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Commentary by Rance Crain

WILL FRENCH AND GERMAN MARKETERS BE BOYCOTTED?

New Kinds of Warfare Use Consumers as Combatants

By Published on .

I saw a news clip on CNN the other day about a liquor-store proprietor emptying bottles of wine from France and Germany into the gutter to protest the hard time those
Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'

Previous Columns.
countries' governments were giving our country on Iraq. And then I heard on CNBC that a restaurant in North Carolina has renamed its french fries "freedom fries."

Since Americans are never bashful about letting their feelings be known (witness the hundreds of thousands here who recently protested the possibility of war with Iraq), marketers of French and German products should brace for a slow-building-but-widespread slowdown of sales.

Coddling a dictator
Even if you have doubts about attacking Iraq, France and Germany are being accused of giving aid and comfort to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. And now that South Korea has said it won't help if the U.S. decides to rid North Korea of the means to make nuclear bombs, South Korea's brands, such as Samsung and Hyundai, could also be under siege.

After all, consumers around the globe, upset with this or that U.S. policy, have taken out their displeasure on our very visible worldwide brands. So why shouldn't our consumers react in similar ways (hopefully without the rock throwing)?

It's how the world works these days. Marketers the world over are drooling over the vast potential of China. (More people saw the National Basketball Association All-Star game in China than in the U.S., thanks to the huge popularity of Houston Rockets center Yao Ming.) It won't be too many years before China will start exporting its own branded goods to the U.S., much like Japan eventually did after World War II.

Commerce, the great leveler
Commerce is a great leveler. China's Communist government will become more and more hospitable to Western influence and viewpoints, if only to continue to attract capital. And, when it becomes a major brand exporter, it must walk softly so as not to alienate foreign consumers.

Rogue countries such as North Korea and Iraq don't give a hoot what people (consumers) around the world think of them because they've got nothing to sell them, anyway (and certainly tourists don't want to go there).

Iraq and the Middle Eastern countries, of course, have one trump card to play: oil. But we in the U.S. have a pretty good card ourselves: our consumers. Sooner or later they're going to understand the power they have to influence the economic prosperity of countries that enjoy poking us in the eye to make themselves feel important -- nevermind the need to present a united front to our common foes.

When enough U.S. consumers 1) get angry; and 2) realize there's something they can do about it, they can become a potent force to moderate the American-bashing that the French and Germans take such a delight in.

Egging on consumers
Some U.S. news media are taking great relish in egging consumers to get mad and then get even. The New York Post, in one of its headlines, called France and Germany "the Axis of Weasel." But French and German companies can't do much to ameliorate the ire of U.S. consumers because they can't take a lower profile.

The present leaders of both France and Germany were in danger of losing elections until they ramped up their anti-U.S. rhetoric. Wouldn't it be sweet if American consumers can put more pressure on their silly posturing than all the might of the U.S. government?

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