on people’s acceptance” of US products, culture and tourism, according to a survey that claims to be the “first ever global poll of how the world sees the world.” Positioning itself as the first analytical ranking of the world’s “nation brands,” the study is effectively a “unique barometer” for monitoring and measuring a country’s global image. A key message that emerges is that although US corporate brands enjoy clear leadership in many sectors, that “may begin” to change depending on the course charted by US foreign policy.

Launched on May 25, 2005, the Anholt-GMI Nation Brands Index “measures the power and appeal of a nation’s brand image, and tells us how consumers around the world see the character and personality of the brand.” The study indexes and ranks “nation brands” as the sum of people’s perceptions of a country across six areas of national competence:, Exports, Culture & Heritage, Governance, People, Tourism, and Investment & Immigration.

“Nation brands” are “far bigger” than corporate brands, the survey report says. “Nation brand is an important concept in today’s world. Globalisation means that countries compete with each other for the attention, respect and trust of investors, tourists, consumers, donors, immigrants, the governments of other nations and the media: so a powerful and positive nation brand provides a crucial competitive advantage. It is essential for countries, both rich and poor, to understand how they are seen by publics around the world; how their achievements and failures, their assets and their liabilities, their people and their products are reflected in their brand image.”

Virtually unnoticed by the travel media, the study has huge implications for the travel & tourism industry which, as with many other business and economic sectors, is dominated by US corporate brands. The study dismantles a barrier of once politically taboo subjects and paves the way for them to be discussed at industry forums within the context of that all-time favourite subject, branding. With US corporate brands like Marriott run by families known to be major contributors to the US Republican party, the industry will have difficulty claiming that business is separate from politics, or pretending that the policies of their government will not affect companies.

Notes the study’s initiator, Simon Anholt, described on the website as a ‘nation brands expert’, “We’ve heard so much recently about the decline of Brand America, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the United States doesn’t come out on top of the first Anholt-GMI Nation Brands Index. But it was still a shock that the USA came fourth, together with Germany, in the league tables of the world’s most powerful nation brands. And who knows, if the list had included countries like France, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Spain, Switzerland or the Netherlands, the United States might have ranked even lower.”

Indeed, the survey has come at an ideal time. The Bush Administration is only in the first of its final four years and has already made a number of controversial appointments that will test the US image at the global level – neocon hawk Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank, and possibly John Bolton at the United Nations. The bad news for those who would want these ‘sensitive subjects’ swept under the carpet is that the Anholt-GMI Nation Brands Index will be conducted every quarter, and the list grown to include these countries mentioned above. Effectively, this will allow the American nation brand image to be monitored over the entire period of the Bush administration.

The first index polled consumers in Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, UK and the US. Representative samples of 1000 consumers (3% margin of error) were collected in each country for a total of 10,000 consumers surveyed. Consumers were not asked questions about their own country. The full ranking emerged thus:

1. Sweden

2. UK

3. Italy

4. Germany / USA

5. Japan

6. China

7. India

8. South Korea

9. Russia

10. Turkey

Says the survey, “(Sweden) is almost universally admired, and its brand image boasts a rare combination of stable and responsible governance, honest and trustworthy people, successful cultural exports, a prime location for investment, and yet isn’t seen as boring or predictable, but young and dynamic. Few other countries manage to maintain such a healthy balance between basic reassurance and a touch of vibrancy, adventure and youthful spirit.

The United Kingdom is “in very good shape, coming second overall”. The survey says its alliance with the United States during the Iraq war hasn’t done as much damage to its international image as Britons feared. Although the UK still isn’t rated very highly as a producer of products, it scores extremely well as a tourist destination and as a producer of popular culture.

Italy “is one of the most loved and admired nation brands around – despite the generally derided figure of Prime Minister Berlusconi and the presence of many negative elements within the brand: corruption, organised crime and a generally disorganised society. But because the country is effortlessly and almost universally associated with quality of life, impeccable style and cultural riches, Italy will always score very high as a nation brand, at least on the ‘leisure’ side of things.

“For Italian professionals and business people, however, the country’s poor image in business and international affairs is an irritation and a handicap. So powerful is the ‘holiday’ element of the national brand, it tends to override and cancel out any attempt to present an image of Italian people and organisations as serious-minded, hard working, competent or reliable.”

Excerpts from the survey:

BRANDS AND PRODUCTS: “Despite many surveys reporting ‘protest’ behaviour on the part of consumers in various countries, the US still has the best image as a producer of products, with Japan a close runner-up. In this respect, at least, Brand America appears to be in good health – but it should be remembered that most of the respondents in the survey are from countries which are allies and/or trading partners of the US.”

GOVERNANCE: “Most striking of all in this area is the fact that over 10% of respondents described the US government as ‘unpredictable’; 7% describe it as ‘sinister’ and over 10% actually use the adjective ‘dangerous’ (this figure includes around a quarter of the French, British and German respondents and a fifth of the Danish; the only country where virtually no respondents selected this particular adjective was Japan). Even in a group of countries which are, by and large, allies of the US, disapproval of US foreign policy still runs very deep.

“Brand Britain seems to have escaped damage better than might have been expected from its close and public alliance with the US during the Iraq conflict: the UK government is ranked third overall for ‘upholding international peace and security’, and is described by 27% of the panel as ‘trustworthy’.

“Sweden scores extremely well, earning almost universal approval from respondents: its government is described by more respondents as ‘trustworthy’ than any other country on the list, and indeed this is the adjective most often used to describe it. It is unlikely that many respondents would be able to name a member of the Swedish government, or identify the party currently in power: these scores are almost certainly pure brand image, and appear to require little substantiation. That Sweden is a fairly, wisely and peacefully governed country is, quite simply, a deeply-rooted and almost universal belief.”

PEOPLE: The British people are ranked higher than any other nationality, and score exceptionally well on qualities such as “educated”, “polite”, “honest”, “trustworthy” and “intelligent” (although they are also described as “boring” more often than any other country!). They are by a wide margin everybody’s preferred nationality for hiring, and don’t even score too badly on hospitality (fourth, just behind Japan). Sweden, rather unexpectedly although by no means undeservedly, wins the top mark for hospitality; Italy comes second.

The mutual respect (or otherwise) of friends and allies is a source of endless fascination: for example, 15% of British respondents think the Americans are ignorant, but only 2% of Americans think the same of the British. 13% of Americans consider the British trustworthy, but only 4% of British respondents think the same of the Americans.

In other countries, the image of the ‘ugly American’ persists: the adjective ‘rude’ is applied to the Americans twice as often as to any other nationality.

CULTURE AND HERITAGE: Again, the cultural aspects of the nation brand are very closely linked with the country’s tourism assets, and where there is a strong consumer perception of cultural wealth there is likely to be a strong tourist industry, or at least the potential for building it.

The UK is voted fifth for ‘cultural heritage’ and first when people deliberately seek out cultural products or activities: the result of a rich and well-marketed cultural heritage combined with a highly successful pop industry. Italy does a similar trick but with even more success in brand terms: its culture transitions seamlessly from ancient to modern, from highbrow to commercial.

The scores for American cultural heritage display a fascinatingly complex picture: in several countries, people respond to the question in dramatically different ways depending on their age, income and sex. In France, for example, a country which is notorious for its mixed views about America and all things American, almost the same number of people state “this country lacks culture” as state “this country is rich in culture”. in France, acknowledgement of American cultural heritage is in inverse proportion to income, and also sexually determined: French women and poorer French people are more likely to rate America as being rich in culture, while French men and richer French people are more likely to consider America a culture-free zone.

America’s overall scores on this point of the hexagon are dramatically polarised: the USA ranks bottom of the list for cultural heritage, well below Turkey, South Korea and Russia; and a close second to the UK when it comes to active selection of cultural products or activities. Some Indians, some Japanese and some Canadians are fairly polite about America’s cultural heritage, but they are all heavily outnumbered by other respondents from their own country who put America right at the bottom of the scale.

A strong cultural heritage adds depth and richness to the ‘country of origin effect’ for exported brands (Italian brands like Armani, Ferrari and Gucci, for example, unquestionably profit from positive perceptions of Italy’s artistic heritage, just as upmarket British brands like Dunhill, Asprey, Jaguar and Burberry benefit from Britain’s literary heritage).

A reputation for culture is an obvious magnet for tourism; it affects perceptions of the country’s people and their character and ability; it conveys a sense of quality of life which directly impacts on inward investment and immigration; and when the heritage is linked to a distinguished history, it even affects perceptions of the country’s abilities in foreign affairs and governance.

TOURISM: Tourism is often the most visibly promoted aspect of the nation brand, since most tourist boards spend lots of money on ‘selling’ the country around the world. Respondents were simply asked to rank countries according to which they would most like to visit, if money was not a factor.

The winner was Italy, and was overwhelmingly associated with the adjective ‘romantic’. People in all countries had little trouble identifying well-known Italian tourist attractions like the Coliseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Asking people to identify famous attractions produces some interesting results. Nearly 4% of Americans think that Trafalgar Square is in China; 6% don’t know where the Statue of Liberty is, and 9% don’t know where Mount Rushmore is. The best-known attraction overall is the Great Wall, correctly identified by 92% of respondents, followed by the Statue of Liberty, identified by 90%.The least known is India’s Red Fort (which a surprising 92% of Koreans think is in China).

People have mixed feelings about visiting India. Whilst 20-30% of respondents describe visiting the country as ‘fascinating’ and ‘exciting’, some 15% (in the US, UK, Canada and Korea) describe it as ‘unpleasant’. Germany, too, is described as ‘exciting’ and ‘predictable’ by about the same number of people – in many cases, people from the same countries.

Germany, too, is described as ‘exciting’ and ‘predictable’ by about the same number of people – in many cases, people from the same countries.

The Japanese are generally positive about the idea of visiting China as tourists (‘exciting’ and ‘fascinating’ are adjectives which recur), but they are also rather apprehensive about it: ‘risky’ was the adjective chosen by nearly a quarter of those asked. The Chinese are far more negative about visiting Japan: ‘depressing’, ‘predictable’ and ‘unpleasant’ occur as frequently as ‘exciting’ and ‘fascinating’. Many respondents in all countries agree that Turkey would be an ‘exciting’ place to visit, but ‘risky’ gets virtually the same number of votes from the same people (apart from the Japanese and the Koreans who seem blissfully unaware of whatever those risks are perceived to be).

And, once again, South Korea appears to be suffering from an unfortunate case of mistaken identity: visiting this delightful country is described as “risky” by large percentages of American, British, German, Canadian, French and Danish respondents.

INVESTMENT: In the field of investment, the US is champion, completing its dominance of the ‘trade’ side of the hexagon in exports and investment. Although the question about people’s willingness to live and work there for a long period creates very mixed responses in most of the countries in our panel, nobody seems in any doubt that the US is the best place to set up a business in. Only in France do a significant number of respondents (just over 10%) declare that they would definitely not set up an office in the USA; almost a third of respondents overall would definitely set up there (and a half of the Indians asked).


The report says that this first edition of the Anholt-GMI Nation Brands Index raises some fascinating questions.

“First of all, how does one account for the relatively low ranking of ‘Brand America’ (which might very well prove to be lower still when other countries are included in future editions of the NBI)? Plainly, it’s the deep unpopularity of US foreign policy which is dragging down what are still pretty positive results in the areas of trade, exports, investment and popular culture. Many have predicted that if the poor image of US policy persists, it may begin to have an effect on people’s acceptance of US products, US culture, US tourism and other points of the hexagon. This is one effect we will be watching closely in successive editions of the NBI to see which way the figures move.

“The extraordinary power of Brand Sweden is perhaps not so hard to understand. We are living in dangerous times, faced by new and unimaginable threats and massive political and economic instability. In such times, it is hardly surprising if the nation-brands which people (at least in the West) find most attractive are the ones which seem to communicate stability, reliability, probity, integrity, trustworthiness and social justice. Sweden is, par excellence, the nation brand which stands for these values: it is a still point in a turbulent world.

“Whatever the mood of the times, the concept of nation as brand is here to stay. No other model adequately captures the complexity of global public perception of entire countries; and global public perception, as never before, determines to a great extent how nations survive and prosper in today’s world.

“A nation’s brand image is its most valuable asset: it is national identity made robust, tangible, communicable, and – at its best – made useful. America’s extraordinarily powerful brand is one of the factors which has built America’s economy.

“It would be a wonderful thing if some of the countries which now most need growth and progress were able to harness and take control of their own images, and use them to similar effect in the chaotic and highly competitive marketplace of today’s globalised world. Looking at the results of Russia and Turkey makes one realise how serious a barrier to progress a poor image can be, obscuring and even obstructing the real progress made by such countries, and what a long way such countries still have to go before they can really prosper in the global ‘marketplace’ for tourists, investors, consumers, immigrants and for the respect and attention of the world’s media and other governments.”

The survey report is available in full, with charts and diagrams, from http://www.gmi-mr.com/gmipoll/press_room_wppk_pr.phtml.