Do you have something to say? Send letters and corrections to
firstname.lastname@example.org or to Advertising Age, Viewpoint, 711 Third Ave., New York,
NY 10017. Please limit letters to 250 words.
AL RIES RIES&RIES
If USA wants to impress, it must swap vague euphemism
for down-to-earth language and a single powerful idea
WHAT’S A SUBARU?
Brand USA, a partnership of the
travel industry and federal
government, plans a $200
million campaign to attract
visitors to the country.
The theme: “United
States of Awesome
Suppose Brand USA spent
$200 million in each of the next
five years promoting its
“awesome possibilities” idea.
Five years from now, how many
people are likely to associate
“awesome” with the United
Not very many.
That’s the problem with
marketing today. Almost every
campaign starts with a press
conference and a blaze of publicity
about a new logotype (the letters
“USA” spelled out with multicolor
dots), a new website
( discoveramerica.com) and an
inspirational message (United
States of Awesome Possibilities).
“We will be able to reach
audiences around the world by
showcasing the best of America
and spreading the message that
we welcome visitors with open
arms,” said Chris Perkins, Brand
USA’s chief marketing officer.
Nice thought, but its
weakness is communicated
by the phrase
“showcasing the best of
America.” No marketing
campaign can do that. The
best any marketing
campaign can do is to
emphasize a single word
or concept. And oddly
enough, the loftier the
word and the more abstract the
concept, the more difficult that is to
Other countries going the
Brazil is “sensational.”
“If you asked a Subaru dealer or an
employee or the press what Subaru
was all about, it was pretty
confusing,” George Muller said in
1993, when he took over as president
of Subaru of America.
He chose to focus on four-wheel-drive vehicles. Advertising theme:
“The beauty of all-wheel drive.”
(What the auto industry calls “
all-wheel drive,” people call four-wheel
It was an exceptionally bold
decision because at the time four-wheel-drive vehicles represented
48% of Subaru’s sales. But the
company had lost $250 million the
previous year, so something had to
It didn’t take long to turn the
brand around. Three years later,
Subaru was essentially a four-wheel-drive brand, and sales were up 16%,
to 120,748 units.
Subaru registered a sales
increase in 12 of the 14 years between
1996 and 2010. It sold 263,820
vehicles in the U.S. in 2010, more
than Volkswagen, Lexus, Mercedes,
BMW, Mazda, Chrysler, Buick,
Cadillac, Acura and, of course, “Truth
in engineering” which moved only
101,629 units. (If Subaru had a better
name, it would probably have been
even more successful.)
WHAT SHOULD BRAND USA
Take the launch of Apple’s iPhone
4S. The operating system has 200
new features, including deep
integration with Twitter and the
ability to edit photos. It has an eight-
megapixel camera with a greatly
concentrated on a single feature.
Try to say everything and you end up saying
nothing. Make your message real, and you
not only connect with people but entice them
with the suggestion that there is more to
learn about your brand.
THE HALO EFFECT
Germany is “simply inspiring.”
Korea is “dynamic.”
Greece is the “true experience.”
Singapore is “unique.”
Kenya is “magical.”
India is “incredible.”
And dozens more.
Only one approach has a chance
of working in a message-saturated
society: Bring your slogan down to
improved sensor, a five-element lens
and a wider aperture. It has 4G-class
download speeds and an improved
voice-call reception because the
phone can switch between two
antennas to pick up the best signal.
Wow! What an opportunity for the
wordsmiths at TBWA Media Arts Lab
to capture the essence of this
awesome, sensational, unique,
incredible phone. Instead, they
What psychologists call “the halo
effect” marketing people call
“positioning.” When you focus on
one concrete thing, consumers are
inclined to attribute good qualities to
Brand USA should take a tip from
iPhone. It’s impossible to sum up a
smartphone’s features. Apple has
built its marketing program for the
device on Siri, the feature that has
received the most publicity and the
most attention from consumers.
What feature of the U.S. would
most foreign visitors be interested in?
Look at it from the point of view
of other countries. What do most
first-time visitors to France want to
see? Or those to the U.K.? Or to
Paris, London and Rome.
What do most first-time visitors to
America want to see?
New York City.
The Siri of Brand USA is New
York. It should be the focus of a
marketing campaign to attract
foreign visitors. Furthermore, the Big
Apple has the perfect symbol for
“spreading the message that we
welcome visitors with open arms.”
The Statue of Liberty.
Al Ries is chairman of Ries & Ries, an
Atlanta-based consulting firm he
runs with his daughter and partner,
Laura. The website is www.ries.com.