The End of Global Brands

If you were among those kids who had Kellogg’s cornflakes on the breakfast table, drank a Coke from time to time, enjoyed your favorite KitKat, and, after you got a little older, have always used Tide, don’t expect the next generation to follow you. Your familiar global brands will begin dying in 2017.


It may seem counter-intuitive, but “transparency” is likely to spell the end of global brands as we know them.

These days, everything is on display for everyone to see, including your endless stream of Instagram posts, your school grades, and even, if someone searches hard enough, your salary. Transparency makes it possible for everyone to compare, endlessly. The Chinese citizen of a decade ago was happy on a bicycle; now he compares his life with the endless stream of images from the Western world, showcasing flashy cars, houses, and gadgets. Where that bicycle was the very essence of happiness, now the average Chinese citizen thinks his possessions just don’t measure up.

We constantly measure, compare, weigh, and discuss our lives, only to realize that no matter how hard we strive, we’re never at the very top. Back when I was in school, I had 23 friends in my class — and 23 competitors on every exam. Today’s teen has 23,000 — or 23,000,000 — competitors, and her chances of coming out on top are pretty slim.

This widespread, inescapable transparency affects us all. It explains why today’s teens suffer from so much depression, as they realize they’ll never reach the top — not when they’re comparing themselves to 7 billion fellow human beings! As a result, we have a tendency to retreat back to our roots and tribes.

Think Brexit or Trump’s “beautiful wall.” Aren’t these symptoms of our keenness to pull our heads back in our shells, retreat to our familiar tribes, and spend time with like-minded people who are more willing (because they’re retreating, too) to listen to us?

Suddenly, borders are popping up everywhere. Not long ago, we valued global markets; but now we want to protect our local communities, farmers, growers, stores, and tradesmen. They once defined us; then, we forgot about them; but now we admire them again. In this regenerated appreciation for the local, you’ll find the epicenter of emotions setting the tone for a new (and disturbing, if you’re a global brand builder) trend: the death of global brands as we know them.

We’re seeing supermarkets jump on the private-label bandwagon, eschewing national and international brands in favor of regional brands that their customers can’t find more cheaply on Amazon. The environmental footprint continues to gain traction, causing consumers to reject long-distance shipments. Ingredients, production methods, and global arrogance are all under scrutiny. The trend is amplified day-by-day.

In my recent book, Small Data, I discuss the seemingly insignificant observations I’ve made in visits to thousands of consumer homes, in more than 70 countries around the globe. I’ve begun to notice something unexpected: those global brands that were once displayed in homes all around the world simply aren’t there anymore.

This doesn’t mean that the Coca-Colas of the world will vanish overnight, but we should expect to notice fewer new global brands appearing on store shelves in the future. You’ll notice that global advertising campaigns will become a thing of the past.

As this trend advances, we’ll notice thousands of highly local, previously unknown, seasonal, topical, customized brands appearing. They will clutter tomorrow’s heaven full of brand stars.

This is the end of global as we know it — at least when it comes to brands.

This article is part of the LinkedIn Top Voices list, a collection of the must-read writers on the year. Check out more #BigIdeas2017 here.


Martin Lindstrom

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