Brands are changing because they have to, or they will not be ‘real’ to the forthcoming generation of influencers. They are also being used as weapons in the now thoroughly frustrating political war between the US and China.
Big Western brands have recently announced they would not be sourcing cotton from China’s Xinjiang province because of reports of forced labour. Amongst the brands that made this announcement was H&M, the Swedish fashion giant.
So, inevitably, there was a backlash against the Western giants. Landlords in China closed H&M shops, and other brands were targeted for the cold shoulder treatment. Logos of Western brands were even blurred out in TV and video stories.
We know that brands are having to radically review their marketing approach. Gen Zers want ethical, sustainable messages from brands, and they want them to ‘give something back’ to the world and the community. During the early, scary stages of the pandemic, telecoms companies became popular because they were the guys who supported people through a painful (for many) transition to remote working, increasingly digital lifestyle.
Now brands have been caught in the crossfire in the trade war and it is hard to see what they can do about.
Recently China passed the US to become the world’s largest fashion market, so it is no small matter to find yourself locked out. It is also a reflection on the recent trend that is seeing big tech brands such as Facebook and Twitter become more powerful than Governments in who can use their platforms and what they can say.
There are examples, in the US and beyond, of brands threatening to move out of certain states if the Government does not change some policy or other. They use the threat of job losses and economic damage as weapons as they set themselves up as the world’s new ethics champions, much to the ire of the political parties that they support.
Whether we like it or not, brands from all sectors lead us into a new world where the line between who governs and who influences who governs becomes blurred. Increasingly, it seems, politics and politicians are becoming irrelevant.
Which is scary.