Country and city branding are nothing new. The phrase “When in Rome” was thought to be coined in the fourth century by St. Ambrose. He said “Romanum venio,” translating to “When I go to Rome …” This phrase went on to symbolize the joys and indulgences of this ancient city, a brand strategy and promise still meaningful centuries later.
Las Vegas’ “What Happens Here, Stays Here” 2003 campaign, which ran for more than a decade, successfully celebrated the indulgences of Vegas, known for nightlife, bachelor parties, gambling and so much more. Hollywood’s depiction of Las Vegas further reinforces the city’s clear and captivating brand positioning.
Like cities, countries have brands to manage. They have equity, meaning and influence. These country perceptions affect everything from tourism to business and exports. In the 2022 Best Countries study, which surveyed more than 17,000 global citizens, we see that the equity in brand America remains among the strongest in the world, with the nation ranking No. 4 out of 85 countries measured this year. Globally, the United States ranks No. 1 in the entrepreneurial, power and agility subrankings, all indicative of America’s innovative spirit and the global expectations of leadership.
The net result of America’s collectively strong equity is the desire, allure and credibility it creates. Globally, the United States sits among the top countries people want to visit – 89.7% of survey respondents said they would like to go there. Compare this to China, at 62.7%, and the United Arab Emirates, at 58%. It’s amazing how the power and promise of brand America resonates around the world, transcending political, religious and other affiliations.
America’s cultural influence is a driving force that may be more powerful than traditional hard power assets such as military power and leadership. The brands and entertainment a country exports have a profound impact on how the nation is perceived, reinforcing truths and archetypes. Brands have the potential to infiltrate other cultures, influencing perceptions of nations above and beyond politics. From The Beatles to Marvel to Tesla, brands can shape the way we view countries.
The United States remains one of the most culturally influential nations, only behind more historically fashionable Italy and France. America’s cultural influence is consistently globally, even ranking in the top three most culturally influential nations among the Chinese, and second in India and Great Britain.
What drives the United States’ influence is apparent. Among respondents to the Best Countries survey, America ranks fourth on the term “fashionable” and third on the terms “trendy” and “entertainment.” Most pronounced is the power of America’s consumer brands, where the United States ranks No. 1. The world prefers to buy products and brands made in America more than any other country. Globally, 78% of respondents to the Best Countries survey agree that the country a product is made in matters. Among those same respondents, 83% say consumer brands play an important role in defining a country’s culture. Closer to home, 80% of Americans prefer to buy American brands. “Branding” is therefore a national responsibility.
While the United States does not lead in every consumer sector, it is among the top in many of the most essential. The United States ranks No. 2 behind Germany when it comes to beer, for example, and No. 3 behind Germany and France when it comes to spirits, according to the Best Countries survey. The country also ranks second in clothing and apparel; cosmetics; pharmaceuticals; and automobiles, where it trails Germany. Notably, the US ranks No. 1 in technology and financial services.
The brands we create and export have the power to acculturate into the nations they enter. McDonald’s withdrawal from Russia in May of 2022 may have had a greater impact on the daily lives of the locals than many of the sanctions placed on the country – part of the US had become part of their culture. America’s tech-driven brands are among the most influential around the world, with Apple, Uber and Google among some of the most culturally absorbed brands on the earth. In 2019, approximately 1 billion people were using more than 1.4 billion Apple products. In BrandAsset Valuator (BAV), WPP’s global brand equity study, Apple is among the top-most influential brands in the world, driven by innovation and performance, attributes that rub off on brand America.
When it comes to apparel, Levi’s and Nike transcend America in their symbolism and impact. Similarly, Ford and Tesla shape the world’s view of transportation.
Finally, we can’t ignore the massive global influence of American entertainment, both from the content created here, to the entertainment technology that the world uses to seamlessly access it. The Disney brand ranks among the top 1% of most loved brands in our brand equity study, where its powerful storytelling, theme parks and relatively new Disney+ streaming offering bring American imagery to the rest of the world.
Netflix is another American brand that drives American cultural influence, bringing entertainment to fingertips around the world. In the second quarter of 2022, Netflix reported approximately 220 million paid subscribers globally, helping to transform the way the world consumes entertainment. In 2013, Netflix was the first streaming platform to win an Emmy for its original content. This year it earned 26. But influence works both ways. In September, “Squid Game” star Lee Jung-Jae became the first Asian star to win the Emmy award for best male actor in a drama and the first to win it for a non-English speaking role. Asian influence on America.
While brand America is truly a cultural powerhouse, we shouldn’t let it go to our heads. When it comes to brand status, only two American brands make the top 10 in the world, according to BAV. American brands Tiffany & Co. and The Ritz-Carlton are among the strongest, but they’re bested by some European brands. Italian luxury fashion company Versace tops the list globally, for example, while Mercedes-Benz, Prada, Ferrari and Gucci are also among the most prestigious worldwide.
Clearly, brands have power and influence on nations. The rise of purposeful branding and the advocacy created by it is just one example of this influence. Consumers expect more from brands today. Countries should consider the value and influence of their brands beyond sales.
While we can’t ignore the commercial importance of branding, we must think about the broader influence brands create on a country and society. Perhaps the recent news of Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, who gave his company away to fight climate change, is just the start of even greater brand influence to come.
Photos: Best Countries Around the World