Monday, March 19, 2007

On Branding

The subject of product branding is much newer and more controversial in China than it is in the 'West'. Advertising is fairly immature, brand loyalty is limited and protection for intellectual property is still poor.

There often seems to be little effort put into actual brand creation before companies embark on the production of packaging, fitting out of premises and mass advertising and this seems to make little sense at first.

I accept, of course, that a lot of these brands are designed for internal consumption therefore the 'English name' of the company or product is there to make the product look and feel more international. This leads to various nonsense such as kitchen manufacturers Soilm internationalisation cupboard. Some might have been OK if they had been spelled correctly (such as clothing range Flangship riob.rava) and others are grammatically and syntactically sound but still don't work for me (a Taiwanese baby food brand called Baby Enzymes puts me in mind of a factory with a conveyor belt full of babies and an industrial blender) and bathroom fittings brand C Standard (for situations where A standard or B standard would seem to be going over the top? Possibly the people that came up with this have reinterpreted the name American Standard...?)

To be fair, branding is obviously a fine art. I've wondered before whilst in China if the thing I'm looking at is a 'real' brand or not. For example, I don't think I'd come across Ermenigildo Zegna before I came to China and was surprised to learn it had been going since 1892.

So I don't really know how to tell if, for example, if something is a 'real' brand or not.

I tried coming up with simple rules but they're not always applicable:

1) Silly names are probably not 'real' brands - FALSE. OK, I think I can rule out Senda Woman by this rule but apparently not Vasto (link doesn't work in Firefox) and Wanko which seem to be real brands.

2) Brands which try to sound like another brand to leach off a major brand's poplarity are probably not 'real' brands - I think this one is mostly TRUE. Lots of examples here: YCC and YQQ zip manufacturers (clearly trying to leach off YKK), Agosdantum (even with the Aquascutum logo), DancĂ´me T-shirt manufacturer. One example of a company that has 'become' a real brand is Li-ning (sports good manufacturer - now a large, well established company who I initially took as a fake brand because of its logo).

3) Blatant rip-offs of another brand. TRUE.
I accept that House of Lords might feel a bit threatened by his Tonyness' attempts to reform it and possibly this is a way to make a bit of cash to mount a defence but somehow I don't think so.

Of course, from a retail customer perspective, even if there are brands I recognise it's not necessarily that clear that the goods are genuine. In a nearby department store, the signage in the menswear section all appears to have been made by hand (would you pay full price from something that purports to be the "Pierr eCardin" section?). My natural assumption is that companies are normally very defensive of their brand image and would never allow the sort of brand impact that hand-made signage would create but is that true?

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