Since the turn of the century, the United States has seen its standing among nations diminish in many important categories such as innovation, education and sanity.
But now its standing has plummeted in the most critical category of all: branding.
According to the GfK Nation Brands Index, a precipitous decrease in global perception has dropped the U.S. from first place to sixth, below England, Japan, Canada and even France, which really doesn’t care what anybody thinks.
In other words, from a branding point of view, America is like the Bill Cosby of sovereignties.
When you’re talking about corporations, the origin of a brand disaster is often clear: Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner commercial, United Airlines dragging people off planes, the Equifax data hack, and so forth.
But America’s brand debacle, I’m afraid, has many contributing factors, not the least of which is our inclination to shoot people at random and our refusal to establish a health care system to look after the gunshot wounds. Although, if you did want to assign blame to a single factor, I guess you could point to our pre-Trump ranking of #1…just a year ago.
In fact, you might be interested to know that other countries in the Top Ten include Italy, Switzerland, Australia and Sweden and that, of the Top Ten nation brands in the world, only one saw its score decrease from 2016 to 2017. That would be the U.S. Which means even nations that force you to assemble your own furniture had a better year than us.
On the plus side, if there is a Laughing Stock index of countries, I’m sure we’re doing very well.
However, I’m not here today to talk about why the world thinks America sucks. Instead, I want to talk about the new champion of the world, the new Number 1 country brand on Earth.
This is a tale of an unprecedented brand comeback, a triumph of perception recovery, a rebound on a par with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, which was close to deceased before it became the go-to brew for hipsters.
Not even BP, in the wake of the gulf oil spill, had a worse brand perception than Germany did after World War II. Not Tylenol when its containers held actual poison pills, or Ford when Pintos were exploding, or Sea World when it was enslaving killer whales.
When Adolph Hitler was running the country, Germany perpetrated some of the biggest marketing blunders in history. Tourism was way down. Its chief export was V-1 bombs, for which there was absolutely zero demand (but they kept sending them to England anyway). For a while there, you couldn’t even give away a “My parents escaped the Nazis and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” t-shirt. Then, after the war, they made matters worse by spinning off the part of the country with all the good athletes, so they couldn’t even build positive brand awareness at the Olympics.
But slowly Germany began regaining relevance, starting with an unassuming humpbacked automobile that even Jews like my father eventually embraced. And now the nation is home to many of the top brands in the world. You don’t think twice about using German products anymore. You drive them, take them for headaches (Bayer), text on them (T-Mobile), brush your teeth with them (Braun), and run in them (Adidas).
So here we are. With Germany, which, in 1944, was ranked below the Austro-Hungarian Empire (an entity that didn’t even exist in 1944), now at the top of the charts, at least according to the GfK Nation Brands Index.
There may be one other thing helping to improve Germany’s ranking. GfK is a German company. So it’s clear that, if America is to once again be the mightiest brand in the world, it must start its own nation brands index.
Or do something about you-know-who.*
See you soon.
*Or at least teach him the words to the national anthem.