Wal-Mart deploys troops to counter Smirnoff influence in Eastern Europe
If countries were brands…
cover image By Arne Hückelheim via Wikimedia Commons
When I was at university the general line of discussion in politics classes centred around how large corporations were replacing the State as the primary actor in world affairs. And it’s probably true that private companies, and not governments, hold more power in the world. This could be the topic of a detailed in-depth analysis taking into account economics, international relations and social movements; but I just want to know what the world ought to look like if the idea is true. If my country was a brand, which one would it be? What is “Brand South Africa”? Which brand will eventually come to replace the United States as global superpower no.1 ?
The United States of America
The USA is the most mythologized nation in modern history, so it’s difficult on first glance to choose which aspect of American identity to try to capture.
What about that ubiquitous symbol of globalization — Coca-Cola? No. Too 1950's “Americana”…James Dean, Elvis, soda fountains.
Many Americans would like to see themselves as Jeep perhaps; the rugged, conquering hero of the frontier. Or Apple, the outside-the-box, progressive smart kid with cool gadgets. How about Disney? Disney gave you your childhood dreams and is a titan of Hollywood pictures; the all-important PR department between the USA and the rest of the world. But the fact that they are a manufacturer of image is exactly the problem. Anyone who spent a good chunk of their formative years in the post-9/11 world no longer buys into the idealized version of the American Dream. Which means Brand America needs to be based in reality. And the real America of today is that of strip malls and box stores. Welcome to identikit suburban banality.
Welcome to Wal-Mart!
Wal-Mart represents the United States for what it really is. Efficient, capitalist, ruthless. Wal-Mart is like a miniaturized imperial nation. It colonizes. Small towns which are teeming with locally-owned retailers hear the dreaded news that Wal-Mart is opening a new franchise and business will never be the same. And yes, like American expansion into foreign nations, local culture is often destroyed. But like American expansion, once you’ve been touched by it you can’t go back. You wouldn’t want to go back. You cannot live without the convenience. Ameri-Mart brings the internet, fast-food, cheap consumables, and is open at night.
Cuba: say good-bye to Che Guevera. Say hello to unbeatable savings in swimwear, Doritos, blue-rays, motor oil, and reading glasses.
The Rest of the World
Since the end of communism the headlines out of Russia have been a long series of “Did they really just say/do that?”, inspiring the “Meanwhile in Russia…” meme. Russia seems to have followed the Not Giving A Fuck theory in internal and international policy. Trying to outlaw homosexuality, spending a fortune on the Sochi olympics, invading Ukraine and then saying “It was’t me” ; these are the actions of a reckless person who no longer gives a F. Russia’s resulting image is that of a guy who has had a couple too many drinks. So Brand Russia needs to say “I’m here for to have a good time”.
Result: Smirnoff Vodka
The United Kingdom of Great Britain
Britain has been having an image problem ever since Cool Britannia died out. Like many European countries, it’s not easy to say what Britain brings to the table anymore. It’s economic, political, and military power has steadily declined over the last 20 years. The last British cultural wave to really make itself felt was around the time the Bridget Jones’s Diary movie and first Harry Potter novel came out…nearly 15 years ago. For years now Britain has been fouled by austerity and its only successful export is now Premier League football. So what Britain needs is to draw inspiration from it’s rich history. It may not be a superpower anymore, but everyone knows who they are and what they have done. This boils down to a boutique luxury brand with immense throwback appeal.
“Learn Mandarin” . A common refrain from the old to the young, under the impression that Chinese global hegemony is just around the corner. But pundits have been talking about the “Chinese century” for a while now and yet China seems no closer to displacing the USA as the world’s most powerful nation. China’s rapid progress from a dirt-poor communist country to a modern economic force is amazing , but there is a notable difference between being a peer among nations and a leader. China has been unable to shake it’s image of knock-off design. “Made in China” still inspires unease in consumers due to poor quality and sometimes downright dangerous products (ie leadbased paints in children's toys). On the other hand, some Chinese companies are pretty decent knock-offs. Especially in the area of tech and electronics — Chinese companies rarely lead the pack but are not too far behind their Japanese and American competitors.