What Is America’s Brand?
When I was a kid, the Vietnam war was winding down and we were all celebrating our nation’s bicentennial. Rocky had just come out and Star Wars was on deck. It was a good time to be an American.
Of course the Iran hostage crisis hit, oil prices skyrocketed, and gasoline was scarce. But then Reagan came in with his “shining city upon a hill” vision, a strong arm against Russia, and sweeping economic ideals that, depending on who you ask, have either lifted up the middle class, or has now resulted in the greatest economic divide in our great nation’s history. That said, we knew who we were back then. We were America – Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
I’ve been in branding for some time. And when you do this kind of work for a living you tend to notice how companies, organizations, and even people position themselves. Because positioning is the primary role of branding.
And right now I can state with extreme confidence that America’s brand is fragmented. I know. I have reference point to a time when it wasn’t.
In a traditional sense, a physical brand is like a tryptic that contains a name, a logo/mark, and a tagline. These things work together to reflect the brand’s promise of value quickly and accurately for anyone who comes into contact with it. Nike/swoosh/Just do It.
But this post isn’t about our name or logo.
Our name is awesome: United States of America. It’s a name that embodies strength and power and references a freaking continent for crying out loud. Sure, it’s not very specific (there are two American continents), but after nearly 250 years, everyone on earth knows us by our acronym. That’s powerful.
Our logo, the flag, is no slouch either. Again, after so long and with so much global influence, the stars and stripes is a well-known mark. Yes, our flag is a thing of beauty and a source of national pride. It’s a very good logo.
Hell, we even have a song and a badass mascot.
No, the problem is our tagline. I mean, damn.
Land of the Free and Home of the Brave is a nice line, but it doesn’t work anymore. And not just because our country is literally teetering on the edge of collapse because of so much vitriol between ideologies. It’s simply not an accurate line.
Free/Brave worked for a long time–that is until we realized that freedom and bravery were not exclusive to us. We began to lose our identity with the rise of the information age, which made us less of an island and could see that we weren’t alone exclusive to these attributes.
Yes, since the turn of the millennium it feels like our tagline is fluff at best. Antiquated. Stale.
Sure, back in the day we would battle tyranny across the globe in the name of freedom and liberty, but so too would a lot of other nations. We’ve grown tired of paying for that, however, and have since pulled back on our policing of the world.
So what concepts do we embody that are truly unique? This must be defined in order for us to solve this problem.
Let’s see –
Are we still a beacon of hope for the tired, poor, and oppressed? The very essence of the word “freedom?” Um, nope.
Are we the smartest nation? Nope.
Are we the bravest? Impossible to say, but on a per-capita scale I’d venture to say nope.
I realize at this point some of the more jingoistic among us might be raving mad. OF COURSE WE’RE THE BRAVEST! WHAT ARE YOU, SOME KIND OF COMMIE?
I’m just trying to solve a problem, man. And the first step to solving any problem is admitting there’s a problem.
So what exactly is our identity?
Well, we’re still the wealthiest nation on earth, but most of that wealth is spread out across 350 million people like a thin layer of butter on toast, while the bulk sits in vaults for 1% of the population (don’t hate, it’s a fact.) But a national tagline like Greed is Good isn’t a great look for a world power.
We do like to spend what money we have, though. So maybe our tagline should be—Land of Black Friday?
We also lead the world in incarceration. But I’m guessing we should steer clear of referencing that for our tagline. (Same with school shootings.)
What else do we lead the world in? Well, we do outspend China (our closest rival) by $400 billion per year on the our military, so perhaps We Can Kick Your Ass In A War might work today? (It does have a nice ring to it.)
Still, I think we can do better. And after thinking about this conundrum a lot lately, I would like to offer a couple of lines that just might work.
Charlie Don’t Surf
We are the world’s military superpower. We like to fight. We take what we want. We enforce our will on the rest of the world. This line accurately sums up America’s place today. Sure, it’s ripped from Hollywood, but that’s ok. We can just open the vault to buy it out (SPACE FORCE!). Because this line accurately personifies our resolute independence in three little words.
In Gold We Trust
I’m not kidding. It’s catchy, and plays on the line we already use on our money (💯)! Plus, if you consider our priorities these past three decades or so, it’s dead-on accurate. You don’t elect someone like Donald Trump to represent our nation on the world stage without this line being true. Yes, I think this might be the line.
So what do you think our new tagline should be? Throw some ideas out there. After all, a brand refresh might be just the thing that brings us together as a nation.