One cannot find any trace of China in the annual list of 100 most renowned brands in the world. The list is dominated by European, North American, and Japanese logos. It is both a merciless judgment and a ironic mark for the biggest exporter. It seems to prove that China has reached an exclusively quantitative target. Its exported products are an unknown huge bulk, an indistinct source of revenue, i.e. 1.431 and 1.202 in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
The country is not identified by its brands or products, unlike Switzerland with watches, Japan with motorbikes, and USA with entertainment. This limit is the other side of the coin of being “the factory of the world”. China is cultivating its big garden –lucrative but confined -, an irresistible magnet for multinationals and delocalizations. Its expertise is horizontal because it cuts across all kind of production, supplying parts, components, final products for the world market.
Beijing knows very well this situation is non longer bearable. A mighty power house cannot be limited to quantity, where incomes only originated from hard work and not from control, from production and not from distribution. It’s easy to understand Beijing’s irritation to realize that world brands are not Chinese, but made in the mainland. Investment and workforce are in China, profit and brand awareness are elsewhere. To change this situation, the country has different solutions. It may acquire an international brand name, like Geely did with Volvo. It’s a relatively common practice, used by other Asians countries. It does not build up, though, a national identity of the products.
Alternatively, it aims to establish research centers and production sites abroad. The target is to spread Chinese products, not originating from the mainland. This may circumvent the low-esteemed reputation of “Made-in-China” items, victims of dangerous cliché. Tainted food scandals, common practice of counterfeiting, effort to minimize costs at the expense of quality, all concurred to the perception of China, at least in Europe, as a factory of cheap products. Even if exaggerated, this idea is difficult to fight. In a more farfetched commitment, building internationally known Chinese brands looks strategic. Some few and prestigious “national champions” may lead parts of the Chinese value added chain to a more quality concept of perception in the eyes of global consumers. Lenovo, Huawei, ZTE are important cases, but too limited in the context of China’s relevance within the world economy. The vehicle of the biggest sport events is crucial, as witnessed during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. At the Formula One races and World Cup of football in South Africa, advertising of Chinese brand as sponsor were a common view, next to the most visible global names. Other Chinese companies are considering selling their products no longer at low-price outlet. Finally, Li Ning, biggest sportswear manufacturer in China, has the ambition to be ranked among top 5 sportswear brands in the world by 2018. To this aim, it changed its logo, too close (and so too subordinate) to Nike’s one. Despite the analogy, the long-term ambition expressed by its slogan has been kept “anything is possible”.