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Origination – the geographies of brands and branding

  • Written by  Andy Pike
  • Published in Opinions
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The question of where commodities such as branded goods and services are both from and associated with, is integral to their meaning and value, and raising such issues encourages reflection upon how we understand and explain the geographies of the economy, society, culture, ecology and polity.

Internationalisation, even globalisation, is complicating the picture. Actors – such as brand owners, managers, marketers, buyers, and trademark authorities – are grappling with questions of origin(s), provenance, and authenticity. In what some describe as a ‘flat’ and ‘slippery’ world, brands are seen as somehow placeless vehicles of globalisation.

Yet long-standing research, fixated with the ‘country of origin’ effect on consumer behaviour and purchasing decisions, has failed to develop ways of thinking about the geographies of brands and branding that extend beyond this national frame.

In the transition from a producer to a consumer-dominated society, the brands and branding of goods and services has proliferated in dramatic fashion. This rapid ascendancy has led some such as Martin Kornberger to claim the emergence of a ‘brand society’, wherein brands are the ‘most ubiquitous and pervasive cultural form’ and are ‘rapidly becoming one of the most powerful of the phenomena transforming the way we manage organisations and live our lives’.

CigarJackson Square Cigar – America’s Standard 5¢ Brand (Image: Baltimore Museum of Industry)

Addressing the relatively neglected and under-researched geographies of brands and branding, ‘origination’ explains the geographical associations constructed by actors – producers, circulators, consumers and regulators – related in spatial circuits in their attempts to cohere and stabilise meaning and value in goods and service brands and their branding, in particular spatial and temporal market settings. In this interpretation, the world is seen as ‘spiky’ and ‘sticky’, in which brands are markers and purveyors of geographical associations and places.

Yet such configurations of meaning and value in brands and branding in certain market times and spaces are only ever ephemeral and temporary accomplishments. Accumulation, competition, differentiation and innovation propel internationalisation and ongoing transitions and disruptions in spatial and temporal market contexts.

Answering David Harvey’s call to ‘get behind the veil, the fetishism of the market and the commodity, in order to tell the full story of social reproduction’, origination offers a means of lifting what Miriam Greenberg calls the ‘mystical veils’ woven around branded goods and services by actors’ increasingly sophisticated activities. Their strategies, techniques and practices seek carefully to create, manage, rework and sometimes obscure the provenance of where goods are made and/or services are delivered from, and the economic, social, political, cultural and ecological conditions where and under which they are organised.

Connecting geographically political and cultural economy concerns, origination provides a means to address critical questions about how, why, where and by whom goods and service brands are associated with specific and particular geographical attributes and characteristics of spaces and places, and why it matters for people and places.

Andy Pike is Professor of Local and Regional Development and Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS), Newcastle University, and author of Origination: The Geographies of Brands and Branding

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