Brand USA

by chateauy

Sadly, my post on the US was not sponsored by Brand USA – the US’s first coordinated international tourism marketing campaign (but do let them know I’ll write some posts on my favourite US towns if there’s a free airfare in it!). It seems that the impressions that my Gen Y peers have of the US: too familiar, middle aged, brash, are shared by a pretty large proportion of the world at the moment and this has contributed to the US losing almost 7% of the total travel market over the last decade.

Brand USA, which has just been launched, is the US’ attempt to lure that lucrative tourist dollar. Funded by the ESTA fees paid by international visitors and by private donations, this marketing campaign will be trying to remind us to associate the States with freedom, possibilities and pop culture.

I think they have done a pretty decent job of capturing the American spirit in words. An excerpt:

“America is more than a destination.

It’s a land where everything is possible, so anything is possible.

Where imagination becomes reality, and nothing is too new, too big or too far away to actually happen.

a collective culture that is only as robust as the stories and personalities that contribute to it...

We want to remind the world that this country is filled with boundless possibilities that open up even more possibilities within ourselves.”

With stats showing that 35 overseas tourists create 1 American job, the Government must have been hoping that these words would be turned into a masterpiece that will seduce the masses – in time for a November election.

Unfortunately, the commercial they have created under the moniker Discover America really doesn’t bring this language to life. Frankly, it’s pathetic.

Rather than reaching for the stars and inspiring us – the American Way – the ad tries to show how the US can be something for everyone – whether it be wineries, forests, beaches, cities, the US can meet every holiday need.

For most of the ad you could be excused for not knowing what country they are talking about. A montage of great scenic shots interspersed with shots of great food and friends laughing together set to a downbeat feelgood song? Well that could be any number of countries – NZ, Australia, Canada…

And what do they do to convince us that the US really is the “land of dreams”?  Give the ad an irritating soundtrack which repeats this phrase again and again. Because repetition is the key…

Overall, the ad takes a safe path which achieves the same kind of mediocrity of most tourism ads.


If you want great scenery, go to NZ, go to Iceland, go to Switzerland (if you have a trust fund). There’s no doubt that there’s beauty in America, but it’s spread much further apart than those countries where there’s breathtaking sights around every corner. And if you want to laugh with friends against a pretty backdrop, go to Asia where you can do it over a few 10c beers.

The US is special because it can inspire you to pick yourself up, stretch yourself out to be the most you can be and throw caution to the wind as your determination to carve out a future that excites you projects you to carry on with your life in a whole new way, believing that no-one will stop you now.

The song that Brand USA should have used? The awesome all American anthem, “Carry on,” by New York band, Fun. And perhaps for Britain – one of the first targets of the campaign, go cheeky with Planet Funk’s “Who Said”: “I’ve never been to the USA. I’m a slave for the minimum wage. Detroit, New York and LA. But I’m stuck in the UK.”


And the footage? Break the beautiful scenic- and city-scapes up with shots of great US moments. Footage of Woodstock, of Hollywood during the golden era of cinema, of Billie Holiday live in Chicago, of the civil rights protests, of an early Elvis performance, of Sesame Street (which is set in Manhattan), of Haight-Ashbury in its hey day, of a Nirvana concert in Seattle, of Joni Mitchell and Frank Zappa and Joan Baez in the heady Laurel Canyon days, of Kerouac and Ginsburg and all those cats at Citylights Bookstore in San Fran, of the Declaration of Independence plaque in Rockefeller Square. Plus some shots of pop-cultural-history-in-the-making moments that tourists have a window of opportunity to participate in: hipsters in Williamsburg, Lady Gaga playing Times Square, an indie gig outside a microbrewery in Portland, a roller derby in Austin.

America is the backdrop of nearly every pop cultural touchstone of recent decades and, although their economy is in tatters, the music, TV and film that we discuss at the water cooler at morning tea and seek solace in at the end of the day will continue to come from America. That stuff’s important – it shapes how we see the world and creates an unspoken bond between us, our peers and millions of strangers around the world. These cultural touchstones are locked so deep within us that we’re unaware of their hold on us, often shrugging the US off as passé until a simple comment about Greenwich Village or Dollywood stirs an odd feeling of nostalgia for a country that is home – even if we’ve never been there.

Brand USA didn’t need to convince us that the US is great.  It just needed to remind us that it’s intrinsically part of who we are.