Damn Yankees

American brands are sparking enduring trends abroad. So why do they hate us for it?

You've heard it: Americans are boorish. We know little about world history and want to make the globe one big Disneyland. People worldwide are fighting the perceived threat of Americanism.

In 1999, a McDonald's in France was torn down by farm equipment. The windows of a McDonald's in Davos, Switzerland, were smashed at January 2000's World Economic Forum. Now China is condemning Starbucks for its presence in Beijing's Forbidden City, and the British press ridicules the chain, saying it capitalizes on "the precious pickiness of American consumerism and offer[s] you more coffees than you need."

So we just can't win, eh? Well, the success of top American brands abroad says we can-and that's the problem. "If there is cultural imperialism, it is definitely American," says John Quelch, dean and professor of marketing at the London Business School. Quelch says a level of anti-American sentiment has existed around the world since the '60s. It's more prevalent among consumers than in the B2B world because, Quelch says, it's an "emotionally founded hostility" not grounded in economic reality. Many overseas consumers deliberately buy local products over American ones , and U.S. brands work around that by partnering with or buying stakes in foreign brands.

Any exceptions? "Any small business that's predicated on technological innovation and is differentiated and superior," says Quelch, "can expand globally very effectively using the Internet as a vehicle for promotion."

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