Brand Reality Check

In the Hutong
A cross between Brad Garrett and John Goodman
1954 hrs.

JWT’s Tom Doctoroff recently wrote an earnest and well-reasoned Viewpoint article in AdAge that described why China would not be producing a bevy of global brands at any time in the near future. (Tip of the Hat to Neil Drewitt for sending this in.) Nicely put and worth a read.

Those who disagree with Tom (and manage to eschew ad hominem attacks) point out that Haier has managed to build a global brand entirely without marketing. While that point would be debatable (if you could buy a Siemens fridge for the same price as a Haier fridge, which would YOU buy, and why?), let’s not go there.

Instead, let us grant for a the sake of argument that Haier is indeed a global Chinese brand. Let’s even grant that Lenovo, Tsingtao Beer, and Li-Ning are global brands.

When you look across China’s landscape of millions of companies, could it not be said that these companies are at best the exceptions to prove the rule? That China has so few international brands in so few industries that what we are witnessing is not a trend but a statistically irrelevant series of accidents?

I do not enjoy running down Chinese companies. I want desperately to be a cheerleader for them, and I know for a fact that Tom Doctoroff wants to as well.  Neither he, nor I, nor a host of other well-intentioned commentators are trying to “keep them down by talking them down.”

But to ignore the fundamental barriers these companies face in their evolution by giving them credit for having evolved further than they have is like encouraging a four year old to learn to read by sending him directly to college. At best, it is misguided. And at worst, it will do irreparable damage.

Kudos to Tom for having the courage to say something that needed to be said, and that if anything will not help his business in the near term. Great brands are built: they do not happen by executive fiat or government edict. And the sooner China’s companies learn the rules of that game, the better off China will be.