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AWNewYork_OfficialGuide-2017

Advertising Week 10th Anniversary Official Guide

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AW2017 251 A study by Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan "fact tank" that conducts public opinion polling and other data-driven social science research, had just come out, and the numbers were grim. Across 37 countries, fewer than half of people had a positive view of the United States, compared with nearly 65 percent just four months earlier. U.S. News and World Report's ranking of the world's "best countries," which takes into ac- count the opinions of business owners, tourists, students, and investors, confirmed the trend: The U.S. fell from number 4 overall in 2016 to number 7 in 2017. Still, Reinhard wanted to dive deeper to see the reasons behind the numbers. He embarked on a piece of qualitative research through a survey he handed out at Cannes. "I used to think of the USA as __________," read the survey. "Now I think of the USA as __________." Although it's important to point out that the attendees of Cannes Lions tend to have a more liberal perspective, the responses were telling. Whereas the U.S. used to be seen as "a land of freedom," "a country open to the world," and "where the true work of democracy was being done," now people described it as "selfish," "racist," "closed and arrogant," and "a bomb about to explode." That the strength of "Brand America" waxes and wanes is not a new phenomenon. Following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the country's image suffered a slump similar to to- day's. Favorability, as measured by Pew, fell by double digits between 2002 and 2004, and even declined in countries tradi- tionally seen as political and cultural allies, such as the U.K. and Spain. Nor is Trump the only president to have tarnished the nation's reputation. Over the course of George W. Bush's eight years in office, favorability as measured by Pew fell by 20 percentage points or more in the U.K., Germany, and France. Some argue that annual surveys overstate the role politi- cal leaders play in national image. Ilan Manor and Elad Segev, communications researchers at Oxford and in Tel Aviv, ques- tion whether the country's brand has really fluctuated as much between the Bush, Obama, and Trump presidencies as the Pew studies seem to suggest. "America's negative image and reputation…can be viewed as a form of status quo," they wrote in the 2015 book Digital Diplomacy. Yet, Reinhard wants his fellow Americans to understand the implications of a damaged national brand—for trade, tour- ism, investment, and, ultimately, jobs. "If people stop buying American brands, if they stop coming to the U.S. for vacation or for study, this has a tremendous financial impact," he says. Politicians and ordinary citizens should realize the degree to which their home regions benefit from good foreign relations —"whether it's a foreign company basing a plant in that state or a small machine shop having an export business." To see how much we rely on commerce from foreign countries, just look at a few figures published by the Washington-based U.S. Global Leadership Coalition: The state of Michigan exported more than $53 billion in goods abroad in 2015, and international trade supported 23 percent of South Carolina's jobs. Forming a rebranding strategy requires understanding about who might lead it. The dominant model is rebranding- by-political-leader: "Cool Britannia" emerged under prime minister Tony Blair after nearly two decades of conservative Tory rule; Germany's image transformation from xenophobic warmonger to self-aware European partner could not have happened without chancellors who themselves believed in the country's new stance. However, other politicians could step up: Michael Bloomberg, for example, has helped create a coalition of mayors, governors, and business leaders committed to meet- ing the goals of the Paris climate agreement, despite the U.S. administration's plans to end U.S. participation in the deal. American diplomacy by a shadow government of state and municipal leaders could therefore become a new model for national rebranding. Reinhard also sees room for initiatives like Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA), a group of business leaders he started in 2001 (and which dissolved in 2010) to address the problem of America's troubled image abroad. He won't be spearheading a revival of the group himself, but encourages others to step up. Ordinary citizens, too, have growing power to influence the way foreigners perceive their country. The 300,000 or so students who study abroad every year certainly have reach; Keith Reinhard's BDA created a brochure, the World Citizens Guide, to help guide them as they found themselves representing the nation. It has since grown into a website, worldcitizensguide.org, founded by businesswomen who had been involved with BDA. Social media is another way that U.S. citizens here at home can try to spread the word throughout the world that the actions of the White House don't represent the entire na- tion. Positive stories that go viral globally, such as the Florida beachgoers who formed a human chain to save a drowning family this past July, surely help boost Brand America. Of course, there is also a responsibility for companies and the creative teams working for them to take up this cause. Each chief executive must realize that she or he is a brand ambassador not only for the company but for America, too, and each marketing campaign has the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to return people's perceptions of the U.S. from "selfish" back to "open." CEOs need to take the initiative to make socially respon- sible choices about their effect on climate change, fight for fair wages and gender equality, or take up the torch of another worthwhile issue—not because they have to but because it's the right thing to do. Actions like these can have a powerful ripple effect around the world and polish away the tarnish on Brand America. • This summer, as thousands of marketers, advertisers, and other creatives gathered at the Cannes Lions festival to celebrate the industry's best work over the year, Keith Reinhard, Chairman Emeritus of the ad firm DDB Worldwide, had darker matters on his mind: the world's changing perception of America.

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