Established in 1776, the United States is, like, a big country. With stuff. Lots of stuff. And the Corporation for Travel Promotion — now doing business as “Brand USA” — which was established in 2010 as part of the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, would like you to come visit if you don’t live here. Brand USA is the “first nationally coordinated program to market the U.S. abroad.” It is a non-profit private-public partnership with a Board of Directors, appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and its estimated $200 million marketing budget for 2012 will come from a combination of the private sector and a nominal $14 fee paid by visitors from visa waiver countries. “No U.S. taxpayer dollars” we are assured “are used to fund the efforts of Brand USA.” Yesterday, at a travel industry event in London, Brand USA made its international debut. The logo and identity have been designed by The Brand Union and an advertising campaign slated for spring 2012 will be created by JWT.
According to The Brand Union New York, the new design captures the spirit of the United States: Authentic. Optimistic. Unexpected. Inclusive. Endless Possibilities. It features an arrangement of dots joining together to compose the letters USA. The dots and their varied color scheme are meant to represent the diversity of people and experiences that can be found in the United States. To further emphasize that there is no single, definitive United States, the identity is not tied to a single palette and can appear in a range of color schemes.
— Press Release
The first thing to acknowledge is that this is not an easy task. How do you visualize in a logo and identity system what the United States is? While I would love to take a crack at it I don’t actually envy the position The Brand Union was in. The most positive outcome of this identity is not what it is but what it is not: it’s not red-white-and-blue and it’s not decked in stars, stripes, or a combination thereof. Sigh of relief. The resulting logo is remarkably underwhelming and unoriginal. We have seen many dot-based logos recently — from Design Museum Boston to St David’s Dewi Sant — and the whole aggregation/sum-of-its-parts concept is always a Board of Directors-pleasing pitch.
This is not to say that the logo is bad. It’s not bad per se. It’s just vacuously generic. Replace “USA” for “UK”, “India”, or “Japan” and there is no real disconnect between concept and destination. Unlike Peru’s country brand, USA’s brand is totally transferrable. However, I will say that this visual ambiguousness and lack of heavy Americanism is probably what’s best for the marketing efforts, so as to appear accessible to everyone and not seem like when you travel here you are going to get an indoctrination in large food servings, Big Gulps, and collegiate sports obsession. Basically, what this identity says it’s “the more, the merrier” and that may not be a bad thing after all.