Branding and BRICs

“Brazil leads in BRICS’s brands”
Jerry Clode

Added Value – Source
March 17, 2013

BRICS summit participants: Prime Minister of I...

BRICS summit participants: Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, President of China Hu Jintao, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of South Africa Jacob Zuma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a thought-provoking article in AddedValue’s Source blog, Jerry Clode notes that Brazil’s brands are going global while China and India’s brands seem mired at home. Clode probes why, and believes he has found the answer: Brazil’s brands do well because they have creative Brazilian people who are confident enough in their culture to it in a way that is meaningful to people overseas. And, by implication, China does not.

He notes:

Looking at the two Asian BRICs, China and India, we see increasingly discerning and globally literate middle class consumers who are placing increasing expectations on local brands. But a lack of concomitant confidence to tell local brand stories that move beyond quixotic foreign stereotypes seems largely absent.

The answer to creating Chinese brands, he suggests, is simple: Chinese companies just need to be more confident and down-to-earth when presenting narratives to global customers.

It’s an interesting argument, but I am not sure it would do the trick. National provenence carries different baggage for Chinese and Brazilian brands. Chinese companies must operate against the unappealing background of China’s messy national emergence. China’s assertive geopolitics, cultural differences, and a reputation for producing poisonous foods and questionable quality in toxic sweatshops have left a deeper impression on the world’s consumers than panda bears, kung fu, and calligraphy.

This is a problem that extends far beyond the ken of marketers to solve. The status quo is our canvas, and the aura of Chinese-ness is and will be for the foreseeable future more a curse than a blessing for all but the most extraordinary of Chinese brands.

At a more immediate level, uncertainty around company ownership in the PRC means that Chinese brands are assumed to have some affiliation with the Chinese government and, by extension, its activities. Meanwhile Brazil carries much more positive images for global consumers, it’s government is not perceived as threatening, and it can capitalize on the common European cultural origins of its primary audience.

For the time being, marketers for China, Inc. must address this with the grand strategy followed by Japan’s most successful brands: deodorize. Back when Japanese brands began their global breakout, they did their research and discovered that their “Japanese-ness” was a liability, and behaved accordingly. Nissan used the “Datsun” marque in the US from 1960 to 1980 to avoid being associated with the brand name used on trucks the company made for the Japanese army in World War II. Matsushita picked out the name “Panasonic” for similar reasons.

Most Japanese brands did not go so far as to change their names, but their Japanese origins and essence were played down in all aspects of marketing and sales. Origin was incidental, neither positive nor negative. What was important was the product and the credibility of the company that stood behind it.

Until such time as China’s companies no longer struggle to free themselves of the constraints of the nation’s global image, they can rely only upon their own good work. For most, if not all, that will mean leaving Brand China behind in their quest for global markets.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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11 Responses to Branding and BRICs

  1. Troy H says:

    I read this post with interest, and I’m sharing this thought piece (via the link below) that was recently compiled and published by my colleagues, as I think it adds to this debate. I didn’t write this POV, but the general point of the paper supports the need for less focus on the arbitrary use of Chinese cultural elements in brand communications, and emphasizes the need to build a more concrete vision of product quality and what the brand stands for, irrespective of country of origin. Whilst the political implications of China’s emergence on the global stage would, as you point out, inevitably be intertwined with people’s perceptions of Chinese brands, ultimately it may also be likely that the more that you get the product and branding right, the less people will care about country of origin.

    • David Wolf says:

      Thanks, Troy. Doreen Wang and I had a similar conversation on the sidelines of a British Chamber event where she and I were both speaking on the challenges faced by Chinese brands. I think smart branding can moderate concerns over country of origin, but for the foreseeable future I think breakout success will depend on those companies rising above their provenance. If you want people to care less about your national origin, the burden is on you to prove that it is irrelevant.

  2. Shilpa Shetty says:

    Jaguar and Land Rover. Infosys and Wipro. The Times of India newspaper having the worlds largest online English language readership. Mittal and Reliance. Kingfisher Beer. Curry. The Taj Mahal. Bollywood. Ravi Shankar and Frida Pinto. Slumdog Millionaire and The Life of Pi; V.S. Naipal and Arundhati Roy. Tagore. Ayurvedic Medicine; Gandhi; and the Hindustan Ambassador. Patak Foods being the UK’s fastest growing brand. Taj Hotels & Resorts. Jet Airways. Mahindra & Mahindra. Alphonso Mangos. Old Monk Rum. The worlds largest democracy. And we haven’t even mentioned Tata yet.
    Someone needs to do some homework.

    • David Wolf says:

      Not to mention Aloo Gobi, the best thing to happen to potatoes since hash browns, and the best thing to happen to cauliflower ever!

      Have to agree, Shilpa. This gentleman seems to know Brazil reasonably well, and his point about China was at least half-informed, but he was out of his league when it comes to India. (Frankly, I am out of my league when it comes to India, which I why I didn’t comment.) That said, I have to believe that India’s mastery and semi-adoption of a major international language is no small help in its success.

      Thanks for the comment

  3. W. Tseng says:

    China is already famously branded. After more than 20 years of China bashing by the western media, the instant brand recognition that leaps to mind is shoddy goods. Given the increasing bellicosity of the west, it’ll take them another 30 years perhaps to improve that image – if ever.

  4. Monkey King says:

    I agree with Shilpa, and she made an awesome list of brands. There are more she didn’t touch on. India is the country the smart money is looking at. China expats have become too China-Centric and the rest of Asia is interesting, but India is the elephant next door very few have even bothered to explore. It’s a huge strategic mistake. If you can do and succeed in both China & India you basically have the rest of Asia in your hand. Only a handful of expat business people from China truly understand that.

  5. Fatwah Chen says:

    The visionaries who dare to suggest alternatives to China? Oh how we mock and punish them.

  6. Solomon Silas says:

    @Tseng: it’s not media bashing by the West. I live in Nairobi, where a friend of mine owns a tea estate. He bought some Chinese manufactured hammers for general use, one strike of these to bash a metal pole in the ground and the hammer head shattered. It happened with three consecutive hammers. You Chinese sell shit, and people worldwide will complain. No-one in Nairobi buys Chinese hardware anymore, they pay more to ensure the product actually works. After 20 years of your national development that is your export legacy. We trust Indians more than Chinese.

    • W. Tseng says:

      @Solomon Silas: You’re absolutely right. No doubt about it, We sell the shit but the pathetic thing is that you guys buy so much of it that it made China rich & powerful.

  7. Milton Nascimento says:

    Some interesting comments about China and India. China is too full of itself, and overplays its true status and capabilities, while India is catching up in its shadow and in some areas already outperforms the Chinese.
    But…can anyone name any Brazilian brands? I bet not.

  8. Don’t you think that China could brand its culture and sell those items abroad: tea, silk, and silk paintings are just a few. This is kind of old school and anything but the latest technology, but China rich history and fascinating culture may be an angle to sell its products to an international market.

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