Why globalization can safely continue and why the charge of
anti-Americanism is not always valid, as told by JY&A Consulting to The
New York Times and expanded upon for this article
Jack Yan is founder and CEO of Jack Yan & Associates and
president of JY&A Consulting.
THERE are opposing forces between government and commerce, it seems. When Wally
Olins wrote Trading Identities,1 there was the impression
that governments have had to adopt the branding strategies of corporations,
while corporations had to behave themselves more as people became more fascinated
with them. Last year, I advanced the proposition that organizations had to become
more moral in light of cleverer consumers, the spread of news and rumour on
the internet, and the demand for good corporate citizenship.
Right now, the opposing forces appear to be at work again.
As the commercial world globalized, the US had done the opposite: the Bush administration
walked out of the UN racism conference in South Africa, withdrew from the Kyoto
protocol on global warming, and blocked its ratification of the International
After September 11, 2001, America reversed its policy. Siobhan
Roth in the Legal Times2 noted that the US had paid $582M
in back dues to the UN. The US sought multilateral support in its "war
on terror". Other nations’ military forces now help defend the United States
in its own airspace for the first time. There is a possibility that the US might
not get insular after the war is over; unlike the end of George Bush Sr’s term,
the writer leaves one with a glimmer of hope that the United States will not
withdraw from international obligations.
The Legal Times’ story came out the same week as The
New York Times’ articulate David Barboza wrote ‘When Golden Arches are too
red, white and blue’,3 pointing out that there was a nearly immediate
anti-American backlash on McDonald’s restaurants after the US’s raids on Afghanistan.
As the nation globalizes, corporations might cease to.
But as I wrote in ‘Brands
transcend economics (and The Economist)’,4 there does
not seem to be much wrong with the global economy. Brands remain strong, as
do the theories behind them. Global branding is a valid part of modern commerce.
In the west, global branding has only suffered setbacks with
organizations such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s not because of American imperialism,
but because of consumer choices. Consumers are smarter and more discerning.
There is a greater emphasis on individuality with the younger generation. Backing
the establishment for Generations X and Y is not cool. They are more aware,
with the information now available to them, of misbehaviours. McDonald’s has
a minimum-wage image, particularly Stateside, as Mr Barboza and I discussed
when he spoke to me about his article. The minimum-wage image wouldn’t be so
important if McDonald’s was not a $40 billion enterprise. I brought up the example
of Nike, another global brand, whose revenues have slipped in recent years,
because of mounting negative publicity over allegations of sweatshop labour.
Is anti-Americanism something inside America only? The
New York Times quotes Henry Kaufman at Salomon Brothers and Alan Brew at
Addison of San Francisco, both of whom believe the era of global brands is at
a standstill or an end. I can’t agree.
When I wrote ‘The moral globalist’ in response to attacks
on McDonald’s in May 2001,5 I pointed out that nation envy drove
the protesters. Mr Barboza was right to point out, quoting James L. Watson,
editor of Golden
Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia,6 that the protesters
are a tiny minority ‘who inflate the significance of McDonald’s because of what
the company symbolizes.’7 Indeed, without globalization, the same
protesters would never have heard of the things that they charge McDonald’s
‘It represents American popular culture and many of the features
that people might now loathe and despise,’ said Dr Watson to The New York
Times. And with it, continues the argument, comes the fear of the erosion
of local cultures.
Globalization cannot wipe local cultures People are quick to pounce on the US. It is allegedly creating a ‘McWorld
in which people in a standardized and ultimately antiseptic global village are
cowed into existing on Big Macs and fries’. The ‘McWorld’ which Mr Barboza quotes
is from Benjamin R. Barber’s Jihad
v. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Shaping the World.8
Global forces are at war with increased tribalism in many communities. But even
in the west this can be traced, and can be explained not by the fault of global
branding, but the increasing awareness of consumers.
Outside the occident, there may be a battle as Dr Barber says—but
from my travels American culture is never forced on individuals.
No, America is targeted for criticism because it can be: it
is a strong enough country that realizes it can become still stronger through
reflection. That is the freedom that the United States represents, what attracts
immigration, and internal national criticism is considered to be fundamental
to one’s freedom of speech. Other nations do not invite it. Therefore, the US
attracts both nation envy and criticism. That is the beacon of freedom that
prompted the September 11 attacks but terrorism should not sway America from
pursuing its path of freedoms and civil liberties as an example for the rest
of the world.
Think of other global products that are similarly visible
in some markets. Sweden’s H&M, quite the
fixture in New York, is getting global and no one seems to mindbecause
it produces good products for a good price, giving the impression that it could
not be profiting unfairly. It doesn’t play on the Swedish angle and the products
are made in Asia, anyway.
Everywhere I go there’s someone driving a Volkswagen Golf,
Honda Civic or a BMW 3-series, all in the top 20 of automobile sales.9
The Taliban militia and various African military forces are very happy with
their Toyota trucks, just as a farmer in Brazil or New Zealand might be. Yet
these don’t seem to be the target of effigy-burning or street protests on May
Because of the double standards, there’s some basis for saying
that the fundamental right of the freedom of speech should rightly be sacrosanct,
if it allows us to criticize, find faults, remedy them and become stronger.
There is also basis for saying that global corporations cannot
ever wipe local cultures. Local cultures are driven by pride, something that
can be taught and perpetuated through family and traditions. Indeed, the word
culture, by definition, requires this social-group teaching.
Operating in the commercial sphere, organizations influence
consumer behaviour, but opponents seem to believe that marketing changes people’s
souls. If there is proper education, there is no reason for anyone to be gulled.
It is why the Toyota truck is not a threat, even if they are very commonplace
and families have to make a far greater commitment to purchase one than a Big
Mac. In sales terms, the Toyota truck may form, in some countries, a larger
market share in the automotive market than McDonald’s in the food market.
It is the same argument as violence on TV. If children are
exposed continuously to violence without being taught right from wrong or the
meaning of honour or the ability to refrain, then they will be violent. Couple
it with education, they won’t be. The same methods keep them from spending madly
on products just because they are marketed.
Blaming corporations is a neat cop-out to taking responsibility
for proper education. Blaming America seems to be a neat item of hypocrisy.
The other American firms
The reason for McDonald’s and others being targeted with the attacks in the
subcontinent, for example, is their use of an American image-but not because
of globalization. Mr Barboza leaves the right impression in his article. It
is the fault of how McDonald’s has globalized (although he uses the qualifier
‘perhaps’), because there’s certainly no record, or few records, of equally
successful but less intrusive American firms who have received the same treatment.
We don’t hear of KimberlyClark being targeted, yet it spans the globe
in much the same way. Procter & Gamble quietly exists. In these firms, there
is no purposely crafted American image: it is not like going into Burger King
and being bombarded images of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and advertisements for a
1956 Buick. There is nothing about KimberlyClark that would upset ill-informed
There are ways out. The targeted corporations have already
tried to be good local citizens, in some cases. Thinking local is one way, but
in my opinion each of these organizations bring with them negative images of
greed. There is a contrast between the poverty of the front-line staff and the
happy images shown on television or in the smiling life-size figures of Ronald
McDonald. This draws more hatred in times of crisis. Where are the human rights
in minimum wages? In Nike’s labour practices in Indonesia? This behaviour is
not American and quite unlike the generosity that the US would like to portray.
In times of crisis, it is also this that invites protest.
Individual and global KimberlyClark, Sara Lee, Procter
& Gamble brands are obviously American. The contrast is not as noticeable.
Huggies and Pantene prevail in India and numerous other nations. The McWorld
charge can be levelled at them. (How much duller can it be? What great romance
comes from an American-designed diaper? Isn’t it more a threat of the shocking
American hegemony, worn by and influencing our youngest citizens?) But it is
The difference in attitudes towards these corporations can
only be explained by how the brands have been managed and promoted. The unaffected
American brands may survive through promoting an image of decency and those
common values we all admire: trust, honour and integrity. Trust is not the first
adjective that comes to mind as a result of McDonald’s or Coca-Cola’s marketing,
even if many of us trust the consistent quality that we might get from their
Finally, it will come down to education. Those who committed
the atrocities of September 11 and those who targeted McDonald’s branches in
Islamabad, Karachi, Makassar and Yogyakarta don’t see the hypocrisy. They don’t
see that the reasons for the attacks on New York and the Pentagon are due to
the good values that America stands for.
While there is corporate misbehaviour which has invited the
protests every bit as greatly as the wrongful belief that McDonald’s stands
for imperialistic evil, there is a lot of righteousness about the United States
that does not exist in their own nations.
We return to the nation envy of an America that is strong
because it does not shut its citizens up, that allows freedom of the press,
that permits criticism of its own leaders. People who voice their opinions are
not cut off at the head like tall poppies, but are accepted.
We risk the United States forgetting such values that made
it great as it tries to become merely "good enough" by passing legislation
that worry civil libertarians. Mayor Rudy Giuliani handed back a $10 million
cheque to HH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud, because an aide
of the Saudi prince implied that US foreign policy brought on the attacks. While
I do not agree with that conclusion, either, and was as incensed as the State
Department when it advised the $10 million be handed back, such a criticism
should be accepted as another’s viewpoint. The America I know would have.
There are signs it didn’t. When Congresswoman Cynthia A. McKinney
of Georgia expressed a similar viewpoint, fellow politicians such as Senator
Zell Miller called her comments ‘disgraceful,’ as it could be construed as ‘agreeing
with the enemy’ at a time of war.10
The possibility that it could have been US foreign policy
should have caused reflection and introspection. US foreign policy isn’t perfect
and there are aspects that polarize opinions, so let us make it better. I can’t
see many doing the same introspection—but Congresswoman McKinney did. I did,
too, when considering my own response, but I reach a different conclusion and,
Where is such criticism now embraced by people and media alike?
From my monitoring of the international press, the answer is Germany, which
has come to terms with the postwar era, the European Community and reunification.
There is nothing wrong about criticizing Chancellor Schröder, where proper
investigations into scandals is considered a fundamental part of a political
journalist’s job and where the press offers differing viewpoints to allow the
citizenry to analyse and make up its own mind.
We return to the same arguments I’ve been advancing for some
time in the disciplines of identity and branding. The moral globalist still
is the key to corporate success around the world. The image of being individual,
championing rights, sincerely believing in our fellow human beings. The promotion
of trust, not hypocrisy. Of values, not harm.
It’ll take a while for larger organizations to shift if existing
images are too strong. Don’t expect McDonald’s to be remedied in mere weeks.
But a path of conquering new markets and expansion is not wrong, provided it
is done with the greatest awareness of individual rights and freedoms, as well
as respect of local cultures. I stakehave stakedmy company’s work
and reputation on that.
The United States needs not change its policy on freedom;
the free world’s resolve should be steeled and a moral high ground can be takenbut
only once we reflect on the values that make us great, why they should be emphasized
in commercial endeavour such as McDonald’s, and conclude that the rights enshrined
in the US Constitution should be followed more sincerely.
The great adventure is the synergy that can result and an
emergence of new cultures, not one that is solely American, but one that is
richer and greater because of the valuable traits that it has inherited from
its progenitors. That is progress in human history. It could see the end of
racism and sexism. That, however, is another article altogether, with its own