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Death to the Christian Brand Hegemony? The future of Global Branding

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North American: brands, advertising agencies, marketing professors, brand gurus, and celebrities have been most successful in dominating Global rankings. As a by-product of this, literature frequently refracts branding thought and practise through a English(US) and Christian lens, even if unintended. In this article, I highlight an optical phenomenon present and a rainbow of religious pluralism.

My argument is that future competitive advantage will result from authentic brands that resonate with more of the attributes of different religions explicitly from guiding first principles.

Furthermore, this has to be about appraising the implications of introducing different religions into branding as theory, as opposed to an upstream consumer targeting and advertising practise.

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Death to the Christian Brand Hegemony? The future of Global Branding

  1. 1. A E S T R O Market 117 Jonathan (Bilal) A.J. Wilson Academic Programme Director, Postgraduate suite in Marketing University of Greenwich, London UK Editor: Journal of Islamic Marketing Brand Meaning Arguably Corporate Brands are the most visible, valu­able, ubiquitous and traceable element within a macromarketing system. Furthermore, more recent brand schools of thought posit that their strength and equity has been increased through judging them as empty formulae – that means that a brand is less about a definition, and is more about a box or container in which you bring together and place meaningful objects, stories, artefacts, experiences, associations, and net- works. Brands are anthropological economic exchang- es, which generate wealth creation, social capital, and resonance - beyond transactional osmotic economic systems. Death to the Christian Brand Hegemony? North American: brands, advertising agencies, marketing professors, brand gurus, and celebrities have been most successful in dominating Global rankings. As a by-product of this, literature frequently refracts branding thought and practise through a English(US) and Christian lens, even if unintended. In this article, I highlight an optical phenomenon present and a rainbow of religious pluralism. Key Take-homes My argument is that future competitive advantage will result from authentic brands that resonate with more of the attributes of different religions explicitly from guiding first principles. Furthermore, this has to be about appraising the im­ plications of in­troducing different religions into brand­ ing as theory, as opposed to an upstream consumer targeting and advertising practise. This is as a means to understand the very human, precarious, and nuanced nature of brand survival, beyond mere product and service functionality. It’s about understanding human nature, our reality, and that we don’t just humanize brands – they make us more human. In tandem, at the heart of this thinking and activity is a movement towards a marketing approach that en- gineers nodes and anchors that elevate symbiotic com- munication linked to consumption-based experiences. This Gestalt of the sacred, mundane, and the profane capitalizes on the transient, and aspires for brand tran- scendence. Brands are at the vanguard of extending the life cycle of products and services; and in some cases the mechanism for re-launching and stretching retro and nostalgia offerings. On both a macro and mi- cro level, these marketing activities are spearheaded by design aesthetics, animism, anthropomorphism, and the creation of branded cultural artefacts. In addition, due to their nature, affects, and corporate aspirations: the descriptors used frequently hold brands analogously as being steeped in a religious meaning and relevance - that either challenges or reinforces the significance of the world’s major religions in connec- tion with consumerism and consumption patterns. Western Brand Superpowers Notably, North American: brands, advertising agen- cies, marketing professors, brand gurus, and celebri- ties have been most successful in dominating Global rankings. As a by-product of this, I argue that norma- tive literature frequently refracts branding thought and practise through a lens of blended American English rhetoric and Western infused Christianity, even if un- intended. In response to these phenomena, and in light of the fact that the majority of the world’s population are not Christian, I’ve studied the implications of this hege­monic paradigm. Keeping with the analogy of an A­merican, Western, and Christian refracting lens: an optical phenomenon exists, where this is a halo and rainbow of religious pluralism also worthy of investigation. Furthermore, with the increase in offerings rendered retro and nostalgic, due to continued and increasingly rapid innovation; concepts and terms such as resur- rection and reincarnation embody the analogous and allegorical nature of branding as a religious pursuit. The thrust of my argument is that if these phenom- ena are left un-investigated and unchallenged, there
  2. 2. A E S T R O Market 118 lies the potential for a widening and foreboding gap: (1) not only for aspiring brands hailing from ethnic and non-Christian global majorities, inconspicuous by their absence in rankings; but (2), also for monocultur- al North American brands in an increasingly global- ized, hybridized and connected world, where localized cultural adaptations may lack sufficient, elasticity, plasticity, latitude and authenticity. In the interests of widening the knowledge base, let’s consider other religions; and the suggestion that future competitive advantage will result from authen- tic brands that capitalize on and resonate with more of the attributes of different religions and pluralism - explicitly from guiding first principles. In short, a brand’s focus for too long has been on the creation of an iconic totem, rather than the imperma- nence of faith, the rituals and worship of the faithful. Globalization has made us tribal nomads, with liquid possessions. Therefore the way that brands operate in this new normal is through the reification of a gestalt of quicksilver experiences, as a form of neo-spiritualism. Learning from Plato Plato argues that metaphysics accepts the division of reality into the ‘material’ and ‘spiritual’. Therefore, dialectic thought is both a type of reasoning and a method of intuition. The literature points to human ex- istence, that of brands and their management as being understood according to a metaphysical standpoint. Namely, that there are two fundamental questions: what is there, and what is it like. These questions ap- praise the interplay of existence, objects, space, time and their respective properties – as means of under- standing reality. From this, I’m presenting the following stepwise conceptual argument: • Brands exhibit two overarching states of existence, namely: Transience: perishability, and lasting for a short time Transcendence: existence and experience beyond a normal or physical level. • They are therefore understood through the consideration of each and the subsequent reconciliation of both positions. • These states of existence place them subject to their cultural environment on a general level and specifically managers. • What remains unclear however, is to what degree brands are material or spiritual - and therefore as an extension, whether they are governed more by intuition or reasoning. Learning from Aristotle The work of Aristotle, falls under the philosophi- cal school of thought know as Neo-Platonism - that considers the world-soul and phenomenal world. Ar- istotle’s Categories is a text from Aristotle’s Organon, which places all objects of human apprehension under one of ten categories - known as the praedicamenta. The Categories asserts that all possible kinds of ‘thing’ can be the: • Subject: A person, thing or circumstance that is be- ing discussed, described, or dealt with – giving rise to a specified feeling, response, or action. It is the central substance or core of a thing as opposed to its attributes – about which the rest of a clause is predicated. • Predicate of a Proposition: Predicates are the part of a sentence or clause containing a verb and stat- ing something about the subject. Within the rules of logic, this ascribes that something is affirmed or denied concerning an argument of a proposition. Propositions are a statement or assertion that both expresses and demonstrates a judgment or opinion, that logically expresses a concept that can be true or false. I argue that brands can be understood using this approach, which I have mapped to Aristotle’s frame- work, whilst harmonising existing schools of brand thought, as follows: Brand: Anatomy, Physiology & Essence Market Proposition & Stakeholder Positioning Brand- Cultural Paradigm • Substances • Quantities • Qualification & Qualities • Relativity & Relations • Where? • When? • Being in a Position • Having • Doing & Action
  3. 3. The impact on today and tomorrow The framing of brands according to a ‘West’, bound- aried national identities, Marxism and capitalism pull brand theory and religion into the hands of Europe and North America. However, the major monotheistic Abrahamic religions originate from the Middle East and East Africa, and these regions’ influences seldom feature in branding, other than according to consumer consumption. Furthermore, with 60% of the 7 billion world’s population hailing from Asia, notably with Indonesia being the most populous Muslim nation, alongside other widely practiced religions throughout Asia, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism; a similar pattern is observed. In short, the majority of the world draws from religious guiding principles that are under- represented in brand theory development and practise. Japan is an interesting case in practice, as one of the few Eastern nations to feature in brand rankings. They largely follow Buddhist and Shinto doctrines, but brand strength is more likely to be attributed to Japanese culture, with little mention of religion. More recently, John Grant presents a treatise in which he ob- serves a rise in an alternative anti-West, or alternative to Western branding approaches. This he articulates is non-Christian, shies away from the ego, and iconog- raphy. Instead, for John and I, it appears to be more compatible with the value systems of Islam, Bud- dhism, and celebrating the craftsmanship of the artisan in-tune with nature. When considering this standpoint alongside my model, I argue that the definition and purpose of a brand is less about a restrictive definition according to a name, logo, colour, and legally defensible position; and more about the brand fulfilling the role of a Koan. A Koan is a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment. In a globalized age of social media, and promiscuous or polytheistic branded consumption; due to increased accessibility, product lines, and consumer spending power especially in the East: my suggestion here is that brands that elicit worship will be afforded greater success where they draw from Eastern and pluralis- tic principles of transcendence. Furthermore, with increased economic migrancy, population growth, education attainment, and wealth in the East, along- side a rising interest in the role of faith in business and marketing: the influences of the East will continue to become more significant. When reviewing a selection of tables and secondary data, I found something that really stood out - Western origin and controlled brands and thought leaders dominate the rankings: Interbrand Top 100 Global Brands (Interbrand, 2014) • The Americas = 56 • Europe = 33 (with only 1 in the top 10, No.10 Mercedes Benz) • Asia Pacific = 11 (7 Japan, 3 South Korea, 1 China – with only 2 in the top 10: No.7 Samsung, Korea; and No.8 Toyota, Japan). THE WESTERN BRAND HEGEMONY CoolBrands 2014/15 (CoolBrands, 2014) 72 Brands – all Western, with the exception of Sony Music, which nevertheless is owned and operated by Sony Corporation of America, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation, Japan. AdBrands (AdBrands, 2014) The top Consolidated Agency Networks in 2013 by estimated worldwide revenue in the Top 20, that fall outside the West: • Dentsu, Japan No.3 • Hakuhodo, Japan No.13 • Cheil, Korea No.18 2013-2018 Share of Global Media Advertising Spending (Marketing Charts, 2014) • 35.6% North America • 27.9% Asia-Pacific World’s Best Business School Professors (Poets and Quants, 2012) Marketing takes numbers: 1, 2, 6, 16, 26, 27, 29, 34 - Two of who are ethnic (Asian origin, North American educated) World’s Top 30 Brand Professionals 2014 (Global Gurus, 2014) Two of who are ethnic (Asian origin, North American educated) Whilst religion is not necessarily linked to ethnicity, a cursory glance at ethnicity yields interesting findings, which perhaps indicate an appetite for a new world order: Forbes World’s most powerful celebrities: • The top 10 are all North American • 7 out of 10 are African American, and nominally Christian, taking the top 4 spots. Market 119 A E S T R O

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