Branded in the USA

Summer intern Ramaa Chitale examines branding on the country level and how the World's Fair resembles a trade show.

In July 2009, The United States announced it would participate in the 2010 Shanghai World’s Exposition after months of speculation that the U.S. would not be attending next year’s event. The 2010 Expo, whose theme is “better city, better life,” will host pavilions from around the world emphasizing better urban living practices. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. pavilion will “showcase American business and technology, as well as cultures and values to foster stronger friendship between the American and Chinese peoples.”

I find World’s Fairs fascinating both for their historical purpose and the destruction that inevitably follows the end of the show.  I have often wondered why a country would spend so much money to build a huge pavilion for a few months, only to tear it all down.  Re-examining my question through the lens of my PR internship here at Greenough it became a little more clear. 

Perhaps these expositions, like trade shows are more about branding than they are about the products they sell.  For example, at a trade show you experience hot new products showcased by the manufacturer's representatives.  Consciously or not, you begin to associate the company (or country in the case of the World's Fair) with that human face.  Even after the new product's novelty wears off, and something new comes along, the brand image remains.  This article from branding strategy insider explores more of that debate.

Although it's impossible to analyze an event a year into the future, I can't help but wonder how people will remember Shanghai.  How will the US be branded in the eyes of the attendees?  What do you think?  Are trade shows and World's Fairs still relevant?  Or, with increasing access to the "human face" of brands through social media channels, will we no longer need to travel to Shanghai or Las Vegas to get the same experience?

- Contributed by Ramaa Chitale.