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U.S. Products Losing Worldwide Popularity

Aired June 18, 2003 - 19:19   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, before the war in Iraq, U.S. officials encouraged Americans to punish France for its active opposition in the U.N.
The result: rampant renaming and American boycotts. Just about everything French: remember freedom fries?

But now small boycotts of iconically American products have been launched in Europe. But perhaps more troubling, new research suggests that American foreign policy may be leading to substantial shifts in attitudes overseas toward American brands on a much broader scale.

To talk about that, we're joined now, Tom Miller. He's managing director of Roper ASW Global Research, and as well as a consulting firm.

Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM MILLER, ROPER ASW GLOBAL RESEARCH: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: This luster off American brands, how serious is it?

MILLER: It's at risk to be quite serious. It's still building. And it could go in many different directions. It could continue to rise, or if corporate America responds appropriately, we think it can be held in check.

COOPER: When did you first notice the trend occurring?

MILLER: Well, actually, a couple of years ago or so. There's been a general wariness about American culture building certain places around the world. There'd been some resentment about our economic success, our military hegemony. A number of factors like that.

Of course, 9/11 came along. There was a huge outpouring of sympathy and empathy for most things American. But then fast-forward six months, there were the corporate scandals, the Enrons, the WorldComs, et cetera, that started to raise...

COOPER: And then, of course, the war on Iraq.

MILLER: Exactly. And then, of course, the war in Iraq.

COOPER: Let's take a look at some of the companies overseas with the decline in market strength. This is since 2002. McDonald's down 17 percent; Nike, 12 percent; Levi's, 8.5. All of these, as you said, iconic American brands. How big is the war in Iraq responsible for some of this?

MILLER: It's certainly a factor, but it's by no means the only factor. Again, it's sort of the culminating factor in the recent past that has kind of propelled things in that same direction.

There's no question but that the war, in which the way we went into it, and the way we're seen as having conducted it, raised a lot of serious questions in the minds of people around the world.

COOPER: What I think is scary about this, probably not only for the companies involved, but also even for policymakers and Americans, is that the American products, the American culture has always been, I mean, throughout the last several years, the last decade at least, sort of the bellwether strength, whether or not, you know, policies come and go out of that shift, but everyone sort of looked up to American culture in a way.

Is that basic strength threatened?

MILLER: Well, that strength is still there. There's no question about that. American entertainment, American media, American technology, the Web populated with English language sites, all of that is very important, still very much respected and looked to by consumers all around the world.

But now I'd say the situation is they're having second thoughts and they're more seriously considering local alternatives if they're offering the same quality at reasonable prices.

COOPER: Right. And in some areas they're coming up with, like, a local cola.

MILLER: Mexicola.

COOPER: Mexicola, exactly.

MILLER: Or Future Cola in China.

COOPER: Instead of Coca-Cola.

So how are American companies going to be responding to this?

MILLER: Well, I think there are a number of strategies that companies can adapt. One is to become much more sensitive to the local cultures, and sometimes even position themselves as local companies, very aligned with local sensibilities. And in fact, that is exactly what Coca-cola has been trying to do for the last two years, thinking local and acting local.

Another way is perhaps to change the imagery in some of their advertising and communications, maybe not tout the American connection quite so strongly.

COOPER: With American Express, that's going to be tough.

MILLER: That's going to be a challenge.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there. Tom Miller, appreciate you joining us from Roper ASW. Thank you very much.

MILLER: Thanks.

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