To many Americans, President Bush is homely, straightforward, down-to-earth -- one of them. To the rest of the world, Europeans in particular, Bush appears plain stupid. And four years after somehow managing to become president, it still seems remarkable that someone incapable of answering the simplest of questions when he runs out of briefing and script should hold the most powerful office on earth.
Most Americans don't realise that they are in urgent need of a rebrand. When, a couple of years ago, the BBC consulted the world on perceptions of the US across a wide range of issues, the results did not make pleasant viewing -- particularly in the Middle East and the developing world.
The next morning an encounter with a Fox News presenter began with: "Well, this finally proves it -- it's the British Biased Corporation." There was no recognition that the BBC programme was based on independent opinion polls carried out in other countries, or that it might be sensible to consider the implications of such negative images.
In the meantime, the Iraq war can only have made things much worse.
The Pew Global Attitude survey, which closely monitors such things, shows marked declines in positive attitudes toward the US. The hostility, so far at least, is mainly aimed at Bush and his government rather than US brands. But is this about to change?
Research to be published this week by Research International, part of WPP, raises in a sharp way the question of whether negative attitudes to the US are starting to affect even once-imperious brands. If so, could it be an opportunity for European operators?
The research was conducted in Latin America on the grounds that, with a mature home market, it is from such regions that US corporations will have to find their future growth. The result makes disturbing reading for US brand managers.
While consumers acknowledge US brand superiority, more than 40% felt their views of the US would to some degree affect their buying decisions.
The research finds that there is a clear relationship between age and negative attitudes. Perhaps surprisingly, young people are much more negative about things American than their elders.
Powerful anti-American stereotypes are revealed, with large majorities believing that Americans are too patriotic, eat too much and are mistrustful and ignorant about other countries and cultures. Even American popular culture seems to be losing its lustre, with only 23% of respondents agreeing with the statement that the US produces the world's best television.
"The overall feeling one is left with is that consumers in Latin America view people from the US as rather selfish, concerned more about their own wellbeing than that of their fellow man and prepared to go to any lengths to protect their way of life," Research International concludes.
Although the news for the US in the research is not all bad, it looks as though an opportunity is developing for local and international competitors.
In the wake of massive negative publicity for corporations such as Enron and, in a different context, McDonald's, US brands may find it useful to start playing down their Americanness -- at least in the developing world. Kodak is one corporation that has apparently pulled off the trick: the survey respondents did not see it as an American brand.
A vote for Kerry might not change much, but it would be a step toward restoring some credibility for the US system in the outside world.
30 SECONDS ON... THE US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
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