By Andy Pike, Newcastle University
Caribbean cuisine, Danish furniture, Hollywood films… Where branded goods and services commodities are from and are associated with is integral to their meaning and value. ‘British’ brands are no exception. But their enduring yet fragile global appeal raises questions in an era in which globalisation has complicated the picture. Actors – such as brand owners, managers, marketers, buyers, and trademark authorities – are grappling with questions of origin(s), provenance, and authenticity. Where things are from and, crucially, are perceived to be from is integral to the meaning and value of goods and services brands. In what some describe as a ‘flat’ and ‘slippery’ world, brands are seen as somehow placeless vehicles of globalisation that are free from any geographical connections and connotations.
Longstanding research offers few clues to understanding the persistent meaning and value of brands with geographical associations to particular places in the wake of globalisation. For decades, work has been fixated with the ‘country of origin’ effect on consumer behaviour and purchasing decisions. It has failed to develop ways of thinking about the geographies of brands and branding that encompass and extend beyond this national frame.
The idea of origination – developed in a new book, ‘Origination: The Geographies of Brands and Branding’ – refers to the ways in which geographical associations are constructed for brands and branding by the actors involved that connote, suggest and/or appeal to particular spatial references that communicate meaningful and valuable things. Origination explains how these geographical associations are constructed by producers such as brand owners, circulators such as advertisers, consumers such as shoppers and regulators such as trademark authorities in their attempts to fix meaning and value in goods and services brands and their branding in the times and spaces of particular market settings internationally. In this interpretation, the world is seen as ‘spiky’ and ‘sticky’ and brands are understood as carrying and communicating the attributes and characteristics of geographical associations and places.
Actors involved with ‘British’ brands have sought to construct a ‘national’ origination, evoking a particular version of the nationally framed and rooted geographical imaginary of ‘Britishness’ in efforts to create and hold together the meaning and value in particular global market contexts. Especially in the fashion business, Britishness retains its worth and distinctiveness as part of differentiation strategies. The socio-spatial histories of British brands typically afford their owners and managers with pliable sources of discursive, material and symbolic geographical associations. Such connections and connotations have enabled constructions of meaning and value based upon distinctive and differentiated attributes of authenticity, quality and tradition. Reinvention and revitalisation of British brands, often under new and international ownership, has occurred through the reworking of their heritage assets and geographical associations to modernise brand image and market positioning for the contemporary zeitgeist.
Yet such configurations of meaning and value in brands and branding are only ever ephemeral and temporary accomplishments. Accumulation, competition, differentiation and innovation propel internationalisation and on-going transitions and disruptions in spatial and temporal market contexts. British brands have to face the conundrum of whether and how to maintain the meaning and value of the origination of ‘Made in Britain’ for their consumers especially when only the design, development, styling, detailing and advertising may actually be undertaken in the national territory of Britain.
Connecting geographically political and cultural economy concerns, origination provides a means to address critical questions about how, why, where and by whom goods and services brands are associated with specific and particular geographical attributes and characteristics of spaces and places, and why it matters for people and places.
About the author: Andy Pike is Professor of Local and Regional Develop and Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURDS), Department of Geography, Newcastle University, UK. Andy’s central research interest is the geographical political economy of local and regional development. His research is concerned with (i) concepts and theory of the meaning and governance of development regionally and locally in an international context, and (ii) with the intersections between local and regional development and Economic Geography.
Pike, A. (2015) Origination: The Geographies of Brands and Branding, RGS-IBG Book Series, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford.
Plimmer, G. (2015) Royal Mail ‘shop’ brings British brands to China The Financial Times
Georgijevic, A. (2015) How three fabled British fashion brands have stayed relevant The Globe and Mail
Rayment, S. (2015) 10 of The Best Made in Britain Shoe Brands Fashion Beans