America's Brand Dented by Spy Revelations, Debt Crisis

PHOTO: Public relations experts say countries have brands and in recent weeks, Brand America has taken a hit. courtesy A-GC
Public relations experts say countries have brands and in recent weeks, Brand America has taken a hit.

It hasn't been a good month for the United States' standing in the world after its debt crisis threatened the world economy and a spying scandal outraged its closest allies.

In a matter of weeks, ideals fundamental to America's position in the world – its dependability as the world's wealthiest nation, and its commitment to transparency – have been upended, and the American brand has been tarnished, experts say.

"Our ideals and interests have been undermined, and we look hypocritical," said Adam Segal, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Public relations experts say countries have brands, much the way companies and products do. And in recent weeks, Brand America has taken a hit.

At the beginning of October, the government shutdown, a near default, and the threat of a credit crisis left America's business partners unhappy and uncertain about whether petty politics could upend the world's financial markets.

By the end of the month, revelations that the National Security Agency had spied on the leaders of some of America's closest allies led President Dilma Roussef of Brazil to cancel a long-scheduled state visit, France and Spain to recall their ambassadors, and calls for a United Nations investigation.

"Trust needs to be rebuilt," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, after it was revealed that U.S. spies had been listening to her phone calls for years. "Obviously, words will not be sufficient. True change is necessary."

The damage goes beyond just image. After months of stressing a "pivot to Asia" approach to foreign policy, President Obama blew off a tour of South East Asia and cancelled an appearance at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to deal with the government shutdown and debt crisis.

"The U.S. is making the mistake many corporations make. A brand isn't just about name recognition. It's about making sure people know what to expect," said Rob Frankel, a brand-management consultant and author of "The Revenge of Brand X."

Like corporations that lose credibility, the U.S. needs to get to work repairing its brand, and its standing in the world, Frankel said.

"Our leaders need to publically correct their mistakes. They have to be clear and credible. If you've strayed from your brand strategy you have to restore credibility, admit mistakes and then fix them," he said.

Obama was elected in 2008 on a platform of restoring U.S. credibility, following eight years of what many foreign partners saw as unilateral action and unapologetic swagger by the Bush administration.

Since news of the NSA leak broke and the world learned of the breadth of the spy program, the administration has taken some steps to repair the damage.

Obama announced this weekend that despite not knowing about the program to listen in on world leaders' conversations, the NSA had ordered it to stop.