An Ad Man Mentions Damage to America’s Brand and Corporate Media Wakes Up

By Pam Martens: October 24, 2013

Cover of the German Magazine, Der Spiegel, November 5, 2012

When Martin Sorrell speaks about America’s brand, important people listen. Sorrell is CEO of the monster advertising and marketing company, WPP, a brand unremarkable to the average worker around the world. Sorrell took recognized advertising brands like J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam, and Grey, bundled them with mega public relations firms like Hill & Knowlton and Burson-Marsteller to sit atop the image makers of the new world order.

WPP – the parent brand – stands for Wire and Plastics Products Plc, a name which likely 9 out of 10 people around the world could not identify. But don’t question the brand masters of the universe.

Earlier this month, Sorrell was quoted in the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper on the potential for a shutdown of the U.S. government. Sorrell said, “If you were running a company like this, and stopped paying your workers, you’d get fired.” Sorrell said shutdown “is almost like going into Chapter 11 or bankruptcy. The Americans I talk to are frustrated and embarrassed,” adding that the “impact on Brand America is not good at all.”

Today, CNBC is airing an interview with Sorrell where he delves deeper into America’s brand damage, following Germany’s charge that the U.S. has been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. Sorrell said: “Firstly, there’s the privacy issue, the Snowden situation and what we’ve had — all those revelations which continue to flow out….the second level is this paralysis of government, these extremities in the Democratic Party, in the Republican Party, the Tea Party which I think have caused significant damage to Brand America abroad.”

The echo chamber is now in full buzz with the Wall Street Journal’s web site picking up the story early this morning with this summary: “WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell said the latest allegations over U.S. data surveillance could have serious consequences for the image of the U.S. as well as for the advertising industry, where data is playing an increasingly crucial role.”

To synthesize what one of the world’s most powerful brand makers is saying, allow me to relate a personal experience from yesterday. I was curious to see what some U.S. women are willing to spend on a pair of shoes at a time when 46 million of their fellow Americans are living below the poverty level. I Googled “Jimmy Choo” and clicked on a pair of $995 skyscrapers residing next to a pair of $2995 wonders themed as a “scintillating mix of crystals casts flashbulb dazzle across a red carpet–ready pump, perched atop a slim heel.” For the rest of the day, as I researched mind-numbingly dull economic data all over the internet, the $995 Jimmy Choo pumps popped up on my screen, tempting and teasing me to succumb to seduction. (All this stealthy marketing to reach a woman’s closet limited to a few pairs of sneakers and hiking shoes.)

Angela Merkel’s mobile phone and Martin Sorrell’s worry about a consumer backlash against data collection will hopefully do for America what no amount of dismal economic rankings have been able to accomplish – grabbing Washington’s attention over America’s dangerous slump in everything from literacy, to math skills to infant mortality.

Earlier this month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published an alarming report on how far the U.S. lags its global competitors. The “Survey of Adult Skills” was conducted in the United States from August 1, 2011 through March 31, 2012. The report found that in the category of literacy, only 12 percent of Americans scored in the highest level compared to almost double that amount (22 percent) in Finland and Japan.

Lagging math (numeracy) skills in the U.S. were even more frightening with approximately one in three Americans ranking near the bottom. Ten countries scored higher than the U.S. in the numeracy category.

Last November, the German news magazine Der Spiegel depicted a terminally ill Uncle Sam on its front cover. The magazine suggested that one of the reasons for America’s decline was that our brightest young people no longer focus their talents and energies on enriching America’s future, but rush to Wall Street to line their pockets. According to the article, “About a third of the students in every graduating class at Harvard University accepts jobs in investment banking and consulting, or with hedge funds — that is, industries that produce one thing above all: fast money….”

A September 2012 report from the OECD raised equally alarming findings. The report said the U.S. ranks 14th among 37 OECD and G20 countries in the percentage of 25 to 34 year olds boasting higher education attainment, putting the U.S. 20 percentage points behind the leader, Korea, at 65 percent.

The study also found that the U.S. ranks 26th in the percentage of 4-year olds enrolled in early childhood education programs.

According to a May 2012 UNICEF study on childhood poverty rates, the U.S. ranks 34th out of 35 economically advanced countries. Only Romania had a higher relative childhood poverty rate.

According to the 2012 World’s Mothers report from Save the Children, mothers in the U.S. face a one-in-2,100 risk of maternal death, the highest of any industrialized nation. Forty countries were ahead of the U.S. for lower childhood deaths before age 5.

Clearly, spying and political gridlock are not the only critical concerns to America’s future.


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