America Is Not Living Up to Its Brand Promise
It's a concept that has defined America since its inception. Land of the free. Let freedom ring. Free to be you and me.
Many of us grew up being told America is the greatest—and freest—nation on earth. From history to politics to society, freedom is so ingrained in American culture that we assume it has been, and always will be, an intrinsic part of who we are—as a country and as individuals.
Freedom is what the first English colonists who came to the New World were seeking. In addition to escaping religious persecution, they wanted freedom from England, the monarchy, and unfair taxes.
When the United States of America began to take shape, freedom was enshrined in our founding documents known as the Charters of Freedom, made up of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
It was the culmination of these three documents that set the foundation for our country's brand.
Think of the Declaration of Independence as a brand manifesto, the inspirational proclamation that describes why America exists, and most importantly, why people should care. Its opening statement captures the essence of our country's purpose, using emotionally compelling language that aims to connect with, engage and motivate its audience:
- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The Constitution represents our country's brand vision, the ideas that determine our long-term trajectory—what we want to become, and ultimately, what we hope to achieve. In its first three words, the Constitution establishes the United States as a nation to be ruled not by a king, dictator, or even the president, but by "We The People." It outlines fundamental laws that ensure the brand vision stays on track "in Order to create a more perfect Union."
Lastly, the Bill of Rights serves as brand values, the actionable principles that guide the brand and what it stands for. These first 10 amendments to the Constitution include freedom of speech, press and assembly, among other rights and protections. Brand values are what influence a brand's identity, personality and culture.
Together, these documents formed a country like no other. Indeed, America was the first of its kind—a radical, revolutionary brand with a simple, yet powerful brand promise:
A brand promise is one of the most impactful aspects of branding. It affirms an intention, an expectation to be met—even exceeded. It's a commitment to transform the brand experience into reality.
America was built on the promise of freedom.
But a promise is only good if it's kept. As a brand evolves, it must stay true to its promise and strive to deliver on it time and time again. That consistency is what inspires belief in a brand, creating brand loyalists, people who help to uphold its ideals.
When a brand doesn't live up to its promise, it breeds distrust and damages a brand's credibility. Whether there's been a change in leadership or priorities have shifted, it stops fulfilling the needs and desires of its brand loyalists. In short, the brand loses its purpose.
This is a death sentence for a brand.
When people begin to question the motivations behind a brand and can't find a reason to remain loyal to it, the brand ceases to be relevant. Keeping a brand promise is essential to a brand's reputation, and ultimately, its success. And therein lies the problem:
America is failing on freedom.
In fact, our country has been struggling to deliver on its brand promise from the beginning. The Founding Fathers, while admirable in some attributes, were not without fallibility. Freedom was good in theory, but not necessarily in practice. Right away there were glaring oversights that directly contradicted America's brand promise of freedom—for example, entire groups of people were intentionally left out of the Charters of Freedom.
Let's start with the obvious. The term "men" is often and consistently used. Even if "men" is meant to be interpreted as all of humanity, social inequality clearly existed then, as it does today, across race, gender, age, disability, class and more. Unless you were part of the exclusive group of white, wealthy landowning men, the promise of freedom, and all the benefits that come with it, did not apply.
Most Black people remained slaves from America's founding until the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Native Americans weren't granted U.S. citizenship until 1924. And to this day, women are still not recognized as equal under the law, nor are they guaranteed the same rights and protections as men.
Can America truly stand for freedom if more than half of the population is denied it?
The World Population Review shows that the U.S. doesn't even make the cut for the top 10 countries for freedom. With the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, America's ranking will surely continue to drop. After all, what greater expression of freedom is there than the right to choose what's best for one's own body, health and life?
The Supreme Court's abortion ruling is opposed by the majority of Americans and in direct defiance of America's brand promise. When six conservative justices reversed 50 years of precedent and determined that personal autonomy should be controlled by a state government and not the individual—including a 10-year-old rape victim—we no longer embodied a country "by the people, for the people."
Almost immediately, the European Union's parliament reacted by condemning the U.S. abortion ruling. This action prompted a vote in favor of a resolution protecting abortion care as a fundamental human right in the EU.
It's a stark wakeup call to witness the world's changing perceptions of America as a result of its inability to deliver on freedom.
Yet our declining brand image is not a new phenomenon. In the last five years, events including the outcome of the 2016 election have caused America to now be listed as a "backsliding democracy." (Source: Global State of Democracy Report)
Mass shootings, a uniquely American problem, and continued gun violence also contribute to our negative brand image. Consequently, these incidents make it harder for our country to fulfill its brand promise.
In an ideal world, freedom would encompass every aspect of our lives, just as a brand promise lives in every touchpoint of the audience lifecycle. Freedom means not only the right to personal autonomy, but the right to personal safety; to live in a country without fear of being shot or killed by a gun. And yet, that happens at an alarmingly high rate on a daily basis here—from concerts and movie theaters to churches and elementary schools.
According to a report on global comparisons of gun policy by the Council on Foreign Relations, gun violence is the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the U.S. We have less than 5 percent of the world's population, but nearly 50 percent of the world's civilian-owned guns. We rank No. 1 in firearms per capita, and just this year we've had at least 314 mass shootings and more than 22,000 people have died from gun violence.
America's obsession with guns is rooted in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Of all the brand values that typify the U.S., the right to bear arms supersedes all of them. Its meaning has been twisted, distorted and manipulated to justify our country's gun violence, as well as our bizarre tolerance of assault weapons, for decades.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), and the politicians funded by the lobbying organization (mostly Republican), have made the right to own a gun synonymous with America's brand promise of freedom—despite the fact that it enables the very opposite.
Make no mistake: Freedom is not guns or abortion bans. It isn't racism or sexism. It's not hate, intolerance or oppression.
Freedom is a philosophical concept. Merriam Webster defines it as:
- The quality or state of being free ... the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action … liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another … independence.
On the Fourth of July this year, President Joe Biden stated:
- America is an idea. An idea that is stronger than any army, bigger than any ocean, more powerful than any dictator or tyrant. It gives hope to the most desperate people on earth, it guarantees that everyone is treated with dignity and gives hate no safe harbor. It instills in every person in this country the belief that no matter where you start in life, there's nothing you can't achieve if you work at it.
If our nation is meant to be ruled by "We The People," then it's up to us to get to work and make America's brand promise a reality.
Right now, a tiny fraction of people in power are defining what the brand of America should stand for through an alternative narrative. It is a story built on lies, fear and control—and it is the antithesis to freedom.
Our country is not perfect, and it was founded imperfectly. But that brand promise of freedom—to live life the way we, as individuals, choose to live it—is what unites us.
America is made up of a kaleidoscope of people from around the globe with varying thoughts, opinions and beliefs. This diversity is one of our greatest strengths. It enhances our creativity, broadens our perspective, and when embraced, makes us more empathetic to others.
For over 245 years, our democracy has been evolving. Hopefully, we as Americans will continue to as well. But it's essential that we take action.
I often refer back to the saying "Democracy is not a spectator sport," because it evokes personal responsibility, particularly when it comes to our most basic civic duty: voting.
In 2020, one-third of Americans didn't vote—that's 80 million people. While Trump lost the popular vote, he still became president and appointed three lifetime justices into office during his one term. Both incidents altered the face, and legitimacy, of the U.S. presidency and the Supreme Court forever.
Right now, the single most important thing we can do for our country is to amplify the message of voting to motivate our fellow Americans like no other time in history.
Imagine if every ad agency, media company, Fortune 500 corporation and Hollywood celebrity talked about voting on their platforms during election season. What if Election Day became a federal holiday where citizens had equal opportunity and access to voting? Think how different our country would be if we had a policy of one person one vote, instead of our outdated Electoral College. And just consider the impact if voting became the next popular Tik Tok trend to go viral, inspiring a movement where all 258 million eligible people cast their ballot.
Why is voting so important? Because it's our ticket to freedom—quite literally.
America's brand promise is inherently tied to us, the people who make up this nation. As such, our country's survival depends on everyone participating in democracy. We cannot let disillusionment, frustration or apathy about politics prevent us from getting involved in helping to uphold our democracy—whether it's phone banking, writing postcards, making social posts, or simply having conversations with others.
Above all, we have to increase awareness on, and generate excitement about, voting in every election: national, state and local.
This year, abortion rights will be on the ballot in several states. In our two-party system, it must be stated that only the Democratic Party is working to keep individual choice a fundamental right. Time and again, the Republican Party has obstructed or actively attacked our rights, limiting our choices in an attempt to control everything from who we love and how we live, to how we access healthcare and even how we vote.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, more than 440 bills related to restricted voting access were introduced in 49 states last year. While Democratic-led states worked to expand voter access, 19 states (mostly Republican-controlled) enacted 34 laws making it much harder to vote.
With voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering at an all-time high, voter turnout in every election from here on out will be more critical than ever. If that's not enough to provoke action, know that Trump's top allies are currently preparing to radically reshape the federal government if he is re-elected. At that point, it won't be just America's brand promise that doesn't have a chance, it will be America itself.
In the iconic words of Janis Joplin, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
Currently, we have a lot to lose—in fact, we're witnessing some of those losses right now. That's why it's imperative that each of us does our part to reclaim America by supporting the Democratic Party through our vote, and our efforts to get out the vote.
Only then will America have the opportunity to deliver on its brand promise and truly be the country that it can, and should, be.
It's never too early to get out the vote and help uphold our democracy. To get involved, check out these organizations: Vote Save America, Vote Forward, When We All Vote, Swing Left, The States Project, Rock the Vote, VoteEqualityUS, Center for Common Ground and Red Wine & Blue.