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Status of US brands slips globally among teens

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Offer to buy the world a Coke and you'll probably find plenty of takers. But try to sell the iconic American drink, and you might meet with some ambivalence among youths these days, particularly abroad. That's according to a recent study that compared big global brands it considered "teen relevant," gathering feedback from thousands of youths in 13 countries - including the United States.

Coca-Cola still topped the chart in terms of name recognition, followed by McDonald's. But Coke fell to eighth place when it came to likeability, and the burger chain dropped all the way to No. 32. Disney and America Online also nose-dived in appeal.

The top three affinity slots went to Sony (Japan), Nokia (Finland), and Adidas (Germany). Top US finisher: Nike at No. 4, a somewhat surprising result given that US firms have traditionally wielded a collective hegemony with this very desirable demographic.

"If you wanted to characterize what the 'cool' brands were for global teens 10 years ago, what they had in common was that a lot of them were from America," says Chip Walker, executive vice president of Energy BBDO, the market-research firm that ran the study, called GenWorld.

Branding experts differ on the chief causes of the apparent loyalty shift. They cite factors that range from deft, low-key marketing and product innovation by firms to a political pushback by young consumers. But the study suggests that control is slipping from brands that try to impose images on teens rather than reflecting teens' perceptions of themselves.

And experts agree that marketers and even government policymakers would be unwise to shrug off any shifts. The buying habits of today's teen market - reportedly worth some $170 billion a year in the US alone - stand to alter the economic landscape.

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