An upper and a downer

In an interesting contrast, an article in the Guardian says US brands are hurting abroad, and had better watch out, while the NYT says, wow, incredible! despite war and abuse, America’s brands are doing just peachy-keen in lands afar.

The gist of the NYT article is, in spite of a few minor (and basically insignificant) incidents, people (non-Americans, that is) aren’t particularly angry at US brands or any less willing to purchase them. It’s a fun, feel-good article. Anecdotes abound, showing how amazingly tolerant the world is of USA brands like McDonald’s and Ford and Kodak, even in the face of alleged American atrocities. Anecdotes like this one:

“For example, as Hidayat bin Ismail, 19, emerged Friday from midday prayers at the Sultan Mosque in Singapore, he acknowledged that he was still patronizing places like McDonald’s and KFC even after seeing the pictures of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners.”

Problem being, the article is mostly that—anecdote. And, in the absence of other, more comprehensive information, it might make do as a case for the strength of US brands. Except that there are other data out there; data which don’t exactly paint a stunning portrait of these same brands.

The Guardian article is based on a worldwide survey (of approx. 30,000 people) conducted annually by NOP World, a “top-ten market research power uniting some of the most renowned US and European research firms.”

Survey says, recent US acts, from its handling of terrorism to involvement in Iraq to its failure to hop on board the Kyoto bandwagon, “have all had a profoundly negative affect on the perception of US culture and its major brands.”


“Until 2002, NOP found that brands such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola were notching up healthy annual growth in terms of use and familiarity in international markets.

“However, last year NOP discovered that the growth in popularity of all major consumer brands – including those from Europe and Asia – had stalled. Over the past 12 months the positive trend has gone into reverse, with US products hardest hit.”

Still, both articles are interesting, and valuable in their own way. The NYT article if only to highlight the weakness of anecdotal evidence.

(via NYT: “War and Abuse Do Little to Harm U.S. Brands” by Simon Romero [May 9, 2004] and Guardian: “Consumers send ‘warning sign’ to US brands” by Patrick Barrett [May 11, 2004])