Commentary: How U.S. Businesses Can Help Market Freedom

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Now that the tide of battle has begun to swing in our direction, anti-American rhetoric in the Arab world seems to have subsided, at least for now. What's more, the mainstream Arab press is cautiously suggesting the war cannot be laid entirely at our door. "The injustices that some of us commit to each other
Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'

Previous Columns.
far exceed those to which others subject us, even if neither is justified," a prominent Egyptian newspaper stated.

And it's becoming increasingly obvious what we're fighting isn't only terrorism but more broadly is religious totalitarianism. As Edward Rothstein wrote in The New York Times the other week, "No injustices, separately or together, necessarily lead to totalitarianism and no mitigation of injustice, however defined, will eliminate its unwavering beliefs, absolutist control and unbounded ambitions. Claims of 'root causes' are distractions from the real work at hand."

The goals of fundamentalist terror, Mr. Rothstein added, "are not to eliminate injustice but to eliminate opposition."

How freedom can flourish
That's not to say that trying to eliminate injustice -- or poverty or the other ills of humanity -- isn't worthwhile. Our job, in other words, is not just to promote the antithesis of totalitarianism -- freedom. It's to create environments where freedom can flourish. That won't eliminate extremists, but it will help cut down the number of people in the world sympathetic to their cause.

This is a job for U.S. business as well as the U.S. government. Anything that improves the ability of

people -- consumers -- to buy the goods and services our companies sell also enhances our government's ability to sell our country, especially to those who resent how our products and culture blanket the world. That means marketers need to do a better job of matching consumer needs with products that fulfill those needs, and at a cost consumers can afford.

If Sept. 11 has taught us anything, it's that we no longer have the luxury of viewing the world from our own perspective. Just as our brand of democracy, with all its refinements and sophistication, won't necessarily work in developing countries, our global brands won't necessarily work in all instances. A monolithic approach won't work for governments and it won't work for marketing.

What countries need is an infrastructure of small, local, democratically chosen government units, stripped of corruption, and small, capitalistic-based business companies. For both democracy and capitalism to take

Arabic Coca-Cola products.
hold, it needs to be structured from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Good corporate citizens
Coca-Cola Co. and Procter & Gamble Co. realize they can't sell the same products the same way around the world. Vitango, a vitamin and mineral-enhanced powdered drink from Coca-Cola, is undergoing clinical tests in Africa. P&G is selling a similar drink, Nutristar, in food stores and at local McDonald's restaurants. Both companies feel the drinks will help them be perceived as good corporate citizens and also smooth the way for their other, more mainstream brands.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a Coca-Cola document says its new drink is aimed in part at helping establish relationships with governments and schools that will "serve as a positive platform for brand Coca-Cola." In the same way, drug companies could market tailor-made, low-cost vitamins and other supplements to developing countries, products aimed at improving the diets of children and other at-risk people. U.S. food marketers could offer easy-to-eat staples laced with nutrition supplements.

U.S. companies and the U.S. government have the same goals in developing countries -- to make them feel better about us by showing we have their interests, as well as ours, in mind. You can make a good argument that our government should subsidize the brand-building and even nation-building activities of companies that market products tailored to the needs of developing countries.

If our government is serious about changing world attitudes toward the U.S., it needs to spread that gospel to U.S. marketers that do business overseas. Specifically, government needs to encourage U.S. business to bring their expertise to bear on the problems of developing nations. And if it takes some form of incentives to get the interest of business and make it worth their while, then let's get on with it.

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