Insidious Imperialism

Take a look at the pictures below.Suppose you were shopping around for a pair of shoes. As you scan the interior of (lets say, World of Sports), you come across a few brands shown above. Would you make a beeline for Li Ning? Or would you go for the other more popular brands? If you chose Li Ning, you are probably an ardent supporter of the label. Most people would go for Nike or Adidas (I know I would) because of its popularity, brought about by the revolutionary Western culture that is taking the world by storm.

This hypothetical scenario is a classic example of how brands created by the West are able to influence the choices of millions worldwide. An article from The Straits Times published on 5 March 2011 inspired me to pen this entry.

The link to the article can be found here:

ST Article

To summarize the article, Chinese brands like Li Ning and Peak are attempting to globalize their brands into the overseas markets. In order to compete with global giants, particularly those in America, Li Ning has stepped up their game to increase their likability through famous sport starlets. Having signed on players from the American National Basketball Association (NBA), Li Ning edges ahead of other Chinese brands because of the boosted credibility from well known sports players.

At the end of the day, do you think it’s possible for Chinese brands to one day dominate the market? I doubt so. Western brands are seen as far more superior than Chinese ones. “After all, many Chinese still look up to the West”, says sports products analyst Ma Gang. Although it may be too extreme to conclude that China’s culture is facing a dilution in terms of brand positioning, it still remains a fact that the Western culture has diffused across China, seizing particularly the youth who deem Nike and Adidas as cooler brands than domestic ones.

The reason why foreign sports brands are able to dominate China’s market is largely due to marketing. With larger advertising budgets of close to $2 billion, global giants are able to market their brand through various media mediums such as television and the internet. Chinese brands, on the other hand, lack big budgets to advertise globally. Through various forms of advertising like television commercials, Nike is widely recognized not only in China, but everywhere in the world. Even though Li Ning and Peak are attempting to draw crowds through celebrity endorsements, the fact that they have to make use of stars from the American NBA is a sign that the US still reigns when it comes to cultural dominance. To add on to the global marketing of sports brands, the US mass media industry is simply dominating the global mass media industry. With television programmes, movies and commercials arriving in waves, the American culture has succeded in infiltrating the global media, possibly devaluing the receiving country’s cultural values and beliefs as a result of American ‘propaganda’.

Cultural Imperialism?

Two words can be used to sum up this entire post – Cultural Imperialism. The one-way flow of international messages or media products has injected the culture of one society into another. Countries like China have been indubitably influenced by the West; the article extracted from The Straits Times serves to support my view on America’s cultural dominance. Alongside other examples of cultural imperialism, it remains an indisputable fact that the West will continue to hold its reign in the global media industry.  

Food for thought:

– Do you agree that Western countries have exerted a large amount of influence in our society today?

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March 13, 2011. Uncategorized.

16 Comments

  1. Jael replied:

    I think I agree that the West will continue to hold it’s reign in the global media industry. I have never heard of Li Ning and just like you, I will definitely go for Nike/Adidas if I had to choose between them or Li Ning. I guess whether it’s in Singapore or other countries, brands such as Nike has already build a good reputation for themselves. Brand awareness is one of the most important thing that helps to increase the sales of the product. If Li Ning sells good products but not many people know about its presence, ultimately, minimum people will buy the product for fear that it is yet another unknown brand. Therefore, I would say that the reason why western brands dominate Chinese brands is not necessarily because their products are better but rather because they are more well known

    • Valerie replied:

      To add on to your comment, the reason why Western brands are more well known than Chinese brands is definitely through the media. Like I mentioned in my post, brands that are marketed through advertising tend to have an edge over others who lack the advertising budget. The power of the media is what leads to an increase in brand awareness.

      • Ben Tay replied:

        I agree that Western culture still dominates the world. Asian brands are using Western models to help sell their products. Raoul, Giordano, and Li Ning are some brands that engage Western models to market their products. No doubt that there are Asian models who appear on the billboards, they are the minority.
        Slowly, there is a shift in accepting Eastern products and their methods of marketing. With the help of technology, people are able to travel to the different parts of the world and understand the many cultures. Many Westerners find Asian culture intriguing and love it. One day, the East may just overtake the West to have the most influence on culture.

  2. Calean Lee replied:

    I think the mass advertising is definitely heavily responsible for the popularity of American brands.

    perhaps, the existence of many counterfeit products in China is also an issue. Imitations of LV bags, nike and adidas shoes for e.g is widely available in China. To market a true china brand and claim it to be of premier quality is especially difficult if people already have a negative preconception whereby they tend to associate brands bought in China to be low quality imitations or just low quality and ‘brandless’ altogether..

    • Valerie replied:

      It is definitely sad to know that people have preconceived notions on what is deemed as premier quality. China has been stamped with the “imitated goods” label because of the fact that copious amounts of counterfeit products are manufactured throughout China. What China can do, at best, is to advertise existing brands so as to create better brand awareness and boost profit levels.

  3. alittlenotion replied:

    I would definitely agree that cultural imperialism is prevalent in Singapore. A class activity where we had to come up with 10 descriptions of Singapore culture churned out mostly negative examples.

    Well, culture defines the line separating one thing from another; it influences and also allows for interpretation of behavior. In essence, our negative attitudes to our own culture does propagate cultural imperialism.

    Compare our situation to countries like Japan. While cultural imperialism involves the one-way flow of international messages, no cultural dominance is seen in the Japanese. Many are proud of how far they’ve progressed since World War II, and Japanese fashion is adopted all over the world.

    I conclude that while a constant flow of media messages is needed to kick-start the effect of cultural imperialism, the pride that citizen’s have in their respective countries goes a long way into allowing the corrosion of their cultural values too.

  4. Lina replied:

    I would definitely agree that the West have influenced our society today, as much as many people would like to deny it. How is possible for one to say that cultural imperialism does not exist if American products (Movies, television shows, F&B) are so prevalent in many countries today? However, I do think that although Singapore’s culture have been infused with that of the West, we still retain what is supposedly “Singaporean” to us like our very much adored “Singlish”.

  5. Shar replied:

    There is no doubt that cultural imperialism is prevalent in our society! I definitely agree to this. Admittedly, I would be more willing to buy from brands such as Nike or Adidas, rather than its China counterpart. Only because I have never heard of that brand though, thus I can’t be sure of it’s quality. The aggressive advertising from the Western brands is something that the Asian brands have to learn if they want to have a share of the market pie too.

  6. Li Yin Low replied:

    Hey! Would like to add another perspective to this: could China’s relatively small global reach be due to it being closed up to the world and also destruction of its culture during the Cultural Revolution? During this period, schools in China were closed and the economy waned. International trade contacts were not formed until Deng Xiaoping instituted the Open Door Policy and opened China to foreign direct investments in 1978. By this time, the Western world and its culture had already established a presence and credibility worldwide. Also, the influence of the Western world can be attributed to European and American colonialism of numerous countries. With their political dominance and ensuing cultural influence, the colonized nations would have undoubtedly adopted the more sophisticated Western culture. Japan is another example of a nation that welcomed and incorporated Western culture into its own, during the Meiji Restoration. What do you think?

    • Valerie replied:

      Thanks for introducing rather interesting yet different perspective to the reason for China’s smaller global reach. Advertising and smaller budgets may not be entirely the cause for that.

      Perhaps cultural imperialism can also be seen as a natural progression – the relatively less developed nations adopt the more sophisticated cultures of developed countries. The developing nations’ status allowed the phenomenon of cultural imperialism to occur.

      Also, such diffusion of culture has its benefits as well. The developing nations profited from the adoption of more advanced technology as well as other innovations.

  7. evolutionx372 replied:

    As hard as china may try, it is near impossible to overtake america, in terms of brands especially. But im an advocate of cultural intertwining rather than imperialism. America will take in our cultures as well, so while it may be too early to presume that China will take over American as the leading brand name, china will grow to be a force to be reckoned with

  8. Alex Ang replied:

    “Cultural Imperialism” appears to be too harsh a term to describe the influence of west among asians. It is convenient to frame it as a “us vs them” or “heroes vs villians” scenario.

    There is a natural tendency in humans to break down what is complicated into oversimplified blocs. This line of thinking is problematic, because the various factors of causality that influence culture bears closer resemblance to a tangled mess of spaghetti rather than neatly picketed boundaries.

    It is not meaningful to claim as a wholesale that “western culture is bad”, since it has a myriad of underpinning values derived from the cultural roots of various social groups: anglo-saxon, ghetto, goth, etc. Even if we were to identify and examine the individual values, we will need a benchmark to make our value judgement of these concepts presented by the west. And in what way can we claim asian values to be superior?

    Perhaps it’s just me, but I think we should just leave culture alone- let it grow and develop naturally. Just be aware of how the values affect you on a personal level. After all, culture is like air- no one can seize it or prevent others from breathing it. Let those who resist it do their own thing.

    Afterall, it’s my choice- and who can fault me if I prefer Mickey Mouse over Muji Mouse?

  9. Tracy replied:

    I am inclined to the view that the West will continue to reign as many Asians still have (subconsciously or otherwise) the perception that the West is more superior. Shall not go into discussing why this so though!

    When consumers purchase from a particular brand, their choice of brand can be somewhat indicative of the consumer’s personality. It can also reflect what the consumer believes in and stands for. Taglines like “Impossible is Nothing” and “Just Do it” seem to have subtle references to the American culture of individualism and self-determination, as opposed to the community-centric culture in Asia.

    The younger generation of Asians may aspire to be like the West. One way to do this is to purchase Western brands as a way to declare their personal beliefs and values. Such a preference for the West could then steer customers towards purchasing from the corresponding brands. As long as such a perception among Asians is present, the Chinese brands are likely to face an uphill battle in gaining brand acceptance.

    P/S: The fact that the name “Li Ning” is inherently Chinese and that this trademarked name is a clear indication of the brand – It is unlikely that the sports brand will be able to shake off its Chinese image even if they embark on Western-based marketing.

    • Patrice replied:

      I agree with Tracy that the West will continue to infiltrate many cultures in the world, including China, albeit China’s rising influence worldwide. It has been ingrained in people’s mindset that the West is better, and that its products are superior. The idea that China may be using inferior materials in the manufacturing of the goods is another cause of concern, and a reason why people in China would turn to Western brands too.
      If China improves in its quality of products made and the branding, it may be possible that they would have an equal standing in the world with the West in time to come.

  10. TheycallmeKenneth replied:

    You do make a strong point that we’re all victims of brand followers and cultural imperialism. We’re aren’t naive, we do know it exists locally, but I suppose the main point here is to find a balance for the mix between both western and asian culture, and in my opinion, the media is doing a pretty good job at that.

  11. Elle replied:

    Hey! yeah cultural imperialism i guessed fast food is one good example for that?
    Macdonalds, KFC, Popeyes etc most fastfood restaurants or rather all? they came from the western part of the globe! Do you see a local fastfood restaurant? I believed cultural imperialism have made a great impact on our lives and the economy as well. With the convenience of a fastfood restaurant within metres from our house, it clearly explains why they had such a big influence in the food industry. Likewise, Japan have followed suit with the establishment of Yoshinoya and other rising names that will become a household name in the near future. Perhaps, Japan saw how the westerners have dominated the food industry with their launch of fastfood brands hence; they decided to bring their businesses to success in the same way. Though personally i feel they failed, it still shows how extensive it could be with such popularity in the society.

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