Hey Bono, You Can’t Rebrand OUR America

On Sunday Irish rock star and political activist, Bono offered his commentary as guest columnist on the Opinion pages of The New York Times to tell us that we must rebrand our nation and that Barack Obama is just the man to do it.

Now, I’ve written and spoken about the need for our American brand to constantly improve, but Bono’s take is outrageous, out of turn and completely at odds with the American brand as we know it.

From a marketing perspective, Bono’s rebranding advice is all wrong.

One must understand the core features of the product and the Target Market. This is never more true than with the profound and patriotic question of nationhood and citizenship.

It means something to have been born breathing American air and waking day after day in this our country. Americans might not always be able to put into words the core features of their “brand” but they know them deeply and, more important, they know what those features are not.

This is the problem with someone like Bono telling us how to rebrand. He’s like that outside consultant who might have one or two insights into how to fix a part of a company. While he might have a couple of good ideas he doesn’t understand the entire culture, and more importantly he also doesn't get why it has succeeded, even as it has occasionally stumbled, to fundamentally satisfy the needs of its Target Market (i.e., it’s own citizens) and even the needs of the world.

The more glaring problem with Bono’s approach is that his rebranding idea is a rebranding of America for the left. This is simply not how rebranding works. You can’t take a portion of what you want to rebrand –be it a company or a country—and think that you will succeed by ignoring the core characteristics of the rest of it.

America is a country that believes in a strong defense -- that’s going to offend people sometimes. More importantly, America is not Ireland or Europe. Historically we are very wary of big government and huge social safety nets. We believe in situational help rather than institutional help.

Bono’s focus on eliminating hunger is noble, but America is much more than a one-issue country. America has never just been about about survival and it has certainly never been about leading a life without risk and creating a big government that makes sure everything is taken care of.

America is all about individual opportunity. And Americans are often willing to risk their own personal survival in their attempts to seize opportunity. In other words, our country and our people tend to be risk takers who have dreams.

So for a moment let me take off my marketing hat and be personal: It’s almost like America is the last developed country in the world where you can risk it all and now they’re trying to screw that up.

Bottom line: Bono, if we’re going to rebrand America. It’s Americans that need to do it.

And remember, business and politics is always easier to understand when you keep marketing and branding in mind.

John Tantillo is a marketing expert. He is the founder and president of the Marketing Department of America.