If you were going to start a company you’d imagine that being associated with Sweden, Japan or Canada was a pretty safe bet. A boost to your brand's image even, given that (to generalise greatly) all three nations tend to conjure images of transparency and quality products. Alas, with rapid shifts taking place within the international order, being linked with any country is risky.
Last week there were impassioned calls on social media for consumers to boycott Swedish stalwarts Ikea and Volvo due to outrage over Stockholm’s trial of rapper ASAP Rocky on assault charges. Meanwhile, in Seoul, shoppers are avoiding goods by Uniqlo and other Japanese players (in sectors including beer, cosmetics and cars) in response to Shinzo Abe’s tightening of import laws on South Korean products. These two incidents recall the Chinese boycott of Canada Goose products at the end of 2018 – a riposte to Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
Of course, it’s not a new idea to link a brand with its country of origin. But as populist and nationalist movements become an increasingly powerful force, I wonder if there is a growing tendency for consumers to categorise brands according to their homeland – and to use them as pawns in international diplomacy. It’s certainly not a sensible step, as often brands have very little connection to the place in which they happen to be based. Instead it’s a worrying indication of the direction in which the world is heading.