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Global Branding: Throwback or Fast-Forward?

September 2011

By Claire Brooks, President

As western economies head for a double-dip recession, our City Correspondents in these markets have noticed a renewed appreciation for traditional brands with long-established identities—brands that communicate a sense of stability and restrained indulgence. In fast-developing markets like India and China, by contrast, our Correspondents note that the taste for overt and personalized luxury continues to grow, along with a more original and innovative approach to brand identity.

Throwback versus Throwaway: Western consumers have become wary of the disposable culture which got them into debt, and the reassuringly retro is back in fashion. In Los Angeles and New York, ‘old-time’ speakeasies are flourishing, and even brands like Domino’s are emulating the nostalgic, retro brand identities of ultra-hip newcomers like Stumptown Coffee.

Imitation versus Innovation: Brand identity and positioning is also shifting its point of reference in China, but forward rather than backward. Until recently, local brands have heavily referenced Western luxury brand identities; now, they are experimenting with original branding to differentiate themselves. In India, brands are offering increasingly personalized luxury and service to the emerging middle classes.

Restrained Indulgence: For cash-strapped Western consumers, restrained indulgence is the new luxury. In Milan, traditional, decadent ice cream brands are reinventing themselves for modern health- and beauty-conscious consumers.

Heritage and Hand-Crafted: When economic confidence is shaky, consumers trust brands with endurance. Classic mainstays like Barbour and Lacoste are enjoying a revival in London and Paris, and in Berlin, Bauhaus design is hip again for the latest electronic gadgets.

It seems likely that the current economic slump will deepen, making Western consumers even more cautious, and strengthening the trend towards throwback brand identity and restrained luxury; while in emerging markets, brands are entering an exciting new phase of innovation to reflect the aspirations of its more optimistic consumers.

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