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Fixing "Brand America"

Advertising Week in New York is winding down, and I just got back from one of the final panels, called ??rand America.?Two teams of ad school students and ad agencies DraftFCB and Tribal DDB all presented how they would improve America’s image abroad with a $500 million budget from the U.S. government.

The presentation started with the results of a worldwide survey that sandwiched the United States in between North Korea and Iran in terms of overall popularity. Yeesh. Three of the pitches — the ones from the two student groups and Tribal DDB — followed the same tack: They would show the rest of the world that “Americans” are different from the commonly-held perception of “America.”

For the first student group, this meant building a huge online chat room that asked those in the international community, “What would happen if you woke up one morning and everyone in America had vanished?” Then it would ask Americans “What would happen if you woke up one morning and everyone in the rest of the world had vanished?” Natural government contractors, these guys set the price tag for such a site at around $200 million.

The second group pitched a clever idea called “World Twins,” based on the urban legend that somewhere in the world everyone has someone who looks exactly like them. People would upload photos of themselves, and the site would put two individuals — presumably one American and one not — in touch.

Tribal DDB’s, which won the competition, based its pitch around using “Americans as media.” Posters would feature photographs of diverse Americans emblazoned with the phrase “Fat Ugly American,” or “Stupid American.” Tribal would get American celebrities to wear t-shirts that said “Ignorant American,” with a number to send a text message to underneath. That number would then give information about charitable cause that celebrity was supporting that helps people abroad. Other Americans, naturally, could then get involved and support the charities themselves in small ways that connected them directly with those benefiting (and get their own t-shirts too).

All clever, but I actually liked the tack of DraftFCB the best. It proposed that the U.S. still stay true to the brash, proud image it has always had, but use its clout to fight for the environment, a cause that the entire world benefits from. America would slowly win back support if it aggressively used its skills for such a worthy cause, even if we still come off as totally obnoxious in the process. DraftFCB was vague though on how they’d go forward with this. A big part of why they lost, I imagine.

If you ask me how I’d fix “Brand America,” — easy. Free White Castle sliders for anyone overseas, anytime. Who doesn’t like free food? And everyone would be in such a food coma they couldn’t raise much of a fuss. Then give it six months. Who’s fat now, international community?

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