Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What's in a Brand?

Just over a week after my last shoe-hunting ramble, I had to go on another one.

This time, came up with a pair of mid-cut boots, again below budget. But that's not the point of today's story.

As I watched the salesgirl efficiently pack up the boots in their little individual paper bags and put them back in the box, I wondered if the brand "ABC London" really was in any way connected to London. Upon coming home, I did an Internet search and...

No, it does not appear that this brand was founded in London, is designed there, has a flagship store there, or even is occasionally seen on the street there.

I suspect that whoever thought up this brand has become a victim of "brand name migration", a very common malaise among Malaysian retailers and designers. Apparently, sticking "New York", "London" or "Milano" after a brand makes the Malaysian consumer go, "Wah! Imported! Must buy!" whereas "Brand ABC, Proudly Malaysian" results in "Hmm. Locally made? Looks like they'll fall apart in 5 wears. Hey, look. These are from New York. Let's get them!" Worse still are the ones who give their 100% Malaysian brands names that the average Malaysian can hardly pronounce, because they sound like rejects from the pasta maker's dictionary.

I wish that Malaysian manufacturers would take enough pride and ownership in their work for them to be able to stand behind a fully home-grown brand and say, "Pay attention to this. We designed it, we got the materials, and we made it, right here in Malaysia. We know what you want and we know what you need, because we live here too. Buy."

Some might say that it's up to the Malaysian consumer to show more support for local brands first (I'm talking mass production retail, obviously, not haute couture), but the smart Malaysian consumer, like the smart Anywhere Else consumer, buys the product that offers the highest possible quality at a stated price. And though there are Malaysian products that fall into this category, they are still far too few.

I can say for sure that the "London" after the brand name had nothing to do with my buying the boots. I only know that I'd tried other pairs of shoes, some Malaysian-made, some imported, and these fit the best and seemed well made. They were slightly cheaper than the last pair of boots I owned, which gave in to age after 9 years of faithful service. I'm willing to wait and see if this pair lasts as long, and if it does, I will really wonder why the credit for high-quality, locally produced goods continues to go to a place that has nothing to do with them.

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