Why China lacks the romantic advantage

Published: 4:02 AM, June 6, 2013
Updated: 4:30 PM, June 6, 2013
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In the race to be the world’s dominant economy, Americans have at least one clear advantage over the Chinese. We are much better at branding.

United States companies have these eccentric failed novelists and personally difficult visionary founders who are fantastic at creating brands that consumers around the world flock to and will pay extra for. Chinese companies are terrible at this. Every few years, Chinese officials say they are going to start an initiative to create compelling brands, and the results are always disappointing.

According to a recent survey by HD Trade services, 94 per cent of Americans cannot name even a single brand from the world’s second-largest economy. Whatever else they excel at, the Chinese have not been able to produce a style of capitalism that is culturally important, globally attractive and spiritually magnetic.



Brand managers who have worked in China say their executives tend to see business deals in transactional, not in relationship terms. As you would expect in a country that has recently emerged from poverty, where competition is fierce, where margins are thin, where corruption is prevalent and trust is low, the executives there are more likely to take a short-term view of their exchanges.

But if China is ever going to compete with developed economies, it will have to go through a series of phase shifts. Creating effective brands is not just thinking like a low-end capitalist, only more so. It is an entirely different mode of thought.

Think of Mr Ralph Lifshitz’s longing to emulate WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) elegance and creating the Ralph Lauren brand. Think of Nike’s mythos around the ideal of athletic perseverance. People who create great brands are usually seeking to fulfil some inner longing of their own, some dream of living on a higher plane or with a cooler circle of friends.

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