Rebranding America with Obama

Photograph of burned-out KFC store

When your business’ reputation sucks, what do you do? Re-brand it!

Jon Taplin reckons American business is hoping to revive “Brand USA” by supporting Barack Obama as a presidential candidate. In Reviving Brand America, he says:

It is getting very hard to be an American company in much of the world (see photo). Whenever they are pissed off in Karachi, they burn down the KFC. George Bush’s War has made competing against European and Chinese manufacturers like wrestling with one arm tied behind your back. So like any smart CEO, the elite has decided we need a re-branding of America with a charismatic man of colour at the front.

Exhibit A is the New York Post’s endorsement of Obama this morning. I would take it as a given, that Rupert Murdoch saw this editorial before it was published. Exhibit B is MSNBC. I promise you, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann would not be given the free rein to criticize both Hillary and Republican hypocrisy, unless Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE had not given the OK. I obviously think this is a rational move on the part of American business — and I know its not like they all met at some private club to decide this. I just think this is the consensus vision, well outlined by Andrew Sullivan a couple of months ago.

But is American business that concerned with their nation’s international image? Or is Taplin spot on?

Indeed, was the success of Kevin Rudd in Australia’s 2007 election partially the result of our stagnant image overseas?

5 Replies to “Rebranding America with Obama”

  1. It’s hard to say that Australians are concerned about their images overseas because the official foreign policy has never been aggressive. Pauline didn’t count.
    They, probably, simply want to troops home.

  2. Does it matter if an African American is the figurehead of America? He’s still American to the rest of the world. America the brand is more of a cultural thing, as opposed to a “racial” thing. However, Taplin’s POV shows how some Americans do get hung up on the “race” thing (more often than most other cultural groups). Yeah, maybe an African American president will revolutionise American politics — it’s pretty much BAU (business as usual) for the rest of us.

    I think the success of Kevin Rudd was due to the fact #1 people got over Howard and #2 Workchoices. The seats that swung hardest to the ALP tended to be the battler type ones (outer suburban/rural). Australia doesn’t have much of a presence in the international political scene and I doubt most Australians particularly care about that either.

  3. Feel free to disregard the first paragraph of my previous comment — reading it now, it’s a bit of a rambling mess 😉

    I had a couple more rambling paragraphs, but I do like concise bullet points so I will attempt to do that instead:

    #1 “Re-branding” America has more to do with their corporate institutions, the political institutions that support them and changing the way they work. Regardless of president, they have generally chugged along in a similar fashion in the last half century or so, hence why I said figurehead.

    #2 From my limited observations of Obama, reading up on the candidates’ policies on the interweb and observing American friend intelligibly squabble about the issues, I think he and fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton are similar in viewpoints and they will end up working in similar ways when in power. Obama is superficially more attractive to people who want a significant change, because he lacks the strong institutional links of Clinton and he does rhetoric well, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest that his actions will back up the rhetoric (I suppose I should point out that I am intrinsically suspicious of rhetoric). I don’t think he will be the great reformer many want him to be.

    #3 I would probably like to be proven wrong.

    #4 In Andrew Sullivan’s article, there was a line about the Pakistani boy seeing Obama and saying that Obama’s appearance would be useful in the US’ fight against radical Islamism (and part of the re-branding according to Taplin’s article). While humans are visual creatures, I think people’s issues with the US’ branding is more cultural than racial and that seeing a non-white president is unlikely to make much of a difference (especially with the baggage involved!). I think that’s a better summation of my point regarding Obama’s appearance.

    [Stilgherrian says: I’ve even link to the Sullivan article for you, I’m that considerate. Yes, I sometimes edit comments — but only to fix obvious spelling and typographical mistakes or provide links.]

  4. To anyone who thinks POTUS is anything other than a figurehead, I’ve got one word to say to you: “George W Bush”. Obama is the Andrew G of America.

    Oh dear, now who’s being the cynical one, eh? 🙂

    One of the messages that keeps coming out of the “anti-American Islamic countries” — if I can be forgiven for reinforcing the meme that there’s some great global anti-American conspiracy — is that it’s all about America’s actions. America’s a fantastic concept, just read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But modern America ignores the concept and behaves like a bully internationally.

    As Peter Cook wrote in Consequences:

    They’re very fine words, Mr Stapleton, but that’s all they are. Words! What we need are actions. Actions speak louder than I do.

    I think I’m with the Platypus. America may get a few points with a POTUS of Color, but they’ll have to change their actions before anyone respects them. And the institutions which drive America’s actions internationally have deep roots.

    You’re right, the Australian election didn’t have an international component. I should know that after the tens of thousands of words I’ve read on the subject!

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