The Call of U.S. Brands' Cachet

The U.S. embassy on Grosvenor Square here is still ringed with concrete antiterrorism barricades, and in Britain it's as fashionable as ever to decry...

with contributions from Tosin Mfon
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Consumerism apparently trumped the political ideals of Rowan Lowe, a 20-year-old University of London student, as she patronized a Starbucks in Covent Garden, in part because it accepted debit cards as payment. "I would never [normally] shop at Gap and Starbucks, as to me they are the face of capitalism," Lowe stated. "I try to avoid American brands," she said, "but I do sometimes shop [Starbucks] as there are not that many independent coffee shops. You don't always have a choice."

These shoppers were typical of the sort described by brand consultant Rita Clifton, who observed, "First and foremost [consumers think], 'Do I like this brand? Is it for me?'" Only after that, continued Clifton, chairman of the U.K. unit of consultant Interbrand, "is a brand's origin part of its appeal."

For 2007, seven of the 10 global brands Interbrand rated as the strongest worldwide were U.S.-based, including Coca-Cola, ranking first; Microsoft, second; IBM, third; General Electric, fourth; Intel, seventh; McDonald's, eighth, and Walt Disney, ninth. The Interbrand rankings of the top 100 brands are based on its assessment of a brand's current and projected net sales, its influence on a customer's decision to buy it at point-of-purchase and its ability to secure loyal customers. The dollar value Interbrand subsequently attaches to each brand — say, $12 billion for Nike, $5 billion for Gap or $3 billion for Polo Ralph Lauren — represents the consultant's estimate of how much a brand is contributing to its company's market capitalization, Jez Frampton, Interbrand's global chief executive officer, said in an interview earlier this year.

"A lot of people are able to separate the U.S. political system from U.S. culture," said Suki Larson, ceo of Provenance, the luxury goods arm of ad agency M&C Saatchi. "A lot of people love what's great about the States. It's viewed as having strength in outdoor brands, such as The North Face and Patagonia, and in items rooted in technology, such as Tumi and Samsonite."

Buoyed by their popularity in Europe, several U.S. brands are raising their profile in the region. American Apparel opened a store in Glasgow on Nov. 19, followed by its fifth store in London, in Covent Garden, on Nov. 26. Its sixth store in London, at Oxford Circus, is set to bow Monday, giving the retailer eight U.K. stores. A CK Jeans store, also carrying underwear and accessories, is slated to make its debut Dec. 5 on London's Regent Street, and in the spring a CK jewelry and watch store is scheduled to open on South Molton Street.

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