American Image Abroad: Putting Politics Aside, U.S. Brands Still Strong

While there may be a fair amount of anti-Bush and anti-American sentiment in Europe, it’s clearly not stopping consumers from buying U.S. brands.

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LONDON — Just what does it take for European consumers to forgo an iPod, a bottle of Aveda shampoo, a pair of Gap stretch denims or a Polo Ralph Lauren fragrance? Whatever it is, it’s certainly not U.S. politics.

While there may be a lot of free-floating anti-Bush and anti-American sentiment in the U.K. and Continental Europe right now, it’s clearly not stopping consumers from buying U.S. brands.

Indeed, the industry observers, U.S. fashion brand executives and consumers on the streets of London interviewed for this story in the days before and just after President Bush’s reelection overwhelmingly agreed that politics and fashion rarely mix.

“There is quite a bit of underlying anti-American feeling and mistrust here, but it doesn’t cross over to the brands. Europeans are just not that crude,” said Stephen Cheliotis, brand liaison director for Superbrands, a London-based independent branding consultant.

Indeed, in the U.K., op-ed writers appear to be resigned to another four years of Bush.

“I suspect that many anti-Americans inwardly rejoice in an election result that will enable them to go on believing that the Americans are all trigger-happy, gas-guzzling religious maniacs,” wrote A.N. Wilson in The Evening Standard on Friday. And George Kerevan, writing in The Scotsman last week, said, “Anti-Americans should be aware of getting what they wish for — living without the Americans may prove worse than living with them. Like it or lump it, a Bush White House is now a fact of life. But if Scotland calms down a minute, we might discover that his America is a far less alien place than we imagine.” (The mainstream view in Scotland is anti-Bush.)

Still, Cheliotis said, “People are savvy enough to know the difference between the corporation and the country, and they are more loyal to brand names than anything else.”

Allyson Stewart-Allen, a director of International Marketing Partners Ltd., a marketing consulting firm based here, said she believes anti-American sentiment has peaked in Europe. “It’s already reached its zenith. People are getting used to four more years of Bush and a unilateral power,” she said in a telephone interview.
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