A Nation United Under Brands

CHICAGO Conventional wisdom has it that we live in an America bitterly divided into opposing camps: the “red states” and the “blue states.” But in many cases, those camps are remarkably like-minded when it comes to their attitudes about brands, according to a survey commissioned by WPP Group’s J. Walter Thompson that is set to be released this week.

People who live in blue states, those with more heavily urban populations and which fell in Democrat John Kerry’s column, do have a greater predilection toward technology brands, while the red states, those in the heartland and the South, won by President Bush, lean favorably toward more familiar and traditional brands, according to Marian Salzman, a freelance strategist who oversaw the survey. For example, asked to name some of the best American brands on BusinessWeek’s Global Brand Scorecard, more blue staters chose Microsoft, IBM and Intel, while more red staters chose Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Ford.

The survey polled 1,002 adults 21 and over in the U.S., and was conducted by MarketProbe International on Jan. 10 and 11.

Red state/blue state differences were largely muted, however, when people were asked which Fortune 50 companies make “a positive contribution to American life.” Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft led the way, and a divide was only evident for a handful of companies, such as UPS, Ford and Lowe’s. Asked to nominate the best American brands, both groups chose Coca-Cola and Microsoft at the top.

There are a few marked differences, however. Wal-mart, for example, gets higher marks as a brand in red states than in blue states. And the red vote for Coke was significantly larger.

The survey reflects the tightness of the popular vote in the presidential race. And in fact, the differences in brand attitudes are greater when the respondent pool is divided into Bush voters vs. Kerry voters, rather than red states vs. blue states.

The study also looked at both the First Family and the U.S. itself as brands. A slight majority, 51 percent, agreed (strongly or somewhat) that the Bush family is a “well-managed brand.” Only 35 percent said the same about America. And again, the red state/blue state gaps were not large on either question.

“More than two months after the election, there is a semi-permanent red-and-blue-state hangover,” said Bob Jeffrey, worldwide CEO of JWT. “As keepers of our clients’ brands, it is important that we understand the differences among the people in these states.”

In addition to brand perceptions, the survey took a reading of a wide range of opinions, including attitudes toward foreigners, the media and tsunami relief. In that latter category, a strong majority (68 percent) said they felt good about how the U.S. government has responded to the crisis.