Is the national brand now actually a bad thing?

It’s a dizzying proposition: that the national brand creates a disadvantage.

After all, America is the home of the brave and the free…and the national brand. These are the great hoops that helped the American barrel stand upright.

But yesterday in a Bloomberg article, Leslie Patton raised a deeply frightening possibility, that America’s big restaurant chains are being punished for the fact that they are national chains, that they have national brands.

Americans are rejecting the consistency of national restaurant chains after decades of dominance in favor of the authenticity of locally owned eateries, with their daily specials and Mom’s watercolors decorating the walls. It’s a turning point in the history of American restaurants, according to Darren Tristano, chief insights officer at Chicago-based restaurant research firm Technomic.

Some particulars:

national chains are feeling the pain amid dismal sales. Subway Restaurants, the biggest U.S. food chain by number of locations, saw the number of domestic outlets decline for the first time ever last year. Noodles & Co. and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. are shutting locations after failing to attract customers. Applebee’s, owned by DineEquity Inc., reported same-store sales tumbled almost 8 percent in its latest quarter, and casual-dining chain Ruby Tuesday Inc. said in March it may sell itself after a prolonged slump.

In their day, national brands were potent marketing devices. In the world of food, they promised standards, settings and experiences that were uniform and consistent good…or goodish. National brands were a promise of solicitude and quality.

Local brands, brrrr! Local brands were, according to the national brand mythology, slip shot, clumsy, inconsistent, unappealing when not actually dangerous to your health.

National brands enjoyed economies of scale and this gave them deep marketing pockets and this made possible golden arches and national advertising campaigns and assiduous brand management.

And now the national brand now feels a little clueless and tone deaf. Brand management of the conventional kind feels like indignant shouting. How dare you fail to pay attention to us? Don’t you know who we are?

Um, yes, I think American consumers are getting the message.