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Fifty years ago the phrase, “Made in the USA,” had nationalistic and quality-assurance resonance for Americans. Then came the “Global Marketplace” and here we are. But recently the phrase “Made in the USA,” or the inference of the phrase – apparently in anticipation of newer smartphone models – has been resurrected for Apple and Motorola ad campaigns.

The Apple ad focuses on a single visual of consumers using Apple products. Part of the copy reads, “This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product. How it makes someone feel,” which, we have to admit, comes pretty close to how we look at “brand engagement,” a more-how-you-feel definition than a what-it-does characterization. Anyway, the ad goes on, “We’re engineers and artists. Craftsmen and inventors. We sign our work. You may rarely look at it. But you’ll always feel it. This is our signature. And it means everything.” The tagline: “Designed By Apple in California.”

The Motorola (“a Google company”) campaign raises the brand value stakes. Visually, the brand presented two people jumping into a lake (you decide what that’s all about) and offers, “The first smartphone that you can design yourself,” then asks consumers to imagine what’s possible “when you have the best design, engineering and manufacturing talent located here in the USA.” Their tagline: “Designed by you. Assembled in the USA.” So not just designed in the USA like Apple, but assembled here too. Someplace the “manufacturing” aspect got lost between the eighth line of copy and the tagline, but let’s not quibble.

The campaigns raise two questions for us: Does “designed” or “assembled” actually matter? And perhaps more importantly, does this brand position à la process create the impression that brand will better meet expectations consumers hold for the Ideal Smartphone? If you think about it, nearly half of the 300 respondents who evaluated both ads (M/F, 18-65 years of age, top-two box likelihood to purchase an Apple or Motorola as next smartphone) have lived their lives in the global marketplace, purchasing products designed, manufactured, and assembled in foreign countries.

We’ve pointed this out before, but it’s worth repeating: a brand saying something, and consumers believing it are two different things. If you want believability, you attain that via emotional engagement, not just emotional copy. Increased brand engagement – always a leading-indicator of positive consumer behavior – doesn’t show up where the consumer doesn’t believe the statement or if the statement is just not important to them. It has been known for brands to create campaigns that focus on elements and values important to them, but that don’t matter very much to consumers. For a detailed description of the engagement assessment process, click here.

In the meantime, here’s how the ads performed:

Apple did better than Motorola, engaging both Apple and Motorola loyalists with the key category value – “design.” Not so surprising when you consider Apple quite literally invented organic design for mobile phones. (Yes, yes, Motorola did create the “clamshell,” but that was nearly 20 years ago, and today consumers really do function in a what-have-you-done-lately mode.) So yes, “Design” has always been a critical component of the first-most important engagement driver in the smartphone category, “Product Design and Brand Reputation.”

The Apple ad increased brand engagement on that driver by 30% among consumers likely to buy an iPhone as their next smartphone. Even among those who were predisposed to purchase Motorola, their Apple brand engagement rating via exposure to the Apple ad increased 23%. Brand engagement for Motorola loyalists via “design” increased 16% for Motorola.  Apple stalwarts ceded only 7% to the Motorola brand. Oops! Probably not what Motorola was hoping for.

Both ads – for both consumer segments – did, equally well as regards “assembly.” “Assembly” showed up as a value component in the 4th most important engagement driver, “Brand Value and Support.” Motorola’s ad straightforwardly leveraged that value, but only saw a 5% engagement increase in both the Motorola and Apple respondent-segments, which might just indicate that “assembly” has not yet become an important brand engagement factor for the category. It may be something Motorola can really do, but if it doesn’t facilitate emotional brand engagement, it doesn’t really matter.

As to “Made in the USA,” we’ll have to wait to see whether that value becomes a realistic option for brands. The FTC regulates that mark, a country-of-origin designator, indicating that “all or virtually all” of the product was made in the USA. “Assembled in the USA” can be used without qualification when principal assembly of foreign components takes place in the USA and the fabrication is considered to be the product’s “last substantial transformation.”

Where might all this be heading? With China’s accelerating economy, labor costs are forecast to climb. And after the recent factory devastation in Bangladesh, more consumers are looking for ethically sourced products, so we believe consumers would find real comfort and emotional engagement from a “Made in the USA” brand position. Particularly with companies like Walmart looking to boost sourcing of US products and with Chinese consumers willing to pay a premium for them. So the shift to domestic manufacturing may not be only a boon to the economy but to brand values as well.

But only, of course, for the brands consumers believe can truly produce on a promise that’s important to them.

Connect with Robert on LinkedIn.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

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