Thursday, April 21, 2005

Beacon No. 31: Like a Good Neighbor, Americans Are There?


Keith Reinhard, the chairman of advertising giant DDB Worldwide (formerly Doyle Dane Bernbach), has spent decades selling American brands in the U.S. and abroad. But according to a 2004 article in The Economist, Reinhard and others became worried that rising anti-Americanism abroad was doing permanent damage to U.S. products' competitiveness:

In a long career in advertising, Keith Reinhard's talent has been to find and promote the hitherto unknown virtues of products. In a memorable “You deserve a break today” campaign for McDonald's, it was the fact that people hungered for a better experience, not a better hamburger. In the “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” campaign, it was that car-insurance buyers wanted reassurance even more than a good price. Now, the chairman of DDB Worldwide is taking on the ultimate challenge: selling to the world the hidden virtues of America.

“I love American brands, but they are losing friends around the world and it is vital to the interests of America to change this,” Mr. Reinhard told a packed meeting of business students at Yale University on February 23rd [2004]. His basic argument is that something is amiss in the perception of America abroad, that this perception is economically damaging, that it must be changed and that it can be changed.

Just prior to his Yale talk, Reinhard had founded Business for Diplomatic Action, a group dedicated to the proposition that Americans themselves, and not just U.S. policies, were fueling anti-Americanism overseas.

Ignorance of local customs, arrogance, sloppy dress and other boorish behavior by American tourists were increasing hostility to U.S. businesses and brands, Reinhard reasoned, with consequences beyond the occasional Coca-Cola or McDonald's boycott: potential long-term, across-the-board, worldwide declines in export sales. The consequences for the U.S., whose export troubles have mounted for decades, didn't need elaboration.

So Reinhard, executive director Cari Eggspuehler and their Business for Diplomatic Action colleagues decided to start doing something about it. Roughly 55 million Americans travel to foreign countries each year, and their visibility, mobility and relative wealth make a huge impact. Knowing this, BDA created a short guide for students and others on how to act responsibly overseas, hoping to turn the tide of anti-American sentiment by influencing those young enough to change their behavior wholesale.

The resulting World Citizens Guide reads a little like the front of a Lonely Planet guidebook—be-open-to-others, tuck-in-your-shirt, don't-talk-in-church type advice—but everyone could benefit from its reminders the next time they're getting their passport stamped.

An abbreviated version is available for download here, and readers can learn more about the project at the World Citizens Guide Web site.

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