Vol. 40, No. 3

A Note from the Chairman

From the moment the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, Americans have known that we were in a different kind of war. But in at least one respect, the war we are fighting today bears some resemblance to wars we have fought in the past.

Branding America

After nearly five years, we no longer remember all their names. But we remember their faces. And we will never forget their eyes. They are the eyes of killers. They are the eyes of the 19 hijackers who commandeered four planes on September 11, 2001, taking the lives of over 3,000 people and taking us […]

Karen Hughes’ Challenge

Since Sept. 11 , 2001, it has become commonplace to say that the United States is engaged in a war of ideas for the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims. Even Donald Rumsfeld has admitted that the metric for measuring success in a war against jihadist terrorism is whether the numbers we kill or deter […]

On the Frontlines of Freedom

Today on the world stage, particularly in Muslim nations, our military is too often viewed only as the enemy, a disturbing fact not lost on those who now wear the uniform. Make no mistake — death and violence are products of any war. But lost within today’s highly partisan environment are such deeply held goals […]

Madison Avenue’s Take on Brand America

If any country in the world can be viewed as a brand, it’s America. After all, we invented “branding.” So why, when we are the most powerful nation on earth and facing precarious times, can’t we leverage America’s brand assets? For inspiration and guidance, I returned to the basics of brand building that have worked […]

A View From Abroad

It is too late to walk or talk softly. The big stick—the enormous military might of the U.S.—bears its own ominous message, but the U.S. might try to promote its democratic ideals with more skill, conviction, and volume. Even the British, our most loyal consumers and faithful allies, are losing the faith, despite their relative […]

Q&A With Bill Thomas

Earlier this year, Congressman Bill Thomas announced his retirement after nearly 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. First elected in 1978, Thomas has served as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee since 2001. He recently sat down with the Ripon Forum to discuss his experiences in politics and share his thoughts on […]

No More Mistakes

As the world becomes increasingly focused on Iran’s nuclear activities, we are once again looking to our intelligence to determine what those activities mean.

Russia Under Putin: Neither Friend Nor Foe

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his supporters were “outraged.” A Kremlin spokesperson denounced the speech as “inconceivable” and “subjective” in its interpretations of Russian internal affairs. Others in Moscow, as well as some in the West, called the speech a return to the Cold War. One Moscow headline suggested that U.S.-Russian relations were at their […]

How the Millennials Get Their News

Last year’s media coverage of the Gulf Coast hurricanes helped re-define the domestic political agenda leading into this year’s mid-term elections. But it wasn’t just storm coverage. Political damage control was in full effect, with elected officials from all sides of the political spectrum flocking to cable news channels to assuage public fears, tamp down […]

Immigration Reform: The Challenges Ahead

The immigration debate is at a fever pitch as the Ripon Forum goes to press. Only a fool would try to predict what will happen next, either in the Senate, which will probably vote this week, or in the skirmishing that could follow if lawmakers then move ahead to try to reconcile the Senate package […]

Back to the Moon… and Beyond!

A robust space exploration program is crucial to maintaining America’s scientific and technological preeminence in the twenty-first century. No other endeavor challenges us to develop innovative new technologies which often improve our quality of life, while simultaneously fulfilling the basic human need to explore new horizons.

Back to the Moon… But Let’s Fix NASA First

I believe that America – this time with her international partners – should go back to the moon.

The Back Page: Can you be a Republican and Still Like The Boss?

I got turned onto Bruce Springsteen the summer before my junior year in college. It was 1984. Born in the USA had come out on June 4th. And my friends and I were on a 10-day road trip to Florida before school started back up in the fall.

Ripon Profile of Susan Collins

I am a Republican because I believe in the core party principles of individual responsibility, personal liberty, federalism, and a strong national defense.

Madison Avenue’s Take on Brand America

An advertising icon shares his thoughts on the effort to promote our democracy abroad

If any country in the world can be viewed as a brand, it’s America. After all, we invented “branding.” So why, when we are the most powerful nation on earth and facing precarious times, can’t we leverage America’s brand assets? For inspiration and guidance, I returned to the basics of brand building that have worked so well for so many American companies and products. 

One must distinguish between “Brand America” and the “brands” of America. Think of Brand America as any corporation with a host of products, services, brands, divisions, etc., in its portfolio. We were the original “start-up” 230 years ago and have grown into the most recognized, powerful brand in the world.  Simultaneously, each and every citizen contributes to its being. We are its employees and own it, lock, stock and barrel. We must never forget that. 

The American portfolio of brand icons is amazing.  Here is an eclectic sampling: The Statue of Liberty, Jazz, Country Music, Hollywood, Vegas, The Big Apple, Apple, Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, Starbucks, Coca Cola, Levi’s , E-Bay, Google, Hip-Hop. These icons are eagerly purchased, consumed and welcomed into homes, families and businesses around the world. So why hasn’t the “company” that makes all of this possible — that is, America itself — been welcomed with the same enthusiasm? 

Brand America is hard to capture in a snappy sentence. Yet our essence pours forth from the documents, institutions and actions that have been part of our brand since the Revolution.

As I have traveled the world over the past 30 years helping build brands, this disconnect between the brand icons of America and the icon of Brand America has always gnawed at me.  So, here is a simple, dispassionate, nonpartisan three-step primer on how we can go about building and improving upon Brand America: 

Defining our Brand Essence

First, we need to clearly define what our country’s brand essence actually is, and then live it 24/7. 

The brand essence is the epicenter of brand building.  Brand America is hard to capture in a snappy sentence.  Yet our essence pours forth from the documents, institutions and actions that have been part of our brand since the Revolution. 

We don’t have a credo – we have something better.  America has a powerful compass anchored in guideposts that remind us of how we should behave – as individuals, institutions and governments. Here are excerpts from five of these guideposts that resonate with all of us. 

The Declaration Of Independence – “Our Raison d’etre”

“…all men are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 

The Constitution – “Our Rules”

We the People….in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…. establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The Gettysburg Address – “Our Guidance”

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal….. we here highly resolve….that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

The Statue of Liberty – “Our Beacon.”

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  

The Pledge of Allegiance – “Our Daily Reminder.”

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to The Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” 

The words are simple, but their effect is profound.  Brand America exists to provide for, nourish, and safeguard a way of life dedicated to the freedom of all people to flourish and live rewarding lives that can be passed on to future generations. It is our duty and destiny to welcome all people of like mind to participate, to respect the rights of others to follow another path if they so choose, and to protect us from those who would seek to undermine or destroy our way of life.  It just doesn’t get any clearer. I’d give Brand America a solid “A” for defining its essence.  When it comes to living it 24/7?  Well, that’s another story entirely, and something that is entirely up to 300 million of us to achieve. 


Serving our Core Consumer Franchise

There are four keys to any successful branding campaign: listening, learning, insight, and applying the 80/20 rule. What is the 80/20 rule? Essentially, it states that 20 percent of consumers account for about 80 percent of a Brand’s committed acceptors and immovable rejecters, with 60 percent at various stages of commitment and/or ambivalence. In applying this rule, it is equally important to follow three basic steps. 

Step 1 — Take care of the core franchise above all… this includes stakeholders at home and abroad. We do a pretty good job of this and should never take it for granted. 

Step 2 — Don’t “market” to hard core rejecters… BUT, understand them, be vigilant regarding threats to the brand’s core franchise, and never compromise the Brand’s essence to cultivate them. We’ve not done a great job in this regard and must get better at making our vigilance a virtue.

Step 3 — Use the “Laws of Attraction” to convert “occasional” consumers to “regular” users. Our track record here has been spotty, sometimes employing the “laws of intimidation” and too often focused on short-term results. 

Provide Consistent Leadership and Implementation

Throughout history we’ve been fortunate to have leaders who are committed to — and passionate about — Brand America. 

As with any company, some have been better than others at choosing their executive teams, developing different implementation tactics and delivering results.

We get to pass judgment on these performances each and every election day, so, ultimately, Brand America is in our hands – and no one else’s. So, before we pull the lever on the voting machine, we need to first contemplate America’s Brand essence, then vote for the people we feel will be best serve it. 

Finally, I couldn’t resist the urge to suggest a piece of communication to use in this effort. Rather than an ad, I chose to do a makeover of a popular bumper sticker. Let’s set aside “America. Love it or Leave it!” and replace it with an exhortation that encourages people not to turn their back on our Nation, but to turn their energies toward improving it — “America. Love it and Live up to it!”  

Hank Wasiak is co-founder of an award winning creative development company, The Concept Farm, an Emmy award winning TV host, retired Vice Chairman of McCann Erickson Worldgroup, former president of Ketchum Communications and 7-time Emmy-nominated Executive Producer. Along with Dr. Kathryn D. Cramer, he also is author of a best selling new motivational book, Change The Way You See Everything.