Is the increasing globalization of brands leading to the demise of national characters?

Most big brands have long taken a global perspective which has led to an increasing homogenization of values, communications and identities. Corporate ownership shifts, managers are mobile as are business bases. A few decades ago brands often had distinctive characteristics reflecting their nationality or country of origin. When Japanese brands first came to the West in force, in the 50s and 60s, they had an unmistakable personality. In the same decades Russian brands also began to appear in the western Europe and the US, displaying their own eccentricities. Today, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern a brand’s country of origin without some prior knowledge. How many times have you been surprised to learn the country of origin of a high street retailer or even your energy supplier?

It is interesting how oil company brands are truly international and as such, almost interchangeable. To the consumer, brand nationality is of no interest. However it is also interesting how, following the Gulf disaster, BP was suddenly characterised as ‘British’ Petroleum by President Obama.

The reasons behind much of this convergence is to be applauded: it derives from brand stewards being sensitive to the cultures and values of their various markets – for sound commercial reasons, I might add. Even smaller companies with their small brands are striving to internationalize them. I work with a lot of such companies looking to take their brands into export markets and urge and support them to investigate, research and understand the dynamics of local cultures and values. It is important to have regard of all possible markets now and in the future.

There are times however, when nationality of origin is a vital brand strength and its protection and communication should be enhanced – Scotch whisky, English tailoring, Swiss watch brands and more can all draw strength from their national characteristics.

But national idiosyncrasies apart, it is a little sad that the characters of brand origins are becoming subsumed in an international standard. If there is one country where brand quirkiness seems to survive, it is China. I love collecting chinese branded products from my local oriental supermarket and celebrate such brands as ‘Healthy Boy’ soy sauce. But I’m going to hang on to my packs and bottles with their distinctive labels as I’m sure it will not be long before these brands become internationalized and the world gets just a little less interesting.


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