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November 2009

Blame It On Rio

Rio-olympic-logo As anticipated, pundits on all sides of the political spectrum are interpreting Chicago's Olympic snub as evidence of continuing anti-Americanism.  

Even President Obama's popularity in the left-leaning quarters of the world, they sniff, couldn't rub off on his adopted home town.  John R. Miller, a former Republican pol and State Department ambassador-at-large opined in the New York Times that "public opinion, it seems, is driven less by current events or decisions than by a deep resentment of America's powerful status."  

The lesson he drew from all this? "Pay less attention to foreign opinion surveys and more to our own ideals and interests."  Unfortunately, I think Miller is wrong on both his analysis of Chicago's failure and the lessons he draws from it.  

As the Times' sports section makes clear, Chicago's loss has less to do with the quality of its proposal than with an intramural fracas within the International Olympic Committee itself.  The U.S. Olympic Committee has had a rocky relationship with other IOC members ever since the Salt Lake City Games were tainted by a bidding scandal.  And many were irritated by its recent efforts to undercut the IOC's biggest funding source by establishing its own Olympic TV network. Finally, the eventual winner, Rio de Janeiro, offered the opportunity to hold the Olympics in South America for the first time. Anti-Americanism may not have played much, if any, of a role.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  

But even assuming the problem was that "nobody likes us," as Miller's column headline suggested, the solution is not to adopt a "who cares" attitude.  That might have worked in the 19th century -- or even in the first two-thirds of the 20th -- but it won't fly in the 21st.  

Think of the biggest issues America faces -- nuclear proliferation, terrorism, pandemics, the economy, etc.  None of them can be addressed unilaterally. Even a country as powerful as the U.S. needs the cooperation of other countries in dealing with them.  And the latitude foreign leaders have to work with a U.S. president is a function the trust their own people have in us. One example: would Sarkozy and Brown have stood with George W. Bush to challenge Iran's hidden nuclear site? 

Darwinian Branding

Chimp in pinstripes

There's an interesting discussion about
Maslow's Hierarchy going on at Nigel Hollis' blog.  Hollis is chief global analyst for the Millard Brown research firm, and he always has something interesting to say about brands and social trends. 

In his latest post, he kicked off a discussion about the branding implications of Maslow's insight.  In short (and this doesn't do his argument justice), Hollis thinks the future of brands may lie in moving up Maslow's Hierarchy from physiological needs (e.g., food and sleep) to the more transcendent (e.g., self-actualization).  

As my contribution to the discussion, I pointed out that Maslow, who posited his theory in 1943, might have taken a different approach had he had the benefit of recent discoveries in evolutionary psychology.  It seems that the so-called "hierarchy of needs" is not as linear as it first appears. For example, it may be that the need to create shared meaning (which branding trades on) lies not in the upper levels of the hierarchy, but at its base.  It could be as basic and necessary as food and shelter.  

I suggested that every brand would benefit by finding the Darwinian roots of its promise -- i.e., how it contributes to survival, reproduction and kinship. Nigel generously expanded on the point by suggesting that, whatever needs a brand addresses, the key is to differentiate itself. "Higher order needs are simply an additional means of differentiation," he observes.