Death of Bin Laden and American ‘Brand’ Image

Guest Article by Efe Sevin

On Sunday May 1st, everyone was surprised to hear that President Obama was going to address the nation. Either he was really upset about not being invited to the Royal Wedding, or he had some ground-breaking news. As we all know right now, the President confirmed the death of Osama Bin Laden. Yet, what are the effects of his death on America’s brand image?

I will focus on three different aspects of the event. Here, I am not trying to blame or praise anyone. I am not looking at the event from a political perspective per se. I solely aim to highlight the impacts of such an event on American brand image and international perception of this image.

1) Obama Got Osama

One way to look at the operation is ‘Obama Got Osama’. A decade after 9/11, the United States was able to find and eliminate the person who was deemed to be responsible for the attacks in addition to several other terrorist activities. In other words, it will be more difficult right now to criticize the military capabilities of the United States. The mere fact that Osama bin Laden was able to hide from the US forces had been used by several political figures (as well as comedians) as a sign of weakness. Therefore, American ‘might’ is restored as an aspect of the brand image.

2) Justice Has Been Done

The second and third elements should be considered from a more critical perspective. Bin Laden’s death is framed as ‘justice being done’ by the Obama administration and American media (with a few exceptions). Yet, if we are to bring in a critical perspective here, it is possible to raise questions about his rights to defend himself during a trial. Succinctly stated, we are standing on an ethically-gray area. I want to further discuss two points:

            2.a) No civilians hurt

Now, the operation was carried out in a professional manner by Navy SEALs, where no civilian was hurt. The troops got into bin Laden’s compound to retrieve him, and shot him in an act of self-defense. Good point for the brand: US cares about civilian causalities to an extent that the military strategies are created accordingly.

         2.b) “Osama is Dead” Parties

I live in the DC area. When Obama gave his address, I was far from downtown so couldn’t witness the celebrations first-hand, yet I can tell you the celebrations (a mixed expression of pride, nationalism, revenge, satisfaction, and a pinch of guilt) continued in the following days – from free Osama shots at bars to chants. Not so good point for the brand: US seeks revenge….Americans can see the death of a person as a great cause to celebrate.

3) A legally questionable cross-border operation

The last point I want to make is about the logistics. At the end of the day, US troops did go into Pakistani territory, carried out an operation, and left. Only after they left, Pakistani authorities were informed. No one in Pakistan (well except for Sohaib Athar and his twitter followers) knew anything. Another not so good point for the brand: US does not care about international law, or the rights of sovereign countries when its interests are at stake.

Long story short, there are a couple of positive and negative brand image outcomes of the event. But, the most important point, maybe what is ‘uniquely’ American, in this operation is the US’s ability of ‘having its cake and eating it, too’. Osama was ‘shot’, but then again civilians were not hurt. There were parties across the nation, but then again several articles criticized this behavior. Justice (read revenge) has been done, but then again discussions about whether or not Osama should have been brought in front of a court took place. I argue that this is not necessarily a carefully planned communication strategy unfolding, but the Americans’ tolerance for diverse views and ideas. Therefore, the US manages to come out of any event as the ‘good’ guy, regardless of legal or ethical boundaries it might have crossed. This should be a great lesson for those trying to brand places with one voice… You can create a short term marketing strategy with a unified-voice, but a strong brand requires (and is supported by) diversity.

Here is a clip from South Park. Just to let you know, this is from an episode which was produced around 7 years ago… The discussion and conclusion are the same. Diversity, being able to criticize yourself domestically (and not trying to oppress critical views) enables you to have your cake and eat it, too.


About Efe

I read and write about political communication stuff and I play with data to see what they have to say. I also love to cook.
This entry was posted in miscellaneous, opinions. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Death of Bin Laden and American ‘Brand’ Image

  1. Ares says:

    Let me use the term “reputation” instead of “brand” in this case, despite the overlapping between the two. Now arguably reputation is always perceived, and will therefore always remain subjective. Observing the episode from Europe (in particular Germany where a majority of the population criticized the Chancellor for saying she was “pleased” Bin Laden was murdered), things look very different. I would not say the US reputation was harmed, on the contrary, I think the US acted “in character”, i.e. the way people expect it to act: respecting or ignoring international law, supporting or undermining democracy as it pleases. More than anything else the Bin Laden killing strengthens this image.

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