Big Brand Global Wasteland?
I was asked recently by a French journalist to explain why Big American Brands are stumbling globally: The examples the reporter suggested: McDonald’s, Gap, Coke-Cola among others. I thought of three reasons. Let me know your thoughts.
So first: The Big Brands Have Tripped on Their Own Bigness.
It's hard to turn the QM2 around, right? Here come the consumer trend of Food Fear (obesity, sugar, calories, fat, carbs, gluten, transfat, high fructose corn syrup and on and on). Smaller brands can rise up and react to the 'white space,' but big, global entities find it nearly impossible to respond in real time.
· And, well, Big Brands are BIG: When we told McD’s in 1999 to sell salads, they patiently explained they would have to buy up the current US supply of tomatoes if they tried to roll one out in the next three years.
Second: The Erosion of Shared (Global) Meaning in Brand USA.
When we look at the political landscape of this country, it is broken into fiefdoms. Fighting, angry fiefdoms. What does USA stand for? Certainly not what it did post World War II when many of these Brands took off. We've got racial tensions spiraling out of control, nasty and demeaning language used to describe immigrants (where once we stood proudly for a 'nation of immigrants'), gender wars, voting shenanigans to reduce the rolls (where once we were proudly a full-throated democracy). We've clearly lost a cohesive, aspirational narrative and thus the Brands that used to stand for us are losing theirs.
Third: The Impact of Technology on Big Brand Meaning.
Big brands used to be a signal of belonging, a shared culture. We all went to McD's, drank Coke, wore Gap. As the way of belonging has evolved to a more attitudinal, more atomized mind-set via apps and streaming entertainment (and life) on-demand, the need to use Big Brands to signal our cultural identity has eroded. We want to signal our individuality, our pure me-ness. We're left with the basic questions, "Does this product do anything for me?" and "What does this Brand say about me?" Indeed, one person explained it well: "If you want me to buy your Brand, don't tell me something interesting about the Brand, tell me so something that when I retell it makes me interesting."