Petraeus backlash: Does America need a new image?


Code Pink protesters stand behind Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus while testifying during a House Select Intelligence Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee joint hearing, on September 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. The


Mark Wilson

America has an image problem.

Following the unceremonious departure of Gen. David Petraeus on Friday, we chatted with Andrew Butler, a brand strategist and modern-day Mad Man who has worked on creating strategic ideas for Taco Bell, Nissan and more, to find out what he would do if America came to him looking for a fresh ad campaign to spice up its image.

If you were advising the US government right now what would you recommend?

If America were to become my client, I would focus on what it means to be free. Not just showing pictures and images of how great America is, what we have, why people love us, what they do here. I would work to understand and communicate how people are truly able to live and be free in America. And while there are separations in color, race, creed, political affiliations, geographies, finances, we all have one thing in common, we want to be free to be who we want to be. 

What kinds of messages should the government be sending out right now, with regard to the widening scandal?

Focus on showing Americans that you have a plan to ensure their safety and security while you are investigating this case. 

While [Petraeus] is a public figure, he is a private citizen. We need to understand that while he has been a public official, leading American endeavors, he still is a private citizen.  This investigation needs to draw a line between the two. Investigate how his actions affected his public duty. But ensure that his private life is not too deeply infringed upon. 

There are consequences to all actions. Some consequences may be positive and some may be negative. We need to utilize this as a tool for us to learn from.  If there are rules and you break them, you will be punished. The military is built on rules, and when one is broken, service men and women understand the penalties.  We as people need to understand the rules and the consequences associated with those rules.

What role does President Obama play? 

He has to become the CEO. I think that he has to be the one who calls for the action as well.

Would anyone else play a key role in our image?

In my mind I think that there is the CEO, but then no matter who you are in the country, we’re all citizens. We are all equal. It doesn’t matter what your social status is, or what your religious status, it doesn’t matter what it is, we are all citizens and we all have equal voice and we all have equal stake. 

Butler further explained that America needs to switch the messaging of the scandal from pointing the finger at Petraeus, to showing the American people that they are still competent and have a plan.

An old Godfather quote ‘never let anyone outside of the family know what you’re thinking’ comes to mind here. When an investigation like this happens, we need to determine an action plan that best enables the investigators to do their job. What we’ve seen here is the public calling for a tar and feathering even before all of the facts have come to light.  

Do you have any taglines that America could use?

Live free or die.

Butler later emailed to add one more line. 

While we all have different points of view, it is the freedom to have those differences that connect us as Americans.

To help get America's new image started, we gave Butler's taglines to our in-house graphic designer, Kyle Kim, who provided two ads that America is free to use to help revamp its image. 

Photo illustration. Kyle Kim/GlobalPost.

Photo illustration. Kyle Kim/GlobalPost.