Photo: http2007 via flickr
America people what they think about America, and the multiplicity of opinions will be matched only by the diversity of the country itself.Some find its foreign policy odious; others admire the ideals on which it was founded. Few, however, respond with a blank stare. Even the geographically illiterate and politically unaware have heard of the United States.
Yet in May a new travel-promotion office, Brand USA, launched America’s first-ever campaign to attract visitors from overseas. Against a backdrop of majestic landscapes and shots of attractive people having fun, Rosanne Cash (daughter of Johnny) and a multicultural assortment of musicians tell the world that, “It’s closer than it seems; come and find your land of dreams.”
America may seem to have no need to advertise. It is the second-most-visited country in the world (after France). But the campaign is long overdue. Between 2000 and 2010 America’s share of spending on global travel fell by a third, from 17.2% to 11.6%.
According to McKinsey Global Institute, the consultancy ‘s research arm, global long-haul travel increased by 31% in the decade to 2009 while foreign visitors to America (excluding from Canada and Mexico) dropped by 2m, to 24m. McKinsey calculates that if its market share had been retained, the United States would have had 67m additional visits and $214 billion in extra revenue over that period.
Some of the blame for the decline in numbers can be attributed to harsh security put in place after the terrorist attacks of 2001. Surly immigration officials do little to enhance America’s claim to be a welcoming country. But JWT, the ad agency that created the campaign, found other reasons for the decline. Being the world’s most powerful and best-known country works against America: as a Brazilian respondent told the agency, “The United States did such a good job of turning Brazilians into Americans that it’s not really different.” Others said they were turned off by “brash and arrogant” Americans. And the rise of emerging markets has taken the sheen off America’s claim to be the new world.
Brand USA was created to change those ideas. Among its duties, as laid out in the Travel Promotion Act passed by Congress in 2010, is “to identify, counter, and correct mis-perceptions regarding United States entry policies around the world”. Advertising is the most efficient way to do this, says Simon Anholt, who advises governments on their international image. But other factors may help America as well. In 2007 and 2008, deep into George Bush’s second term, the United States ranked seventh on a list of the world’s 50 most-admired countries, according to a survey Mr Anholt conducts with GfK Roper, a market-research firm. In 2009, the year Barack Obama assumed office, America jumped back to number one, where it remains.
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