The Ripon Forum

Volume 40, No. 3

June - July 2006 Issue

Madison Avenue’s Take on Brand America

By on October 14, 2015 with 0 Comments

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:statueofliberty   

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. 

loveitliveitiupServing 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!”     RF

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.

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