Monday, January 02, 2006

Anti-Americanism and the Lure of Le Big Mac

The Economist (subs req'd) recently ran this article about the effect of anti-Americanism on the European sales of American-based brands. An empirical examination by political scientists Peter Katzenstein (Cornell) and Bob Koehane (Princeton) reveals that far from suffering ill effects of anti-Americanism following the US invasion of Iraq, US-based brands are prospering in Europe. Indeed, the actual sales reflect a sort of "boycott gap" between what consumers say they will do and how they actually act. According to the Economist:

That sales of firms closely identified with the United States have not fallen overseas is, in some ways, surprising. Messrs Katzenstein and Keohane cite a December 2004 poll, conducted by Global Market Insite, in which thousands of consumers in eight countries (Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Britain and the United States) were asked two questions about 53 American companies: would they avoid American products because of recent American foreign policy and military action? And to what extent did they see particular companies as "extremely American"? Overall, 20% of European and Canadian consumers said they were consciously setting out to avoid American products.

The firms most vulnerable to consumer boycotts included American Airlines, United Airlines, General Motors, Wal-Mart, CNN, American Express, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Marlboro. Nike was not far behind. Immediately after the invasion of Iraq, several press reports trumpeted boycotts of American goods in Europe.

The Katzenstein/Keohane study showed no discernible effect of this expressed anti-Americanism or on the boycott movement to sales during the period:

They studied the revenues of three big American-based consumer-products companies --and three of their European competitors--in Europe and the Middle East between 2000 and 2004. The American firms were Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Nike. The three European firms, Adidas-Salomon, Cadbury Schweppes and Nestle, were chosen because they compete in the same industries. As Messrs Katzenstein and Keohane note: "If anti-Americanism had a significant impact on sales, one should find US-based firms' sales falling in 2003-04, when anti-American views rose sharply in Europe, compared to 2000-01...This fall in the sales of American firms should occur both in absolute terms and relative to the performance of European firms."

In fact, the opposite happened. Between 2000-01 and 2003-04 all six firms increased their European sales. American companies also grew at least as fast as their European rivals.

To what can this boycott gap be attributed? The Economist concludes that European customers can draw a distinction "between President Bush and a Big Mac." Or perhaps, as they suggest, it is because US-based brands adopt better marketing strategies to counter the anticipated boycott behavior. More likely, in my view, is the fact that these global "American brands" hardly seem so American anymore. Similarly, Nestle, which owns the venerable "American" brands Libby and Ralston-Purina, and Cadbury Schweppes, which owns Dr. Pepper and Snapple, hardly seem "European." Whom do brand boycotts against global corporations hurt? Local bottlers and distributors? Manufacturing workers? Management and shareholders? And what is the nationality of each of those affected parties?

The efforts of some Americans to boycott French products in the wake of French opposition to the US invasion of Iraq ran into this problem of distinguishing products. (Is the Jerry Springer show really French?) They also failed to have any effect on sales of French brands in the US. At a time when Anheuser-Busch still ends its advertisements in the U.S. with the tagline "Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri," but is acquiring beer companies in China with great speed, is there really such a thing as brand "nationality?"


Blogger Seth Weinberger said...

Excellent post, Peggy. I'd like to suggest another reason for the continued strength of US brands: the shallowness of much international anti-Americanism. A lot of the anti-Americanism we see in nominally pro-US countries is a knee-jerk reaction to US hegemony. That is, people hate the big kid on the block, no matter who that kid may be. The big kid is seen as a bully who threatens the interests of all around. For obvious reasons, the US is seen as the bully of the international block. The US is more powerful than any other country on nearly every meaningful metric of power, the US is capable of unilateral action, the US often acts contrary to the will of the community. However, there seems to be a subconscious recognition that, at the end of the day, the US is a force for good whose interests, at least much of time, are commensurate with those of the international community. Thus, the anti-Americanism is shallow, manifesting itself in vituperative statements and public opinion polls, but having little substance. Anne Appelbaum wrote an excellent piece on this in the July/August issue of Foreign Policy (
story/cms.php?story_id=3080) [subscription required]. True, at times, US policy has created a backlash that has caused other countries to oppose certain policies, but overall, few serious negative effects of anti-Americanism can be seen.

1/02/2006 12:24 PM  
Blogger Peggy McGuinness said...

I tend to agree which much of your comments. Anti-Americanism is a complex sentiment, whatever its source, and seems to exist on many levels.

Indeed, as part of their larger project, Katzenstein and Keohane have developed this typology of anti-Americanism (available at )

1) Liberal Anti-Americanism. Liberals may share the values of "the American creed" but criticize the United States for not living up to these values. Whether these views should be called "Anti-American" at all is questionable.

2) Welfarist Anti-Americans. People in this category may be very critical of the United States for its lack of a highly protective welfare state, and for such policies as the death penalty. But on other dimensions -- for example, support for democracy and opposition to terrorism -- they may be quite pro-American.

3) Sovereign-Nationalist Anti-Americanism. Nationalists in a variety of countries are likely to resent the United States when it appears to threaten their sovereignty or other interests, but not to have strong negative views toward the United States at other times.

4) Radical Anti-Americanism. Marxist-Leninists (of which only relatively few remain) and radical Islamists have in common rejection of what they view as dominant American values and a desire to weaken the United States as an actor in world politics.

5) Cultural Elitist Anti-Americanism. In France and to some extent elsewhere, intellectuals have for many decades, or even centuries, rejected the United States as culturally dominated by commercialism and crude popular tastes.

6) Legacy Anti-Americanism. Legacy anti-Americanism stems from resentment of past wrongs done by the United States to another society. For instance, Mexicans still resent past military interventions by the United States and American seizure in the 19th century of large amounts of Mexican territory.

Opinion polls tend to be less successful at unpacking these complex sources of sentiment.

1/02/2006 12:40 PM  
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