A local man checks out the periodicals at the USIS American Library in Peshawar, Pakistan, circa 1980s.

A local man checks out the periodicals at the USIS American
Library in Peshawar, Pakistan, circa 1980s.

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What did Ben Franklin know about selling America's values overseas? And how did a Cold War-era jazz show, and an army of librarians... boost America's image abroad? And what's the real message of those horses? In this multimedia piece, Gregory Warner uncovers highlights from America's attempts to advertise itself — then and now. (13 minutes).


In 2002, many balked when President Bush appointed Charlotte Beers, the Madison Ave guru and celebrated "queen of branding" to improve America's image overseas.

Beers launched a blitz of pro-American TV spots and Hi, an Arabic language news magazine, but the campaign foundered amid scathing commentary in the U.S. press. "The U.S. can't be sold as a brand, like Cheerios," stormed the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board, and in the LA Times, Naomi Klein, author of the international best-seller No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, alleged that Beers' efforts smacked of Nazi-style propaganda machines.

In the LA Times, Naomi Klein, author of best-seller, No Logo, alleged that Beers' efforts smacked of Nazi-style propaganda machines.

But it wasn't the first time that advertising techniques had been used to sell America overseas.  Ben Franklin, who has been called "America's first PR man," used marketing techniques to sell the French on the Revolutionary War. And during the Cold War, America launched one of the most ambitious public relations program ever attempted... building libraries around the world to showcase the best culture that America had to offer.

In "Advertising Democracy," radio producer Gregory Warner interviews former librarians and ambassadors, cultural diplomacists and middle east experts to chart the ups and downs of America's greatest Ad Campaign... itself. (13:00 minutes)

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Next: Go Ahead, Tag America » Top of Page
... And Who's Buying?

Audio Extras

These downloadable MP3 audio files feature extended interviews with some of the people interviewed in "Advertising America" (video to left). After watching the video, feel free to download these files and listen at your leisure on your computer or portable audio device. Find more POV podcasts and subscribe to our feed.

Simon Anholt Simon Anholt, author
Anholt is author of Brand America: The Mother Of All Brands. He originated the phrase, "nation branding," and regularly consults with countries hoping to boost their image. But can you really think of America as a brand? (6 minutes, 1.1 MB) | Download MP3

Rawan Damen Rawan Damen, teen talk show host
Over two-thirds of the Arab world is under 25 years old. It's kind of shocking when you think about it. Congress has spent millions of dollars on Radio Sawa, a commercial station that broadcasts a mix of American and Arab pop music to Arab audiences, plus short newscasts. The station is a hit, but is the message getting through? We called Rawan Damen, host of the weekly Jordanian teen talk show: "Sar Waktna" ("Our Time Has Come"), to find out more about what kids are watching. (6 minutes, 1.1 MB) | Download MP3

Aggie Kuperman Aggie Kuperman, Former USIA librarian
The USIA Library program was one of the most ambitious efforts at cultural diplomacy that America ever attempted. At its peak there were over 250 American Libraries around the world. Their mission was to spread the "best" of American culture. Budget cuts have severely cramped the program. But in today's information age, could libraries still play a role? Aggie Kuperman was regional librarian in Iran (before the 1979 revolution) and other middle eastern countries. She later served as cultural attache in Germany. (8 minutes, 1.4 MB) | Download MP3

Michelle Lupowitz Michele Lupowitz, Fulbright Scholar in Turkey
How does Desperate Housewives sell America? And what is a middle school teacher in Turkey to do about it? Fulbright Scholar Michele Lupowitz is teaching English in a middle school in Turkey. We called her after reading this letter home about her trip to Egypt. (3 minutes, 0.5 MB) | Download MP3